Hey Samsung, maybe launch fewer Gear VR headsets?
Samsung entered the consumer VR market with the “Innovator Edition” variants of the Gear VR headset a couple of years ago. The headset was really only aimed at enthusiasts and developers at that point in time. Samsung later released the first consumer version of the Gear VR for $99 in 2015. It was compatible with the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy S6 edge+ and the Galaxy Note 5.
The first consumer version of the Gear VR featured 54 ~ 70 mm fixed lenses with 96-degree field of view. It had a handful of sensors like accelerometer, gyrometer and a proximity sensor. Samsung also made it more comfortable by shaving off some extra weight.
The company really pushed its virtual reality headset by offering it as a pre-order incentive with the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge. The 2016 flagship sold a lot of units across the globe and it really helped popularize the Gear VR. Samsung and its retailers also kept offering free Gear VR headsets as part of their promotions for the Galaxy S7.
No wonder Samsung revealed during its developers’ conference in San Francisco last year that Gear VR users across the globe have consumed more than two million hours of virtual reality content. The number is going to be significantly higher than that today.
Samsung launched a new Gear VR headset in August last year. It had a USB Type-C port so that it could be compatible with the Galaxy Note 7. The new headset was all-black, featured a redesigned trackpad, more cushioning and a greater field of view. It was backward compatible with all previous Gear VR-supported Samsung handsets.
The Galaxy Note 7 didn’t hang around that long but the Gear VR did even though there was no Samsung flagship on the market at that time with a USB Type-C port. The headset shipped with a connector which enabled users to use another compatible Samsung device with the Gear VR.
The company proudly announced during its press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 back in January that it has shipped more than five million Gear VR headsets across the globe. That’s a big achievement and Samsung isn’t going to rest on its laurels.
Samsung then launched a new Gear VR with Controller headset the very next month at MWC 2017 in Barcelona. It supported both microUSB and USB Type-C ports. The new Gear VR had 42mm lenses with 101-degree Field of View. The controller enabled convenient one-hand control and improved motion interaction with minimized movement.
This was the headset that was meant for the Galaxy S8. Samsung then announced that the Gear VR was the most popular mobile VR headset in Q1 2017 as it sold more than 782,000 units in the quarter. This surprised no one.
Keep in mind that Samsung has charged anywhere from $99 to $129 over the years for its various Gear VR headsets. That’s not a nominal amount of money. Most customers wouldn’t want to spend over $100 every six months or so on an accessory that they might stop using once the novelty wears off.
Merely six months after it launched the new Gear VR with Controller earlier this year, Samsung quietly launched a new new Gear VR headset with Controller for one simple reason: the existing one couldn’t house the Galaxy Note 8. The only reason it needed to launch a new headset was that the Galaxy Note 8 couldn’t fit inside the headset that it launched just six months ago.
Just like its predecessor, the Note 8-compatible Gear VR comes with a wireless Bluetooth controller. Also like its predecessor, it costs $130. It will be released alongside the Galaxy Note 8 on September 15.
Imagine this: If you bought a Gear VR for the Galaxy S8 and are now thinking about trading in your smartphone for the Galaxy Note 8, the headset you bought six months back for $130 is now useless. You could try selling it off on eBay but you’d only get a fraction of what you paid.
Chances are many of you will find yourselves in this position. Since Samsung isn’t offering the Gear VR as a pre-order incentive for the Galaxy Note 8 customers will have to put money down for a new headset regardless of whether or not they purchased one for the Galaxy S8.
Granted, this latest model of the Gear VR is also compatible with all Samsung smartphones going back to the Galaxy Note 5, but it’s not like the average customer holds on to all of their old smartphones. They trade-in their devices and upgrade when a newer model comes along. A Gear VR that’s compatible with smartphones they don’t own anymore is of no use to them.
If it keeps up with this, Samsung will essentially be forcing its customers to pay $130 every six months for a new headset and that seems like a blatant money grab, wouldn’t you agree?