Maybe we should've seen this coming when the commercials started. Seemingly out of nowhere, Samsung has started selling its Gear VR headset at Best Buy. The Galaxy Note 4-powered virtual reality headset can be purchased for $199.99, and Best Buy's website suggests that stores could eventually be stocking it as well. Should that pan out, odds are you'll find the Gear VR at Samsung's store-within-a-store specialty shops next to the company's smartphones and wearables. Will people actually be willing to strap this thing on and give it a try in front of other shoppers? Well, probably.
It feels early to be seeing Gear VR at huge retail stores
But here's the thing: ever since we first heard about the Gear VR, Samsung has insisted this first version isn't a product that's aimed at everyday consumers. Rather, "content creators and VR enthusiasts" are the people Samsung says it built Gear VR for. The version Samsung sells is even called the "Innovator's Edition." Similarly, Oculus isn't comfortable saying it's for consumers, either. The term "development kit" is everywhere on Oculus' site, and the company says this current Gear VR is designed to help app makers "build truly mobile VR experiences." But from the sounds of that, it's not supposed to be for you and me. Not yet. CEO Brandon Iribe has at least hinted that this was coming, though. "You’re gonna see a ton of content come and you’re gonna see this quickly get to a mature level where it’s ready for consumers to start playing with and it’s comfortable and it’s fun," he told CNBC last month.
AT&T was one thing (and availability there is strictly web only), but it's a bit strange to suddenly see Gear VR being sold at such a massive big-box retailer. In its current form, what Samsung has here is still fairly impressive. But the main thing holding Gear VR back is content. Right now, you're limited to the new stuff that Samsung uploads every week and a few game demos and other things. Developers can't charge people for Gear VR apps yet, so the selection is limited to pretty short experiences and only hints at what might be there eventually. Best Buy normally doesn't dabble in selling glorified tech demos.
Even more odd, the Gear VR listing offers no warning that consumers are looking at a product still in its very early stages. There's a massive list of warnings Best Buy wants you to read before buying Gear VR — probably so you can't ever sue the retailer. (Kids shouldn't use it, don't wear it while driving, you might get sick, and so on.) Hopefully the companies are working on a way to showcase the Gear VR in stores while making clear that it's not for everyone. It's a genuinely cool product, but without making customers aware of what they're in for, Samsung and Best Buy could be risking a slew of returns once the novelty wears off. On the opposite end, if you know what you're getting into and already own a Note 4, buying Gear VR just got a ton easier.