Samsung accelerates the layout of the Metaverse

After the concept of the Metaverse was brought on fire by Meta, well-known companies such as Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Sony, and Snapchat rushed to the scene, and even conservative Apple began to act. “Apple is about to release XR hardware” became big news.

By contrast, consumer electronics giant Samsung seems to be a “little transparency”, and it has been almost inundated with news that it plans to launch a new device in the Metaverse this year. The Korean media criticized Samsung for being “not aggressive”, saying that it was overly obsessed with foldable smartphone technology and gradually lost its position in the XR field.

However, amid the high profile of competitors, criticism from the outside world, and doubts from investors, Samsung’s Metaverse strategy has gradually become clear this year. Han Jong-hee, vice chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics, who only took office last year, said on many important occasions this year that Samsung Electronics will actively cultivate the Metaverse as a new business growth point.

Gear VR was a mobile phone box “fighter”

In 2014, “Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus” triggered the first wave of VR entrepreneurship and capital investment. Google released Cardboard, priced at only $15, and sold 10 million units worldwide. In China, Baofengyingyin released the first-generation Baofeng Magic Mirror with a 99 yuan “mobile phone box”, and carried out 5 product iterations within two years, with a cumulative sales volume of more than 5 million units; Shenzhen Huaqiangbei produced 9.9 yuan for free shipping The “VR mobile phone box” achieved a sales volume of 30 million units.

The VR boom that started in 2014 also pushed Samsung to the top of the wave. According to the “2016 VR Market Research Report” released by Unity and SuperData , the global VR terminal shipments in 2016 were 6.3 million units, of which Samsung Gear VR sales were 4.51 million units, accounting for more than 70%, occupying the top spot with an absolute advantage . The third-ranked Oculus sold just 240,000 units, a fraction of Samsung’s Gear VR sales.

Liu Yan, director of GfK’s China Technology Division, said in an interview with a reporter from China Electronics News that many manufacturers entered the VR market through “mobile phone boxes”. At that time, “mobile phone boxes” accounted for more than 90% of China’s retail market.

It is the sales of cheap “phone boxes” that make Samsung. Samsung and Oculus launched the Gear VR developer version in December 2014 and November 2015 . In March 2015, Samsung launched an $80 consumer version of the Gear VR. According to then-Samsung Global Innovation Center spokesman David Eun, the Gear VR had already sold more than 1 million units before version 2.0 was released. In 2016 and 2017, when Samsung released new mobile phones (Galaxy Note7, Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note8), the Gear VR was updated to fit the new phone model.

Although the Gear VR is dwarfed by the current PC VR and VR all-in-one consoles, its competitors at the time were Google Cardboard for $15, Storm Magic Mirror for $99, and a “mobile phone box” for free shipping at $9.9. Samsung Gear VR can be described as It is a proper “high-end product”.

“Samsung Gear VR is the best among ‘mobile phone box’ products. It adds infrared sensors, large viewing angles, 5mm lenses, etc., to achieve a balance between performance and price.” Optoelectronics Information, School of Optoelectronics, Beijing Institute of Technology Weng Dongdong, a researcher at the Institute of Technology and Color Engineering, said in an interview with a reporter from China Electronics News.

Liu Yan pointed out that the Gear VR product has an inertial measurement unit installed inside, which can make the positioning effect better after connecting to a mobile phone, allowing users to achieve a better immersion. It also has certain advantages in terms of hardware, so it was relatively popular in the early stage.

However, some voices questioned that the marketing strategy of buying Samsung mobile phones to send VR products for free has made VR sales “water-filled”. When the Galaxy S7 was launched, after Samsung successfully gave away 300,000 Gear VR units for free, it immediately started a promotion in the United States and other regions to buy a mobile phone and get VR. Users only need to buy the Galaxy S8 series, S7 series, S6 series and Note5 series, Get a Gear VR and several popular VR games from the Oculus Store for free.

