Samsung was one of the first companies to embrace virtual reality with its Gear VR platform, and it looks like it might be among the first to give up on the technology. With the company’s latest flagship phone lacking VR support, Oculus CTO John Carmack is sounding the alarm over this “missed opportunity.”
Carmack’s comments came at the annual Oculus Connect developer conference. During his keynote, Carmack spoke frankly about the state of mobile VR in general and Gear VR in particular. While Gear VR is technically still supported, and developers can release games for it, Carmack admitted its days are probably numbered.
Samsung first partnered with Oculus on mobile VR back in 2015 when it released the “Innovator Edition” headset for $ 99. This device required a Galaxy Note 4, which slotted into the front to run and display VR content. The headset itself contained lenses and dials to adjust the phone position. Later versions of the Gear VR headset cost less, but Samsung had to release frequent hardware revisions to accommodate its ever-changing phone lineup.
The Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+ are the first Samsung flagship phones since the Note 4 that lack Gear VR support. There’s also no Google Daydream VR support, which Samsung only added with the release of the Galaxy S8. Samsung is clearly over mobile VR, and it’s not hard to see why. Even Google has gone more than a year without so much as mentioning mobile VR even though the Pixel 3 had support for Daydream.
Carmack expressed regret that mobile VR was dying, but he brought up several lingering issues that made it a tough sell. For example, running VR content on a phone was extremely hard on the battery. Phones also struggle to create truly immersive, realistic VR experiences without overheating. So, most people set the headsets aside after using them once or twice. Carmack considers this a missed opportunity because of the low barrier to entry. The Gear VR sold in large numbers (more than all standalone Oculus headsets) because it was so cheap compared with other ways to try VR.
Oculus has moved on to the standalone Oculus Go headset, which offers similar features to the Gear VR, but it doesn’t require a smartphone to be the brain of your VR experience. Now, Carmack seems ready to let Gear VR fade away, but he’s not happy about it.