For Christmas, I bought myself Samsung’s new Gear VR Goggles to get a better handle on the basic consumer VR experience and to find out if it is any closer to being technology consumers will embrace anytime soon. To use these goggles, you need one of Samsung’s Galaxy models and to download the special Oculus software that lets it deliver 360-degree photos and videos that allow you to play games and see movies in 3D. I had tested the Oculus Rift Goggles a number of times in the last 18 months so I already knew how great an immersive VR experience could be, but the Oculus Rift setup cost about $3000 and needs a pretty powerful PC to drive it.
But at $99.00, Samsung’s Gear VR Goggles were more in my price range and would give me a more consumer-focused view of VR’s potential impact on our computing experience. To my surprise, this product and the Oculus software and apps delivered a relatively good consumer VR experience. The 360-degree photos were spectacular and the few short videos they had were very cool. It also was quite a hit with the granddaughters as they both loved watching a 360-degree tour of Disneyland and watching divers under water checking out the wildlife. In fact, the girls kept fighting to get to use it and they clearly loved the experience. One note about this experience though – Don’t watch one of the roller coaster videos if you have equilibrium issues. This particular video is not for the faint of heart.
While these Goggles do deliver what one would could call a VR experience, the optics are very poor, and the actual content available for it is minimal at best. But, at $99.00, it made my Android phone come alive and deliver a fun, albeit limited, VR experience for the holiday. Of course, Samsung and Oculus will bring in more content and with many new 360 degree cameras coming to market, users will soon be able to create their own 360-degree images and videos for use on this system. Yet, this product and VR for consumers is still clearly a work in progress and will probably take another few years before it gains real acceptance with a broad market.
As a researcher and analyst, my use of this product has given me a glimpse into VR’s consumer potential and makes me a real believer that VR has a bright future that will have a dramatic impact on our overall computing experience in the not too distant future. The actual trend behind VR, AR and other highly visual products like Microsoft’s Hololens, is something called “Immersive Computing”. It seems to be the buzzword for 2016, at least, when it comes to the big PC vendors who all are going down this path to give their PCs and laptops new UI functionality. However, I am starting to think that, while adding things like Intel’s Real Sense Camera, 360-degree images and video and better sound and gestures to PCs, the real consumer VR experience will come through some type of 3D VR goggles and a smartphone.
At the higher end, and probably used more for gaming and vertical applications, there will be the more expensive and more powerful VR Goggles like Oculus Rift and HoloLens. These systems require a lot of processing power and are not cheap. But they will deliver the best of breed VR and, for users, they will bring a new dimension to their personal computing experience. In normal market conditions, these higher-end systems would start the market development of this category. While the audience of users might be small, they would define the market for personal VR for the first few years before the second tier of users adopt them as prices come down, and optional devices become available.
However, if the smartphone delivers the actual VR experience and low-cost goggles like the one from Samsung can get better optics, and more 360-degree content and apps, an actual consumer market for VR could develop in tandem. With the current version, you can buy some popular 3D movies and, if app developers get behind creating more applications like the one’s Oculus Rift has for Samsung, consumers could start enjoying the virtue of VR much sooner than I had thought.
I actually find it interesting that Google and Samsung have led the way with this and, most likely, will develop the early stages of the consumer market for VR. However, it has me wondering if, in the end, Apple is the one who gets the most mileage from this concept.
As you know, Apple does not invent categories. But once they see a category gain serious consumer interest, they jump in with a superior device and a rich ecosystem to support it. They did not invent the MP3 player but made it better and a giant worldwide hit. They did not invent the smartphone, yet their iPhone, while not the world leader regarding units sold, brings in over 73% of the revenue for all smartphones. They also did not invent the tablet, yet their tablet rewrote the rules for personal tablets, and the iPad is still a solid, well-selling product for Apple that taps into over 800,000 apps and a multitude of services. Just imagine if Johnny Ive designed Apple’s VR iGoggles or whatever they call it and sells it for twice as much as Samsung’s current Gear VR Goggles. Quality would be at the heart of their design and, in the end, it would probably outsell Samsung’s version three to four times more with a host of new apps and services tied to their program.
Of course, Apple getting into mobile VR is pure speculation on my part but, if the consumer market for mobile VR does take off, Apple’s version of this product would not be far behind. Regardless of whether Apple does jump into mobile VR, my experience with Samsung’s version suggests VR going mainstream may come sooner rather than later especially if we can get better goggles that are relatively inexpensive and more related apps and services to support the products. If you have a Samsung smartphone, I suggest you get the Samsung VR Goggles to check out how it works. The experience will be enlightening and fun.