Yuan Yu, senior analyst of CCID Consulting, said in an interview with a reporter from China Electronics News that in 2016, Samsung smartphones had a significant advantage in the global market. The highlight is light weight and price, and it needs to be used with the corresponding Samsung mobile phone. It can be seen that the launch of Gear VR is more like a novel mobile phone accessory, which is used to maintain the advantages of its own mobile phone and focuses more on strengthening the functions of mobile phones.

Since 2018, Gear VR has been absent from the launch of new Samsung mobile phones. With the Galaxy Note 9 and S10 no longer directly supporting Gear VR devices, Gear VR has withdrawn. Before Gear VR was discontinued, Gear VR had accumulated more than 700 applications and more than 1 million daily active users.

Why did Samsung decisively stop the Gear VR? The industry believes that “mobile phone box” products cannot meet the higher needs of users and Gear VR cannot adapt to other brands of mobile phones as important reasons. Liu Yan believes that the “mobile phone box” has limited functions and content, the popularity of consumers has declined, and the market size has gradually shrunk. Yuan Yu pointed out that after 2017, Samsung mobile phones were hit by domestic and foreign mobile phone companies such as Apple, Huawei, and Xiaomi, and their market share continued to decline, while Gear VR sales also declined. It can be seen that although Gear VR sales are high, it relies too much on Samsung smartphones and has not built its own market influence .

VR market competition is fierce, Samsung leaves the market sadly

As technology companies turn to PC VR and VR all-in-one machines, breakthrough products are frequently launched, entering a situation of fierce competition. In 2016, Sony launched PlayStation VR, which attracted a group of “loyal fans” with its well-made platform and exclusive games; in 2016, Microsoft released Hololens, aiming at the B-end market and continuously expanding its application in large enterprises. In 2018, Facebook launched the $199 Oculus Go all-in-one machine, which has taken the lead in the all-in-one machine market with its high cost performance.

Samsung also launched its own integrated VR products, but the market response was not good. In November 2017, Samsung launched its first PCVR headset, the Odyssey , priced at $499 (including controllers), and in 2018 an upgraded version priced at $499.9. Odyssey+ failed to make waves in the market due to its inability to build on the vast majority of Samsung mobile phone users and the lack of killer exclusive game content like the Gear VR. With the industry’s fading enthusiasm for VR/AR, and the double-sided attack of competitors on price and content, Samsung has never released new XR hardware products after the Odyssey+ headset.

The suspension of the “Mobile Box” and Odyssey headsets has directly caused Samsung’s influence in the VR market to decline sharply in recent years. In 2021, the global VR headset shipments will exceed 10 million units for the first time (IDC data), of which Oculus’ share will reach 80%, and Samsung will be missing. Korean media jokingly called it “from the first place to no ranking”.

Talking about Samsung’s disappearance in the VR field, Liu Yan said: “With the increase of consumers’ demand for high-quality content and ecology, high-end all-in-one and split products are gradually emerging, but the equipment costs are high, and it is difficult to popularize the consumer side in the short term. “

Samsung’s sad departure also seems to reflect the uncertainty of the future shape and industry development prospects of VR hardware . In late 2017, Samsung Electronics vice president and head of graphics R&D Taeyong Kim said that Samsung was trying to combine the best of Gear VR and Odyssey as a next-generation VR system. Zhou Hongwei, the founder and CEO of Pico, said earlier that as a relatively new product type, the VR all-in-one machine still lacks mature hardware configuration solutions. Consumers need VR products with high mobility and portability that are lightweight, convenient, Comfortable to wear .

As the concept of the Metaverse becomes popular in 2021, the focus of competition in the VR hardware market has also undergone a fundamental change. In Yuan Yu’s view, one of the characteristics of the Metaverse is decentralization. Only compatible VR/AR devices can achieve fast real-time access. Therefore, preempting industry standards and launching highly compatible devices are also key points of competition. Liu Yan believes that software and hardware collaboration will become the focus of competition. She pointed out: “VR/AR, as the hardware entrance of the Metaverse, will directly determine the scale of users, and the number of ecological content and games is the key to grab users’ attention. At the same time, only industry Only when the upstream and downstream of the chain accelerate the layout and technological development drives the performance of software and hardware to make full immersion possible.”

