The Spring of Our Discontent
controller for Samsung Gear VR


Samsung’s new Gear VR adds a Bluetooth controller that puts it on par, from a hardware perspective, with Google’s Daydream View. But at least at launch, the VR apps on offer are a mess, keeping this VR headset an early adopter minefield rather than something you’d want to recommend to your friends. That said, most people will get the Gear VR and controller for free, bundled with a new Samsung Galaxy S8 phone. And as a free accessory, it’s certainly good for some fun….

VR is nothing without content. That’s the Gear VR’s problem. The Oculus Store is full of games, but several of the apps [work] poorly, erratically, or not at all.While Samsung says 70 controller-enabled apps are in the works, there are only eight apps that officially support the controller at launch (five games, a star chart app, and two social networking apps). Even in non-controller-optimized apps, the main button works to select or fire, and swiping on the touch pad maps to swipes on the headset’s touch pad. When apps worked, I found the controller to be easily responsive, although it had to be recentered (by holding down the home button) each time I put the headset on.…

I’m also not convinced that some of the content platforms are being updated. Both Samsung VR and Within currently have a strikingly similar lineup of 360-degree videos to when I looked at the Gear VR last year. There’s no YouTube app; you can get to YouTube via the browser, but that’s a step behind Google Daydream. You can watch movies on a private “big screen” through a Netflix app, but there are no Amazon or Hulu apps.

Free Is a Very Good Price
…Most people will get the Gear VR as a free add-on with their Galaxy phone. Fine! It makes a great free add-on. But for the Gear VR to be a real differentiator, there need to be real reasons to use it. Some of those reasons may come from Facebook, which just announced the new Facebook Spaces VR world at its F8 conference. Facebook owns Oculus, so Facebook VR is likely to appear on the Gear VR first. In a briefing at Samsung HQ in Seoul, product strategy team VP Robert Kim said Samsung, Oculus, and Facebook are working together to make “the experience across Gear VR and Oculus Rift the same experience.”

…And if games aren’t your thing, there … just isn’t enough there. VR content platforms like Samsung VR and Within still feel like a stack of early demos and short movies made by content creators who did a few things and then left. There’s no continual stream of new, engaging apps.

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