Contrary to the grandiose presentation that Samsung gave Gear VR at their IFA Unpacked event earlier today, Gear VR will launch in 2014 first under the moniker ‘Innovator Edition’ which isn’t aimed mainstream smartphone users.
Despite being around for decades, virtual reality is still new-fangled tech to most of the world. Even the wave of consumer VR technology ushered forth by Oculus VR in recent years has yet to penetrate the mainstream in the same way that pervasive technology like smartphones have. And while that’s the eventual hope, Samsung appears to be saying that their VR tech is not quite ready to be positioned toward your everyday technology user.
Samsung says that the Gear VR release date is sometime in 2014 and that the unit will launch officially as “Gear VR Innovator Edition.” The device is “designed for innovative consumers, specifically VR enthusiasts, developers, mobile experts and professionals, and early technology adopters,” rather than the mainstream. It sounds an awful lot like Oculus’ approach to release an open development kit before a final product, though Samsung is stepping a bit closer to the end user.
There’s probably a few reasons for this. For one, the content library still needs to be built up. Oculus has seen lots of tech demos and some solid indie games made so far over more than a year of development since the launch of the Rift DK1. It’s going to take some time for Samsung to build up their content library to a level that mainstream users would expect. Fortunately, we’ll probably see interplay between experience built for Gear VR and for the Oculus Rift, bolstering content for both platforms.
There’s also the question of 3DOF tracking on Gear VR. Anyone who has used the Rift DK1 and DK2 understands the huge difference that rotational and positional (6DOF) tracking makes to the VR experience. Even though Samsung may have hit sub-20ms latency on Gear VR—no small feat—people will still find discomfort if they try to move their head through 3D space.
There are some ideas as to how positional tracking might be added to mobile VR, but for now the problem is still unsolved. Samsung would be wise not to pitch Gear VR as ‘ready for the mainstream’ until they have positional tracking ready.
Samsung says that when Gear VR is released in 2014 it will be available in Frost White (implying we’ll see other colors down the road) through Samsung’s website and “selectively by carriers.”