Samsung introduced its next big thing a launch event in Barcelona last night, and it wasn’t a smartphone.
The company’s latest flagship mobile device, the Galaxy S7, was more of a supporting act to a bigger theme that Samsung is chasing along with other electronics manufacturers: virtual reality.
Members of the audience were treated to Samsung’s latest Gear VR headsets at the launch event, through which they could watch a 360-degree video of people playing freestyle soccer on the streets of Barcelona.
Once everyone removed their headsets, they were surprised to see
Virtual reality was the next platform, he told the audience. “It’s going to change the way we live and work and communicate.”
For Samsung this was a bold message about its desire to push forward into newer markets, and away from its staple of churning out the ubiquitous slabs of metal we call smartphones. Though it didn’t announce a new version of the Gear VR, its virtual reality headset, it did unveil the Gear 360, a camera for shooting virtual reality videos.
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Samsung’s Galaxy line still makes up more than two thirds of profits at the company’s mobile division, but that business has been under pressure in recent quarters.
For one thing it’s getting harder to differentiate on specs on smartphone hardware: the S7 had no big surprises, and some of the best new features were actually ones that had been axed from the S6, including expandable storage.
The problem is that Samsung is walking the same tricky path that
Even Apple is looking for future growth in other areas like driverless cars, as smartphone sales finally start to slow.
For now Samsung’s semiconductor division is making up the financial shortfall it’s been experiencing in mobile, and late last year the head of its mobile unit JK Shin was replaced by Dong-jin ‘DJ’ Koh, who shook hands with Zuckerberg on stage on Sunday night.
Last night’s event was a landmark in Samsung’s shift towards virtual reality, and Samsung’s way of sending a message to the market that it is serious about the technology, to the extent it wanted to showcase its partnership with Facebook.
Samsung’s Gear VR headset, first launched to consumers in 2015, uses technology from VR-headset maker Oculus Rift, which Facebook bought in the summer of 2014.
Samsung is also giving away a Gear VR to anyone who pre-orders the new Galaxy S7. It’s a big investment for Samsung, but may be necessary at a time when the company needs to find other avenues for growth.
A few of Samsung’s competitors have also announced their own plays in virtual reality: Taiwan’s HTC announced that pre-orders for its $799 Vive headset would open at the end of February and LG has launched its own virtual reality headset, the 360 VR.