Samsung launched its S7 and S7 Edge handsets at Mobile World Congress, putting its Gear VR product front and center of its announcement as pre-orders of the new phone will come with a free headset in key markets.
Surprising the audience, Samsung invited Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to speak, announcing a closer tie up with the Facebook-owned VR business Oculus Rift.
Zuckerberg admitted Facebook had been investing in the technology prematurely because he believes “VR is going to be the most social platform”.
A key part of the VR announcement was linked to the launch of Gear 360, a 360 degree camera that people can use to create their own VR experiences. Zuckerberg said Facebook had been spending time with Samsung working out how 360 degree video and VR fits into Facebook and getting VR technology to an affordable price point.
“Worked with Samsung to make it affordable. We decided to target a $99 price,” said Zuckerberg. Commenting on the announcement, Forrester mobile analyst Thomas Husson, said: "As Samsung has a huge marketing budget and wants to maintain leadership in the smartphone high-end segment, it will invest a lot more than its competitors on promoting virtual reality.
"No doubt it will help to create buzz among media, gamers, and the niche audience demanding immersive experiences. But will it offer consumer benefits for the masses?
The short answer is: no. In 2016, reach for VR platforms will remain more than limited."
New features on the S7 and S7 Edge, which have a launch date of 11 March, include water resistance for 30 minutes under a meter and a half of water, as well as incremental upgrades on the camera, battery life and memory, with the option to use a memory card if a boost is needed.
Samsung also announced that it would be extending Samsung Pay into new markets, such as the UK, Spain and Singapore. Previously it has only been available in the US and Samsung’s home of South Korea.
Samsung’s DJ Koh, who also spoke at the event, discussed the importance of partnerships to Samsung, name checking both Google and Facebook: “The power to create is all around you. Meaningful partnerships redefine the experiences you can have and the S7 at centre. No company is in a better position to achieve this than Samsung.”
Forrester’s Husson, commenting on the entire announcement, said: "Samsung needs to invest a lot more in software, services and content partnerships. This is how they will be able to push solutions like Samsung Pay from nice-to-have to must-have for consumers and merchants alike."
"While the primary use cases will be for immersive gaming and entertainment environments, innovative marketers at retail, automotive, travel, or hospitality companies will start piloting VR prototypes to connect in new ways with consumers in the discovery and explore phases of the consumer life cycle. The vast majority of marketers should not even care about it and have many other things to fix!” he added.