Ecosystem lock-in might finally pay off for Samsung with the Gear VR.
Samsung is about to give away an unprecedented number of Gear VR headsets to folks who jump on the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge train early. It's the first serious push the company has made with this hardware, after years of courting developers and offering small demo stations in Best Buy stores. For many this is going to be the first VR experience they've ever had, and that first impression is not likely to be a bad one. That experience is going to be shared with a whole lot of friends and family, who will shortly discover that the Gear VR is something you can only experience through Samsung's latest and greatest.
The big question is what happens next, and whether that experience is enough to push someone on the fence to consider a Samsung phone in order to share this VR experience.
The whole ecosystem play happening here is significant, and the timing is important. Giving everyone a free Gear VR with the Galaxy S6 wouldn't have been nearly as impactful as Samsung's offering with the Galaxy S7. Announced alongside the Galaxy S7 was the 200 app milestone in the Oculus Store, which means there's no shortage of things to do in this VR world now.
The content available now is exceptional, especially compared to what was available a year ago on this platform. Samsung and Oculus have worked hard to fill this playground, and the end result is a full entertainment system you can wear on your face. It's a game console, a movie screen, and a budding social network all at the same time, and nearly all of it is exclusive to this platform.
The urge to play multiplayer games alone will be enough to encourage early adopters to nudge their friends to this experience.
Everyone who shares their free Gear VR with someone else is essentially a salesperson for Samsung. The Gear VR is an unparalleled VR experience in the mobile space, but it's exclusive to Samsung and that bit of information is going to be secondary in any casual demonstration. Sticking someone in a cool video sphere, handing over a controller to play any of the incredible games, or even just showing Netflix and Oculus Social will all be unique and memorable experiences. It's the kind of thing that, outside of a typical sales environment, plants the seeds for suddenly needing to upgrade your phone so you can share this experience. The urge to play multiplayer games alone will be enough to encourage early adopters to nudge their friends to this experience.
But is the experience enough to sell a phone? Of course it is. The Samsung Galaxy S7 is already going to be on a list of phones to check out for a lot of people out there. It's that phone they saw on TV that wants you to get rid of your iPhone, which by the way has no experience that comes even close to this. When this phone is already on the short list and the Gear VR is introduced in a social situation, the decision becomes a lot easier for those who enjoyed the demonstration.
It's also not a huge investment, and it's not hard to see that. A frequently used argument when discussing the cost of the Gear VR is the need to have a Samsung phone, but that conversation gets weirdly distorted in most situations. The Gear VR is normally $100, but making it so you have to use a $700 Samsung phone does not then make the Gear VR $800, especially when the act of purchasing a phone was already going to happen. Even if other phones were made to work with the Gear VR at some point, Samsung's unparalleled display tech offers the best overall experience in this platform. It's icing on an already incredibly appealing cake.
Samsung hopes the end result here is more Galaxy S7 sales through this shared experience, which also means more Gear VR sales and more platform lock-in. It's not a particularly new approach, but Samsung is uniquely positioned to make it happen. We're a long way from this experience becoming common in the household, but this early rush is likely to be a massive push in that direction.
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