Samsung announced today that it has partnered with Facebook-owned virtual reality company Oculus to create a harness allowing Galaxy Note 4 owners to experience the wonders of virtual reality without making them purchase a dedicated headset.
Engadget was able to spend some time with the device, and its first impressions show that the idea of using a smartphone to create a virtual reality experience isn’t as crazy as it might seem:
While there are major technological limitations with mobile VR — horsepower, among many other issues — Samsung’s Note 4 is a shockingly capable device for virtual reality experiences. In our time with it, video looked sharp, there was no perceptible lag between turning my head and what I saw on screen, and navigating the UI was a snap. Is it hot? Yes. Are the graphics less impressive on Gear VR than on, say, Sony’s Project Morpheus or Oculus VR’s latest dev kit? Absolutely, no question about it. But is it capable of providing a great virtual reality experience, regardless of those handicaps? I believe it is.
It’s no surprise that Samsung can’t match the quality of dedicated headsets with its harness, and there’s no reason for the company to be chided for that shortcoming. It’s not asking people to spend hundreds of dollars on an unproven technology: it’s offering a smartphone accessory that will allow enthusiasts to get a taste for the future of tech without having to break the bank.
I suspect that such harnesses will allow enthusiasts to acquaint themselves with what many hope will become the future of technology. There are already several do-it-yourself kits available that let people to use their smartphones as virtual reality headsets. Some are made by little-known companies; others are offered by Google in the form of a cardboard box you put on your head.
If many people are experiencing virtual reality for the first time with a smartphone and an accessory like Samsung’s harness or Google’s cardboard kit, it would show once again that smartphones are the gateway devices for new markets. Just look at the way smartwatches, smart glasses, and other wearable products work: through a connection to a smartphone.
Now smartphones are establishing themselves as the bridge between holding a device in front of our faces with our hands while tapping around an application and holding them with headsets while allowing ourselves to be lost in a virtual world. They might not be around forever — “real” headsets could go mainstream eventually — but they’re going to be popular for at least a while.
The future is coming, and if these products are any indication, it’ll arrive through a smartphone.