Samsung’s developer conference, dedicated to all things part of the mobile giant’s hardware and software ecosystem took place last week. Here are some of the VR highlights from the conference.
Samsung’s commitment to virtual reality is growing stronger. After initially dipping it’s toe in the water, collaborating on the Gear VR alongside Oculus, that headset’s consumer launch in 2015 signified that they continue to see immersive technology playing a significant part in the future of their business strategy.
Their annual developer conference SDC is designed to bring together creators in the mobile (and now mobile VR) space to update them on the frankly bewildering array of initiatives and platforms under the Samsung umbrella. This year’s conference, held at San Francisco’s Moscone center last week, emphasised various aspects of Samsung’s plans for virtual reality into 2016 and beyond – here are a few of the highlights.
Gear 360’s Price and MilkVR Integration and Enhancements
Samsung’s diminutive spherical 360 camera was unveiled at the Mobile World Conference in February and demonstrated Samsung’s typical flair for product design and engineering. Measuring just 66.7×56.2×60mm and weighing in at 153g, and with its splash proof design, the device is a clear play for the mobile consumer 360 video capture market. For it’s size it’s an impressive performer, but a consumer device has to come at the right price.
Samsung have now officially launched the product in South Korea with a local price of 399,300 Korean Won – equal to roughly $350 USD and, should you be a resident there, you can buy it now. Samsung even released an unboxing ‘how to’ video to celebrate the launch. The Gear 360 is expected to appear soon to buy throughout the world – although no official dates or prices are yet available.
The hardware is one thing, but a consumer device these days needs slick supporting applications to match. SDC 2016 was Samsung’s opportunity to outline how it plans to use Gear 360 to further the company’s push into the 360 immersive video space.
Samsung’s Milk VR video service was launched as a conduit for 360 film-makers to share their work with the world and, with the Gear VR application, give them a platform for people to view them immersively. During SDC’s keynote presentation, Samsung’s Director of Software Engineering Andrew Dickerson presented several welcome enhancements to the Milk VR platform.
Firstly, the Gear 360 camera integrates directly with Milk VR, providing a simple flow from device to content platform. For content consumption, in addition to the Gear VR app, you can now view them on a smartphone as well as the website – which now allows content editing and authoring too. Finally, Dickerson detailed the Milk VR upload SDK, which allows 360 camera manufacturers to integrate their software pipeline to use Milk VR as a publishing platform. Finally, Dickerson detailed some of the authoring features now available on the Milk VR desktop website, which include hotspot navigation points, used to jump between 360 video viewpoints.
Samsung Hint at Future Untethered VR Device
Despite a session agenda which featured many VR related topics, there weren’t any major revelations on Gear VR’s evolution as a hardware platform. However, a hint at what might be coming came from the company down the line came from the company’s head of R&D for software and services Injong Rhee who stated at SDC that “We are working on wireless and dedicated VR devices, not necessarily working with our mobile phone,” perhaps indicating non Gear VR virtual reality devices more akin to the likes of GameFace labs ‘in development’ portable VR console. It’s a move that makes some sense. As accessible as Gear VR undoubtedly is to those who already own a compatible Galaxy phone, for those that don’t own one or simply don’t wish to tie up their phone, but fancy the untethered benefits of mobile VR, it’s an obvious market segment which is not yet catered for.
Also, during the opening keynote, Rhee presented a slide with a far-reaching view of what Samsung may bring to its VR suite of products in the future, from motion tracking input to haptic feedback and touch interfaces. These are clearly blue sky views of what might be upcoming, but it’s heartening Samsung is thinking this far ahead with VR.
Doubling Down on Gear VR Content Development
Elsewhere, the less glamorous subject of practical software development for VR was featured heavily too. The creator of Samsung’s Milk VR platform Alex Chu, now Head of Product at Vicarious, demonstrated how they’re building a user-friendly workflow for users to build sharable media experiences. In Vicarious you can build up a sharable media experience based on media from your device all pieced together using Vicarious within the Gear VR.
David Holz, Co-founder & CTO of input solution provider Leap Motion presented the latest version of their recently launched Orion gesture tracking technology. Holz then went on to speculate on the next generation of head mounted displays and how camera sensors may be integrated as a standard hardware feature, allowing the kinds of interaction Orion enables, as a platform standard. But he goes further, exploring what he calls the fusion of different input modalities, mixing eye tracking with body and hand tracking to further allow technology to essentially vanish.
Samsung’s Daniel Appelquist, Samsung’s ‘Internet Ambassador’ presented some of the work based around the portable VR API Web VR and how “Progressive Web Apps” are enabled with Samsung’s in-house developed Android web browser and details the user experience as well as development principals for those interested in pursuing development in the area. There’s also a segment devoted entirely to the Gear VR Internet browser here too.
It’s encouraging to see Samsung continue to take virtual reality so seriously, but perhaps more than that it’s great to see VR becoming less of a novelty subject at such conferences, with this year’s development sessions really getting down and dirty on the every day practicalities of creating content for VR. What’s more, clearly Samsung are happy to hint at a mid to long-term hardware roadmap too, which should give those thinking of throwing themselves into the VR development space a degree of confidence perhaps absent until now.