Extended reality, or XR, is an umbrella term to describe a few related technologies that include virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. And since these technologies reflect different ways of actually looking at your software, services, and the world around you, Samsung’s announcement confirms that the company is developing a new wearable screen or headset.
“A lot of different companies…were making these ads about different realities,” TM Roh, president of Samsung’s mobile experience business, told The Washington Post in an interview. “So we also made similar preparations, least of all.”
Roh didn’t elaborate on Samsung’s first XR product, which won’t appear at Wednesday’s launch event. “We’re getting there, but we’re not very far,” he said.
“For the chipset, it will be a strategic cooperation with Qualcomm. The software will be provided by Google,” said Roh. He added that the software will be provided by Google.
“For the ecosystem, we’ve been trying to define which platform we’re working with,” Roh said. “In the end, we decided it would be Google,” he added, referring to a new, previously unannounced version of the Android operating system intended to power devices such as wearable screens.
Google and Qualcomm have separately confirmed the partnership on the XR.
“We’re excited to work with our partners to build a new generation of immersive computing experiences that raise the bar for what users can do with Google,” said Google spokeswoman Kaori Miyake.
“Building on our existing collaborations with Samsung and Google, we have meaningful plans to collectively move forward our XR devices and experiences,” Qualcomm said in a statement. “We have the foundation to make these opportunities a reality and drive the future of the spatial Internet.”
Roh also said Samsung’s extended reality project will include service partnerships with Meta and Microsoft, though he declined to elaborate.
Establishing reasons to use — and continue to use — these types of extended reality devices is arguably more important than word of a new gadget, which is why Samsung ran its partnerships rather than a concrete product announcement at its launch party.
“We think the ecosystem has to be somewhat ready for the product to launch and for the product to be successful as well,” said Roh. “And as you know, there have been many attempts by other companies so far, but they have not been as successful as had been hoped because perhaps the ecosystem was not as ready as it should be.”
Samsung’s work on a wearable computing device shouldn’t come as a surprise — it has a lot of history there. In 2015, it gave people a first taste of virtual reality at an affordable price with its Gear VR headset, as users inserted their smartphones into it. (The company periodically updated the headset’s design until it stopped developing new designs a few years later.) Then, in 2017, it launched the Odyssey—a headset intended for use with Windows PCs—and released a revised model the following year.
Subsequently, Samsung backed away from building such products while companies, including Facebook Meta owner, made immersive computing devices a cornerstone of their corporate strategies. Since then, however, there have been recent layoffs meta And other companies, incl Microsoftto shrink their extended reality teams, in the process casting some doubt on their visions of the Metaverse.
Meanwhile, Apple is widely expected to unveil its first XR as early as this spring. This product — an expensive mixed reality headset — is said to track hand and body movement, as well as deliver immersive images that can fade into a real-world scene, according to Bloomberg News. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Although much of the extended reality buzz has focused on the Meta and Apple, the partnership of three companies with collective expertise in screens, software, and chip design may help this new endeavor find a foothold in a crowded market soon. And that could mean more choices for consumers as the devices we use to be productive and stay connected change in form and scope.
But this first peek at Samsung’s next frontier comes at a critical time for the company. Smartphone shipments contracted by 12 percent globally in 2022, according to Research firm CanalysRecently, lower consumer device demand led to Samsung’s lowest quarterly profit in years.
Roh acknowledged that market demand for smartphones may remain weak during the first half of this year as consumers remain cautious about purchases.
Even as Samsung prepares for what may be its next venture, Roh said he doesn’t view the business as an existential risk to the rest of Samsung’s mobile business. Even though demand has shrunk, he said, he believes more discerning consumers will continue to invest in “premium” products for the additional benefits they offer.
In the case of this year’s new Galaxy S23 smartphones, this includes improved processor performance and a continued focus on cameras. For example, the $1,199.99 Galaxy S23 Ultra includes a new 200MP sensor that the company says will produce better night photos.
“[Smartphones] It will continue to build on consumer features and needs and will provide more new experiences,” Roh said. Among those, he said, are immersive experiences that can change the way we look at and interact with our phones.
When it comes to augmented reality and mixed reality, “Of course there are devices for that, too,” said Roh. “But maybe they can be attached to a smartphone and evolve further from there.”