Daydream or Reality: Is Google Set to Overtake the Samsung Gear to Dominate Mobile VR?

7 April 2017

Without doubt, virtual reality has been the hot technology topic over the past 12 months. Highly anticipated retail versions of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets were finally unleashed on an eager public, offering users transformative experiences in the realm of gaming, entertainment and more. Of course, despite already generating impressive sales figures of a combined 1.5 million units by the end of 2016, the aforementioned systems require a suitably powerful PC or PS4 (in the case of PSVR) in order to run, meaning that not only is the resulting package out of many users’ price range, it’s also no easy feat for players to take their VR experiences with them on the go.

It’s little surprise, therefore, that technology companies are increasingly turning their focus to the mobile virtual reality market. Offering consumers a much more affordable entry point than the likes of the Vive and Oculus Rift ¬– with headsets retailing at sub-$100 and simply requiring a compatible smartphone to tether to – mobile VR looks set to completely eclipse its less portable counterparts by the end of 2017.

With such immersive experiences on offer both at home and on-the-go, some developers have seen the opportunity to bring audiences closer to the action of their favourite sports and entertainment services than ever before. One such service, which falls into both the sports and entertainment categories, is the world of eSports.

Much like VR, eSports is a burgeoning yet fledgeling industry, whose growth is just as impressive. The industry is valued at $1 billion by market research firm SuperData, and if its backing by major brands is any indication, becoming more and more mainstream. BBC Three broadcast last year's League of Legends World Championship in its entirety to British audiences. In December 2016, Coca-Cola sponsored the first "eCOPA" tournament, where the efforts of eSports athletes competing in FIFA 17 were broadcasted live on Twitch. The catalogue of brands sponsoring eSports in one way or another interestingly includes an iGaming provider: sportsbook and online casino Betway sponsors the Swedish Ninjas in Pyjamas pro eSports team, whose players compete in Overwatch, Counter Strike and DOTA 2 (and whose sponsors also include Netgear and Xtrfy). In the case of Betway, the move towards eSports is not entirely surprising: the online gambling company expanded in recent years from betting to online gaming in the form of live casino and slots. It should also be noted that the same brand offers eSports betting; for many companies, the move into eSports seems like a natural transition and comes with opportunities on more than one level.

In fact, the link between eSports and VR is two-way. In addition to the inevitable opportunity to offer eSports VR tournaments, the growing appeal of eSports to audiences has already brought eSports to virtual reality for spectators. One of the world’s largest eSports companies, the ESL, recently began streaming its ESL One events in live virtual reality via the app, with VR headsets – including the Gear VR but not the Daydream View as of yet – allowing users to place themselves at the heart of it all with 360-degree panoramic views of the thrills and spills of live gaming action.

Samsung’s Gear VR has taken an early lead in the battle for mobile VR supremacy, having the benefit of being the first major system to hit the market, and selling a whopping 4.5 million units in 2016 alone. However, buoyed by the hype surrounding the release of its Pixel smartphone, technology giant Google looks to be emerging as a serious contender with its Daydream View headset, which was officially released back in October 2016. But can Google make up the early ground made by Gear VR – and ultimately overtake it?

Battle of the Headsets

Retailing at an initial price point of $99.99 (lowered to around $80 since) and requiring a compatible Galaxy smart device to tether to, Samsung’s first foray into virtual reality, the Gear VR, was released on November 27, 2015. Created in partnership with Rift creator Oculus, the system features a 96-degree field of vision and rotational tracking, and uses the Samsung smartphone or tablet it is attached to as its display and processor, while the headset itself acts as the main controller and handles tracking. The unit also packs in a touchpad and physical button, so users don't have to awkwardly try to deal with their mobile phone's touchscreens for navigation.

Unlike earlier forays into mobile virtual reality, the Gear VR has seen success in large part due to getting one key aspect right: having a sufficiently low latency. In other words, the Gear doesn't generally suffer from choppiness and "laggy" images, which have been noted for causing "simulation sickness" in users – a sure-fire way to ruin a person's immersion in the virtual reality world.

Meanwhile, the Google Daydream View was released on November 10, at an initial price point of $79. Unlike the Gear VR, Google has not revealed the exact field of vision its headset affords the user – although it's noticeably narrower than that of its competitor.

Much like the Samsung Gear VR, the Daydream View requires a compatible smartphone to be plugged into it, which acts as the system's display and processing unit. While at launch, only the Google Pixel line of smartphones were compatible with the Daydream View, Google has confirmed that other manufacturers including Motorola, Huawei, Asus and ZTE would all release handsets that support the system – offering it a clear advantage over the Gear VR. Review sites including Techradar have noted that Google's VR headset both looks more stylish and provides greater user comfort than its Gear VR counterpart, featuring a stylish and lightweight cloth finish.

Emerging Software Lineup

Of course, even with the greatest headset in the world from a hardware point of view, a system is worth nothing without a solid library of software applications and games for users to engage with. On this front, the Gear VR definitely has a clear lead. While the Daydream View supported only 12 games at launch, Samsung confirmed as of June 2016 that over 300 games and apps were available for its system, and that number is surely going to continue to rise over the coming months. From immersive "experiences" such as Colosse and entertainment services including Netflix VR, to a plethora of video games, the Oculus store on the Gear VR has already built up an impressive and sturdy backbone of applications on which developers will only build on further.

The Future of Mobile VR

While Samsung and Oculus have undoubtedly kicked ahead with the impressive library of titles currently available for the Gear VR, on the hardware front it does seem a little too close to call at present. While Samsung has a market-leading share of 21% of the mobile phone industry, the Daydream View has the advantage of being more versatile, with a platform seemingly open to more hardware manufacturers than simply Google themselves.

Google, of course, have a lot of work to do to catch up with regards to the Daydream's rather lacking software library. However, the fact that the firm were behind the widespread success of the Android operating system, and in turn, the Google Play Store, surely positions them as one of the few tech companies capable of eventually surpassing the Gear's current dominance.

Who do you think will end up on top in the battle for mobile VR dominance? Have your say in the comments section below.

Top picture Nan Palermo
Second Image Nan Palermo

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