Metaverse wind rises Samsung relatively slowly

In the years since Samsung left the field, the XR hardware track has undergone tremendous changes. Microsoft launched a new generation of HoloLens 2; Oculus launched the $299 Quest 2, which shipped more than 10 million units. The Metaverse in 2021 has completely brought fire to the hardware track again. Facebook changed its name to Meta “all in” Metaverse; ByteDance bought the VR hardware manufacturer Pico; Sony officially announced the latest PlayStation VR2; Google first acquired Micro LED The company Raxium, and later invested in the Hon Hai subsidiary to lay out the industrial Metaverse.

Although it has suspended the sale of VR hardware, Samsung Electronics has never stopped in the exploration of XR technology and hardware, and has entered the stage of “building high walls, accumulating grains, and slowly becoming king”. Different from the “pioneer” role in 2014, which was quick-witted and quick-witted, Samsung’s pace in the layout of the Metaverse appears to be very meek. “.

This unusual move has led to endless speculation. South Korean analyst Kim Gwang-soo believes that the wave of XR devices set off by this Metaverse is led by technology companies, and its advantage is that it has enough content and platforms . For example, Google has the Android operating system, Microsoft has the Xbox and Windows systems, Meta has the Oculus app store and strong content ecosystem, and Sony has the PlayStation app platform. “Samsung, which has neither a strong platform nor exclusive content, has a certain risk in launching an XR device at this time, which may be one of the reasons for its hesitation.” Kim Gwang-so said.

In fact, with the rise of the Metaverse concept, Samsung is actively enriching and complementing its shortcomings in platforms, content, ecology and consumer connections . Samsung is experimenting with XR in music, gaming, fashion, and other scenarios, using these scenarios to build a strong connection between XR and young people. For example, the Samsung XR team and partners explored VR/AR concert live streaming, allowing Samsung smartphone users to enjoy an immersive experience of live music; Samsung collaborated with K-pop singer BIBI to launch AR fashion clothing series filters on Galaxy A; Samsung Launched a VR online digital store in South Korea to bring consumers an interactive shopping experience; Samsung launched the next-generation playground, Dreamground, which combines physical structures with AR technology to immerse visitors in a digital environment.

These are criticized by the media as tricks to play “flower fists and embroidered legs”, which may be Samsung’s content ecology paving the way for the launch of XR hardware. During CES2020, Samsung showed the AR glasses for the first time. When asked by the media when it would be released, Hyunsuk Kim, CEO of Samsung’s consumer electronics department, said: “Samsung will always be a hardware company, it has nothing to do with when we release products, the key is we The technology can be further developed.”

No new hardware products have been released for 4 years, but Samsung’s technical patents and cooperation in VR all-in-one machines and AR glasses have been exposed one after another. In terms of VR, in January 2021, Samsung Electronics obtained patents related to VR all-in-one and VR controllers from the Hague International Design System of WIPO (World Intellectual Property Office) . In terms of AR, Samsung’s actions are more frequent. During CES 2020, Samsung featured a fitness-focused AR glasses, the Samsung Glasses Lite, in a promotional video. The patent information disclosure of Samsung AR glasses has exceeded 6 in the past two years.

After Sony, Meta, Microsoft, Google, ByteDance, Tencent and other technology companies officially announced the Metaverse plan, the “calm” Samsung finally couldn’t sit still. On May 11, Han Jong Hee, vice chairman of Samsung Group and head of the device experience department, reaffirmed that Samsung’s research and development of a Metaverse device is currently in progress . When asked about its plans for AR and VR products this year, Samsung said its R&D team is developing the core technology for AR glasses.

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