VR hasn’t been the technological revolution some predicted, but the industry continues to grow and at the recent Oculus Connect keynote, the company’s vision of a VR future was teased with three main products: the Oculus Go, Rift and Quest. These three devices cover the whole spectrum of VR ownership, but it’s telling that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – who was handling the presentation – didn’t mention one of the company’s other big success stories.
Remember the Samsung Gear VR? Created in conjunction with Oculus, this low-cost VR option uses your smartphone to do the heavy lifting, offering a cheap route into the world of immersive reality. And it found an audience, too – at the start of last year, 5 million Gear VR units had been sold, making it one of Oculus’ early success stories. I own one, and I still use it regularly; it’s a great product which didn’t cost me an arm and a leg to purchase and doesn’t have any irksome wires to get in the way.
So why then, has Oculus not really spoken about Gear VR for some time, and why didn’t we see an updated version of the unit at Oculus Connect? Speaking to The Verge, Oculus’ VP of product Nate Mitchell insisted that the unit still factors in the company’s plans. “Gear VR is still a priority,” he said. “A lot of the work that we’re doing on Oculus Go carries right over to Gear VR — they’re binary compatible. So a lot of the improvements we’ve been making to the software side, a lot of the products we’ve been investing in, are coming to Gear VR as well. Both devices run almost exactly the same app and game catalog, so if developers are building for Oculus Go, the Gear VR won’t be left behind.”
Even so, it’s clear that Oculus is putting most of its eggs in the basket marked ‘Oculus Go’, as that is a device which is relatively cheap and anyone can use it, whereas Gear VR relies on you owning a Samsung phone. “We are definitely deeply committed, though, to Go,” Mitchell added. “We really, really want to make sure that it’s a huge success, and so the team has been pouring a lot of energy into that.” The message is perhaps clearer than you think; Oculus wants Go to be the entry point for most users.
It’s worth noting that even Samsung, which has surely benefitted greatly from the cachet that having a relationship with Oculus brings to the table, has already revealed it has VR plans which don’t include the Facebook-owned company; it’s working on a Windows Mixed Reality headset called the HMD Odyssey+, which mirrors the Korean’s previous platform agnostic tactics like backing Windows Phone at a time when it was one of Android’s key hardware partners. The firm loves to spread the risk, it would seem.
As someone who owns a Samsung phone and Gear VR, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that the unit is little more than an afterthought in the eyes of Oculus these days. The partnership with Samsung gave Oculus a big advantage when it came to creating a userbase that is tied into the Oculus ecosystem of apps; I’d guess that a lot of Rift users started out with the low-cost, low-risk Gear VR before migrating to the ‘big time’. By failing to keep Gear VR in the picture, it could lose out on a healthy stream of potential converts.
Still, Mitchell’s comments do give us Gear VR veterans some encouragement; as he says, anything that happens in the world of Oculus also benefits Gear VR users, who are connected to the same aforementioned ecosystem and can download all of the latest apps and games, just like those who use the Oculus Go. I just hope that my Gear VR remains useful for the next few years, because it’s one of the best things about owning a Samsung handset, in my opinion.