Looking beyond phones, Samsung plans to make ‘extended reality’ devices

Looking beyond phones, Samsung plans to make 'extended reality' devices


SAN FRANCISCO — For the most part, Samsung Electronics is hosting its Unpacked product launch event in Northern California to reveal a trio of new Galaxy S23 smartphones, plus a handful of laptops. But that is not all.

In addition to updating some of its main product lines, the company also introduced plans to develop new “extended reality” products and experiences with the help of key partners, including Google and Qualcomm.

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Extended reality, or XR, is an umbrella term to describe a handful of related technologies including virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. And because these technologies reflect different ways of physically looking at your software, services, and the world around you, Samsung’s announcement all but confirms that the company is developing a new wearable display or headset.

“A lot of different companies… have been making these announcements about different realities,” TM Roh, president and head of Samsung’s mobile experience business, told The Washington Post in an interview. “So we’ve also been making similar preparations, no less than anyone else.”

Roh did not elaborate on the details of Samsung’s first new XR product, which will not appear at the launch event on Wednesday. “We’re getting there, but we’re not too far,” he said.

“For the chipset, it will be a strategic collaboration with Qualcomm. The hardware will be us,” Roh said. And the software, he added, will be provided by Google.

“For the ecosystem, we were trying to figure out which platform to work with,” Roh said. “And in the end, we decided it was going to be Google,” he added, referring to a previously unannounced new version of the Android operating system designed specifically to power devices like portable displays.

Google and Qualcomm separately confirmed the partnership on XR.

“We are excited to work with our partners to create a new generation of immersive computing experiences that will further elevate what users can do with Google,” said Kaori Miyake, Google spokeswoman.

Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon said at the launch event that with the shared expertise of its partners, “we have the foundation to realize these opportunities and power the future of the Space Internet.”

Roh also said Samsung’s foray into extended reality would involve service partnerships with Meta and Microsoft, though he declined to elaborate.

Creating reasons to use, and continue to use, these kinds of extended reality devices is arguably more important than word of a new device, which is why Samsung played on its partnerships rather than a concrete product announcement at its event. release.

“We think the ecosystem has to be somewhat ready for the product to launch and for the product to be successful as well,” Roh said. “And as you know, there have been many attempts by other companies so far, but not as successful as expected because perhaps the ecosystem was not as ready as it should have been.”

The fact that Samsung is working on a head-worn computing device should come as no surprise: it has a lot of history there. In 2015, it gave people an affordable first taste of virtual reality with the Gear VR headset, into which users inserted their smartphones. (The company periodically updated the design of the headphones until it stopped developing new ones a few years later.) Then, in 2017, it introduced the Odyssey, a headset designed for use with Windows PCs, and released a revised model the following year.

After that, Samsung refrained from building such products, while companies including Facebook owner Meta made immersive computing devices a cornerstone of their corporate strategies. Since then, however, layoffs have recently forced Goal and other companies, including Microsoftto bring down their extended reality teams, in the process casting some doubt on their views of the metaverse.

Meanwhile, Apple is expected to reveal its first XR device this spring. That product, an allegedly expensive mixed-reality headset, is said to track hand and body movement, delivering immersive visuals that can fade into a view of the real world, according to Bloomberg News. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While much of the extended reality hype has focused on Meta and Apple, a union of three companies with collective expertise in displays, software, and chip design may help this new endeavor find its place in a soon-to-be market. crowded. . And that could mean more choice for consumers, as the devices we use to be productive and connected change in shape and scope.

But this first look at Samsung’s next frontier comes at a critical time for the company. Smartphone shipments are down 12 percent globally in 2022, according to the research company Canalysand depressed demand for consumer devices recently led to Samsung’s lowest quarterly profit ever dwarves.

Roh admitted that the smartphone market demand could remain weak in the first half of this year as consumers remain cautious about purchases.

Even as Samsung prepares for what could be its next project, Roh said he doesn’t see this job as an existential risk to the rest of Samsung’s mobile business. Despite reduced demand, he said, he believes more cautious consumers will continue to invest in “premium” products for the additional benefits they provide.

In the case of this year’s new Galaxy S23 smartphones, that includes improved processor performance and continued focus on cameras. The $1,199.99 Galaxy S23 Ultra, for example, packs a new 200-megapixel sensor that the company claims will produce better night photos.

“[Smartphones] it will continue to develop the features and needs of consumers and bring even more new experiences,” Roh said. And among those experiences, he said, are more immersive ones that could change the way we see and interact with our phones.

When it comes to augmented reality and mixed reality, “of course there are devices for that as well,” Roh said. “But maybe they can come together with the smartphone and develop further from there.”

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