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21st April: The Relaunch of the Samsung Gear VR

Samsung and Oculus VR today announced the launch date and price for the new Samsung Gear VR motion-sensing controller. We all knew it was coming, but it’s good to have confirmation of when we can get hands-on with the device and how much it will cost us. What was more interesting about the announcement however, was Samsung’s positioning of the Gear VR; this isn’t just an update, this is a relaunch.

The Samsung Gear VR originally made its debut way back at IFA 2014, Berlin, and launched as an ‘Innovator Edition’ compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 in December of that year. Subsequently we’ve seen slight revisions of the head-mounted display compatible with more Samsung smartphone handsets, including the Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, Note 5, S7, and S7 edge. Now however, along with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8Plus, 21st April 2017, the Samsung Gear VR will take on a new persona.

Originally it was believed that the Innovator Editions of the Samsung Gear VR were the beta testing phase, but in reality it seems this was alpha. Every stage has been knocked back a peg as Samsung are ramping up their efforts: new videogame content, new distribution channels for 360 degree video, and even a new Gear 360 camera capable of recording 4K images and video content. The Samsung Gear VR is finally entering it’s prime.

The addition of a motion-sensing controller was an obvious knee-jerk reaction to the Google Daydream; a direct competitor to the Samsung Gear VR that is a much more open platform. Initially Samsung had also pledged to support Google Daydream, suggesting a potential demise for the Gear VR platform. However, this couldn’t seem further from the truth as virtual reality (VR) took up a huge portion of the Samsung Unpacked event today. The Gear VR is clearly a significant endeavour for Samsung, and a huge part of the strategy for the newly unveiled Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8Plus handsets.

Gear VR Controller

The fact that the Gear VR bundle with the motion-sensing controller is only $29 USD more than the Gear VR was offered for upon its consumer launch 18 months ago means that we’ll likely see the bundle offered for free with new smartphone handset purchases. Indeed, Verizon had already committed to exactly this for pre-orders on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8Plus handsets earlier today before their release date had even been announced. More people invited to experience more compelling content is exactly what VR needs.

There’s no denying that mobile VR is significantly inferior to tethered VR – be it Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR – but creating an accesible path for a mainstream audience is important. With the wide range of Samsung smartphones now compatible with the Samsung Gear VR and the huge variety of content targetting all kinds of audiences, mobile VR is certainly positoned to act as the ‘gateway drug’ it had been expected to be for some time. And, most likely, this had been Samsung and Oculus VR’s plan all along.