There's been a lot of talk about the future of Virtual Reality recently, or VR as it's quickly become known, and it's no surprise to see why. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have just gone on sale, YouTube is awash with funny gameplay videos and some more in-depth coverage – not unlike our own – and a little game about building things out of blocks made its way to an affordable and accessible VR headset last week. Virtual Reality is, without doubt, one of the "coolest" new things in tech, and while there's a long way to go before anyone gets close to shipping a 1.0 product, it's pretty cool to be pushing products that might be 0.5 or 0.75 versions. For Samsung, this cool new technology could be their silver bullet against Apple.
Recently, I upgraded to a Galaxy S7 Edge, and I won't lie; the Gear VR was certainly a deciding factor for me. It wasn't the driving force behind the decision, but it was certainly something that made me think a little harder about going the Samsung route for the first time since the Nexus S was new. Sure, I could use a pretty decent Cardboard-compatible headset with any Android smartphone out there, but Samsung has made smart partnerships with the likes of Oculus – an industry leader, whether you like it or not – and content creators to offer up more content than most other VR solutions out there. I've had a Gear VR headset for about a month or more now, and I've not really used it all that much, but the times I have used it I've thought this is pretty damn cool and has a hell of a lot of potential. That word, "potential", is something that is constantly banded around when talking about Virtual Reality, and 9/10 the people saying it are those in the industry or in the media world looking at an emerging technology.
Showing the Gear VR to my friends and family, who are mostly the same age as myself (my friends, that is) in their twenties, made me think differently about Gear VR and indeed virtual reality. Gamer friends of mine, who inevitably spend a lot of time on YouTube, know all about it and one friend in particular had pre-ordered PlayStation VR already, without ever trying the technology. This is what being wrapped in that sort of world can do, make you feel as if you know it all and have seen everything, and I was guilty of this as well. Needless to say, playing EVE: Gunjack and Minecraft in VR over the weekend changed his mind and made him see why VR was really that big of a deal, but he still wasn't all that excited, after all new technology is just more of the same to him. My fiancee and her family and friends however, thought that VR was amazing, and they were really excited to see it. My father-in-law to be, a builder by trade, has little interest in technology, but was blown away and instantly asked me who the technology was from and how he could get something similar. I told him it was from Samsung, and as an iPhone user he'd have to use something like Google Cardboard, with limited apps and games available on iOS. This is when it hit me.
For Samsung, who seem to be playing the long game with VR in general, this isn't so much about launching another long term moneyspinner for them, but about being "first" and being seen as "cool", and they're winning that fight. New technology – whether it's really or that useful or even that polished – has always been a way of getting people to pay attention to your brand and what else you have to offer. Let's take the iPod as an example, when it was first launched it was a pretty big deal, but at the time Apple was a brand that was only just recovering from the poor 1990s the firm endured. They were viewed as a sort of offbeat brand for weirdos and those who just had to be different, or for very specific industries and tasks. Now look at them. The iPod was cool, it was new and it was far more useable than the other disk-based MP3 players on the market, and when the iPod Mini was launched, consumers were very much interested in what Apple had to offer not just the iPod, but the MacBook and the iMac as well. You could perhaps consider virtual reality to the iPod, are either necessary? No. Were they new and exciting at the time they were introduced? Absolutely.
Shipping a complete product is difficult right now when it comes to VR, after all not everyone is as comfortable with the false motion and frame rates as others, but that doesn't really matter for Samsung. They've done more than most have done when it comes to virtual reality. The Oculus app works great to deliver great games and content, such as the excellent theater that gives you your own private showing of your own home movies or whatever else you can put on to your device. Samsung's own MilkVR has a lot of content on offer to get people sucked in to the world of VR, and now with the arrival of Minecraft, Gear VR is firmly put on the map as something that's cool and something to be interested in. Regardless, Samsung has done 100% more than Apple has with virtual reality, and that's a big deal.
They continue to do more than most people, too. With the launch of Minecraft VR, Samsung now have one of the biggest mobile games which is always big in YouTube views and such and they have plans for even more. Samsung is using VR as a sort of playground to explore new things in terms of what's next for the mobile industry, they've been attending film festivals promoting the technology, and they've got big plans for more beyond film and games as well. This is how you become a leader in a certain category, you start by getting an initial product into people's hands and then you start to nurture the platform into maturity. Someone might come along after you offering something better, but this is a risk worth taking. They've started to empower people on their own as well, by offering up the tool to create their own VR content with the Gear 360, just one more piece in the puzzle to complete Samsung's jigsaw of cool.
The recent launch of the iPhone 5S, I mean the iPhone SE, has not only shown that Apple is out of ideas, but that they're just not interested in producing anything new. I should say "risky" here instead of "new", because Apple no longer does risky, even the Apple Watch was a couple of years late to the party. Apple might not need to get into the VR game in terms of gaming, because Apple computers have never been about playing games, but when the everyday consumer starts to ask where the Apple VR headsets are kept in an Apple store, the Cupertino firm will have a problem on their hands. That moment is a long way away, without a doubt, but Samsung is slowly but surely turning heads away from Apple devices to their own. Virtual Reality might not be a finished product, it might not even be something most users want to spend time with, but that's mostly irrelevant. All people know is that Virtual Reality is cool, it's new, it's the "in thing" right now and they know that Samsung has it, and Apple doesn't.