Samsung looks beyond the Galaxy S23 to make “extended reality” devices

Samsung looks beyond the Galaxy S23 to make “extended reality” devices

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

Beyond updating some of its core product lines, the company also unveiled plans to develop new “extended reality” products and experiences with help from 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 that include 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 confirms that the company is developing a new wearable display or headset.

“A lot of different companies … made 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 also made similar preparations, no less than everyone else.”

Roh wouldn’t elaborate on Samsung’s first new XR product, which won’t appear at Wednesday’s launch event. “We’re getting there, but we’re not too far off,” he said.

“For the chipset, it will be a strategic collaboration with Qualcomm. The material 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 would be Google,” he added, referring to a new, previously unannounced version of the Android operating system intended specifically to power devices like portable displays. .

Google and Qualcomm have separately confirmed the XR partnership.

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

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 drive the future of space internet.”

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

Creating reasons to use — and keep using — these kinds of extended reality devices is arguably more important than word of a new gadget, which is why Samsung has been emphasizing its partnerships instead of a concrete product announcement at its launch event.

“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 hoped because maybe the ecosystem was not as ready as it was. he should have been.”

That Samsung is working on a head-worn computing gadget shouldn’t come as a surprise – it’s got a lot of history there. In 2015, it gave people an affordable taste of virtual reality with the Gear VR headset, which users inserted their smartphones into. (The company periodically updated the design of the helmet until it stopped developing new ones a few years later.) Then, in 2017, it launched the Odyssey – a helmet intended for use with Windows PCs – and released a revised model the following year.

After that, Samsung backed away from creating such products while companies including Facebook owner Meta made immersive computing devices a cornerstone of their corporate strategies. Since then, however, recent layoffs have forced Meta and other companies, including Microsoft, to cut their extended reality teams, casting doubt on their vision for the Metaverse.

Meanwhile, Apple is expected to unveil its first XR device as early as this spring. According to Bloomberg News, this product — a seemingly expensive mixed reality headset — is said to track hand and body movements, while offering immersive visuals that can blend in with a real-world view. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although much of the extended reality hype has focused on Meta and Apple, a combination of three companies with collective expertise in displays, software and chip design could help this new venture find its footing. in a market that will soon be crowded. . And that could mean more options for consumers, as the devices we use to be productive and stay connected change shape and scope.

But this first look at Samsung’s next frontier comes at a critical time for the company. Smartphone shipments fell 12% globally in 2022, according to research firm Canalys, and falling demand for consumer gadgets recently led to Samsung’s lowest quarterly profit in years.

Roh conceded that market demand for smartphones may 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 the job as an existential risk to the rest of Samsung’s mobile business. Despite falling demand, he said, he thinks more cautious consumers will continue to invest in “premium” products for the added benefits they provide.

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

“[Smartphones] will continue to build on consumer features and needs and deliver even more new experiences,” Roh said. And among those experiences, he said, there 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 be paired with the smartphone and develop further from there.”

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