Samsung Electronics vice president Sung-Hoon Hong says that Samsung is working on two new virtual and augmented reality systems: a successor to its Gear VR mobile headset, and a mixed reality device similar to the Microsoft HoloLens or Magic Leap. A new Gear VR apparently “will be presented in a short time,” but Samsung’s augmented reality work seems more nebulous — although it could also, eventually, be more important.
Wearable Zone has a long writeup of Hong’s appearance at this week’s Virtual Reality Summit in California, from a talk titled “Future of Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and Samsung’s New Challenge.” In the talk, Hong said that Samsung is working on a “light field engine” that can produce “really, really realistic” holograms. “It looks really touchable,” he said. Augmented reality has “much better business development” possibilities than virtual reality, said Hong, echoing a similar statement by Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this year. The technology should apparently appear at the 2017 Mobile World Congress in February.
Samsung has previously patented a holographic TV, but Hong spoke specifically about wearable computing, and Samsung is considering working with other companies in order to implement it. Hong mentioned Magic Leap, the beleaguered Florida startup that promises incredibly lifelike mixed reality, although there no concrete partnerships were mentioned. There’s already a precedent for these kind of partnerships: the Gear VR, released commercially in late 2015 and refreshed earlier this year, was co-created by VR company Oculus. Samsung has also promised to make a phone that supports Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform.
Commercial augmented reality already exists, but it’s mostly limited to heads-up displays worn in professional environments or integrated into sports equipment, not general-purpose headsets that produce lifelike holograms. That’s likely to change slowly. Mixed reality headsets like HoloLens largely remain more expensive than virtual reality ones, and most are awkward to wear in public settings. Magic Leap is reportedly still struggling to make its technology portable, and the HoloLens has a $3,000 price tag and a limited field of view. It’s not clear that Samsung is further along than either company, but at least we know it’s interested.