Samsung Mounting New AR Push After An Underwhelming Year: Report

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Samsung is preparing a new augmented-reality push following what's been a largely underwhelming year for its ambitions in the consumer electronics segment, according to new intellectual property documentation reviewed by Android Headlines. The South Korean manufacturer intends to advertise its new solutions as part of an ecosystem called "AR World" which could ultimately span everything from smartphone technologies to dedicated headsets. Three-dimensional audio is another tech avenue currently being pursued by Samsung, as are AR apps that utilize wearables.

An unimaginative year and an identity crisis

While Samsung as a whole did rather well in 2018 from a purely financial standpoint, its continued performance was hardly based on its latest achievements in the consumer electronics sector. The company itself admitted its main 2018 lineup of Android flagships — the Galaxy S9 — had a slow and disappointing start, so while sales picked up following some aggressive promotions, its overall success wasn't comparable to last year's Galaxy S8 series by any metric. The high-end product family was followed by the Galaxy Note 9, though Samsung's stylus-equipped smartphone line never outperforms the Galaxy S one and is generally advertised as a highly specialized range of devices completely dedicated to productivity.

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However, that largely wasn't the case this year; not only did the weak reception of the Galaxy S9 prompted Samsung to release the Galaxy Note 9 earlier than expected but it also pushed it to completely rethink its mobile marketing efforts, for better or worse. In practice, that strategy shift led to some kind of a catch-all advertising effort which ranged from the firm's traditional focus on productivity to large-scale endeavors meant to promote the Galaxy Note 9 as the ultimate portable gaming machine. To that end, Samsung even partnered with Epic Games in order to ensure timed exclusivity of the Android port of Fortnite, a battle royale title that's been one of 2018's largest gaming hits. Samsung then doubled down on those efforts by hiring popular gaming personalities and spent an unprecedented level of resources toward targeting the Galaxy Note 9 line at teenagers, something it hardly ever did in the past. Many industry watchers attributed Samsung's weaker-than-expected mobile performance in 2018 to a general lack of innovations and upgrade fatigue in the West, as well as the aforementioned marketing identity crisis.

An all-in bet on industry firsts

That state of affairs is believed to be a large part of the reason why Samsung now appears to be making an all-in bet on numerous industry firsts which it plans to start commercializing in 2019. Among other things, next year should see the debut of the world's first mainstream foldable handset which will utilize Infinity Flex, a specialized OLED panel capable of being bent in half. Samsung already unveiled the said module at its annual San Francisco developer conference in early November but has yet to reveal anything resembling a final design of its seminal product. At the same time, the company is ramping up its efforts on the wireless front and intends to launch several Android smartphones with 5G capabilities over the course of 2019, with that plan already being confirmed by both Samsung and a number of its carrier partners.

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To AR or not to AR

AR is another obvious tech avenue for Samsung to explore in search of innovations, though it's still unclear how significant of an impact could the Seoul-based conglomerate make in the segment next year. Samsung's existing AR efforts have been widely characterized as underwhelming, with its most significant attempt in the emerging field to date being AR Emoji, a camera service akin to Apple's Animoji which debuted alongside the Galaxy S9 range and was criticized by both reviewers and consumers alike due to its inconsistent performance. The startup behind the technology powering AR Emoji, Loom.ai, believes the potential of its solution is much greater but suggested it's largely up to Samsung to fulfill it. Earlier this year, the company told Android Headlines that its quest for "Jedi holograms" and other cutting-edge entertainment led it to a platform that's hardware-agnostic, meaning better gear would directly allow it to up its capabilities.

In practice, the first such upgrade Samsung could make would be to replace its traditional front-facing mobile cameras with a three-dimensional imaging solution similar to what Apple's been using in its last two iPhone generations. That depth-sensing system is the primary reason why Animoji, Face ID, and all other software supported by Apple's tech is generally superior to Samsung's rivaling creations. In case of live face masks in particular, the Animoji service allows for much more accurate tracking than AR Emoji since the hardware at its disposal has significantly greater capabilities. It's still unclear whether mobile 3D imaging is something Samsung intends to commercialize in 2019; while several previous rumors were indicative of that scenario, depth-sensing tech remains costly to manufacture and its security features are already rivaled and even surpassed by in-display fingerprint readers, the type of solutions Samsung already decided to implement into its 2019 Android handsets and one that's significantly easier to advertise.

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A VR decline

While AR and virtual reality often go hand-in-hand in the context of supporting technologies, Samsung's efforts in the VR segment declined in recent times. The company's last revision of its Gear VR lineup of headsets came in the form of the SM-R325 model released 15 months back alongside the Galaxy Note 8, and that particular gadget was virtually identical to the SM-R324 which debuted half a year earlier in terms of capabilities, with the only notable difference between the two being their overall size. Up until late 2017, the South Korean chaebol advertised cutting-edge mobile VR as one of the main selling points of its Android flagships but is now barely even mentioning those technologies, with its focus instead shifting toward AR apps. While both entertainment segments are still in their infancy, they also lack direction, both in regards to Samsung's internal projects and the industry's ambitions as a whole. Still, as Apple and Google continue pushing for mobile AR to become a new golden standard of cutting-edge entertainment available to the average consumer, Samsung is likely to try following suit.