Naina KhedekarFeb 23, 2016 11:47:59 IST
The Unpacked event is when Samsung expects undivided attention for its flagship devices. But this year's been different. It let its upcoming flagships, which pretty much decide the company's fate, share stage with another tech category – Virtual Reality. The company not only decided to bundle the $99 Gear VR for some regions, but also announced a new VR camera – the Gear 360. That's not all. The real surprise was Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg showing up at the event. Now, that's a big deal. Here's why!
Zuckerberg spoke about VR as the 'most social platform'. Soon after Zuckerberg delivered a small speech, Samsung's mobile chief DJ Koh re-entered the stage and almost stopped Zuckerberg for a quick photo-op. So, Samsung finding a new BFF in Zuckerberg isn't entirely strange. Given the most recent events and the manner in which the year has been for both, we believe that's the most practical thing to do.
Zuckerberg's Free Basics plans have gone kaput, at least in the Indian market for now. The way forward ought to be expanding its user base. Or, bringing a new innovative experience in the most popular social network on the planet. In comparison, Samsung spent quite a while trying to bounce back to the dominant position it once shared.
Anshul Gupta, Research Director at Gartner India tells us, "Samsung is at a juncture where it needed a device which can turn around its fate of slowing smartphone sales. Its new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are much better and a refined version of its previous version. There are some really nice enhancements like camera, dual SIM/ expandable memory. However with similar look & feel and changes mostly inside it will be difficult to draw customer to retail for replacement. In this highly competitive and tough economic environment, customer expect more innovation per extra dollar spent. Trick is in emphasizing the benefits of enhancement to end users."
After years of ground work, it seems the battlefield for VR is finally gearing up as Google, Samsung and Facebook are racing to be the first in this new and promising category. Microsoft has already wowed many with the Hololens, and others such as HTC are all set to put their best foot forward as well. Besides, Apple is thought to be building its own armour for the VR battle as well. Soon after reports around its first sales drop in over a decade, analysts predict it may phase out iPhone for virtual reality devices.
With markets betting big on VR, both Samsung and Facebook are set out on a new journey to take on this next-gen technology. Evidently, VR is still at a nascent stage and nothing exceptional is expected this year. Considering the probable shift in pattern in the coming years, it is the right time to watch each other's back.
"As Samsung has a huge marketing budget and wants to maintain leadership in the smartphone high-end segment, it will invest a lot more than its competitors on promoting Virtual Reality. No doubt it will help to create buzz among media, gamers, and the niche audience demanding immersive experiences. But will it offer consumer benefits for the masses? The short answer is: no. In 2016, reach for VR platforms will remain more than limited," said Forrester consumer mobile analyst Julie Ask.
Zuckerberg was out there to promote how VR can help deliver social experience such as 'hanging out with friends anytime you want', 'holding a group meeting or event anywhere in the world' and so on. He also announced to bring dynamic streaming technology for 360 video to Gear VR. The technology enhances the performance by playing back only what's in the view, and not the entire 360 degree sphere of the video. He also spoke about reducing the bandwidth while still delivering high quality 4X videos. Samsung's hardware capabilities and Facebook's outreach and popularity could help drive in VR content extend the horizon for this new category.
It should be noted that Samsung and Facebook had teamed up to launch the Gear VR soon after Facebook acquired Oculus for around a hefty $2 billion in 2014. In fact, a VR headset at $99 was the first step towards upping the proposition of a VR device going mainstream. But looks like, putting on a headgear, and being transported into a different world hasn't been extremely appealing to masses yet. There has been concern over huge VR headsets going mainstream, and Samsung just pulled out the best trick to combat that.
What could be more feasible than a small, circular, GoPro-like camera that can easily go mainstream over a huge, bulky head gear. It also turns out to be the great step towards creating immersive content as the camera, available in two models, allows complete 360-degree videos or traditional videos in 180-degree using a single lens mode. There's NFC, Wi-Fi Direct support to enable quick interaction with Galaxy smartphone, PC editing, stitching panoramic views and also sharing on social media platforms.
"The VR experience feels a little like Wi-Fi in the early days – sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. My VR headset experience didn't work at all. Seems super cool; when – or if working. It wasn't until Mark Zuckerberg got on stage that the energy picked up in the room," adds Ask.
The whole event was an example of how serious Samsung is about VR. As one entered the conference hall, a VR headset was attached to each chair. It looked like a gigantic dark chamber with thousands glued to the headgear as Samsung unveiled its new smartphones – Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge – in VR for an immersive experience. The company event launched the Unpacked 360 View app so that people across the world could feel they are right there.
Some others also believe that the new Galaxy flagships - which saw a big overhaul last year – had a little to deliver this and the new devices are just to divert the attention from its flagships.
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