The Gear VR is dead, and it's long past time we said goodbye

The writing has been on the wall for a little while now. Samsung went from releasing a new Gear VR with every phone and giving them away like they were expired Halloween candy to avoiding the topic entirely. Vague statements about how the company "remained committed" to the Gear VR platform rang hollow for the last two releases, and now it's clear the Galaxy Note 10 won't support the headset at all.

Samsung's experiment with the Gear VR is over, but all things considered, it had a pretty great run.

Everyone wants one when it's free

Five years ago, everything was going to be in VR. Analysts had turned it into the next big thing, and every tech company was trying to figure out how to get in on the action. Google was giving out pieces of cardboard you could stick your phone in, Oculus had just gotten an enormous amount of hype from a successful Kickstarter campaign, and depending on who you asked the future was already here.

So, naturally, Samsung needed to get in on the action. And, as is often the case with Samsung, the first version was kind of awful.

Released as a developer kit with the Note 4, the Gear VR had some heat problems so extreme, an active fan in the headset couldn't solve the problem. This wasn't entirely resolved when the system was fully released to the public, but most folks didn't care because they didn't pay for it. To ensure a ton of people had access to the platform right away, Samsung included the Gear VR headset with nearly every purchase of a high-end Samsung phone. Millions of the headsets were shipped around the world, often with a credit to buy a few games included.

For a couple of years, Samsung did a great job making it seem like the Gear VR was massively popular.

These headsets weren't really a Samsung concept. The hardware and software powering the Samsung Gear VR were entirely powered by Oculus. When you entered the Gear VR software, the Oculus logo was everywhere. When you bought apps in the Gear VR ecosystem, Oculus maintained the payment gateway. The Oculus logo was on the headset, right next to Samsung's, but it was pretty clear which company really managed the system.

What Samsung offered was a massive instant group of users, and access to a widely popular hardware system. It was a marriage of convenience for both sides, and the two companies worked quickly to improve the plastic casing the phone would snap into to make it all work with each Samsung phone release.

For a couple of years, Samsung did a great job making it seem like the Gear VR was massively popular. News reports of Samsung shipping 3.65 million headsets in 2017 seemed huge, bigger than all of the other VR headsets combined. Now, Samsung didn't actually charge anyone for those headsets, and it's not like the addition of the Gear VR was enough to make someone choose a Samsung phone over another.

But of all those headsets shipping, how many people were actually using VR? According to Oculus at the time, over a million people had used the Gear VR at least once. That was a huge number of people to use this nascent technology at the time, but it also meant only about a third of the owners were regularly using them. And Oculus never provided numbers for how long those people were using the headsets or how often those uses are taking place.

By passing these things out to basically everyone, Samsung's Gear VR became the "number one" VR headset on the planet for a couple of years. And in that time, the software improved dramatically. Oculus went from building a clumsy plastic shell for watching VR video and the occasional game to a full entertainment system powered by your phone. Game developers pushed the boundaries of the headset with some fantastically unique experiences, and live sporting events in VR became a thing thanks to the popularity of the headset. At its peak, the Gear VR was a genuinely unique experience without equal in the mobile VR world, complete with weekly releases of new games and videos well worth enjoying.

For a brief moment, the perceived popularity of the headset grew beyond Samsung. Six Flags and other theme parts started using the Gear VR to create virtual roller coaster experiences (opens in new tab). Art exhibits started using the headset to offer alternate viewing angles. Samsung and several other companies released multiple 360-degree cameras to offer a way for people to quickly create their own content for the platform. In the middle of 2017, it genuinely seemed like the Gear VR was an actual thing, that people were using it and loving it in numbers that would justify it as its own platform people would pay money for instead of just getting for free.

And then, suddenly, it all stopped. When asked at the Galaxy Note 10 launch event by Moor Insights & Strategy Analyst Anshel Sag, Samsung confirmed this new phone would not support the Gear VR in any way. Even if you already had the headset, putting the new phone in it would do nothing.

A bad breakup, and the end of the road

The first time Samsung didn't talk about the Gear VR at all during an announcement, it was clear something was wrong. Samsung didn't say anything about the headset being cancelled or anything, but if you compare the way Samsung talked about the headset in 2017 with the way it talked about the headset in 2018 there's clearly a problem.

That problem, it turned out, was Oculus deciding to move on with its own project. In late 2018 Oculus unveiled its first standalone VR headset, the Oculus Go. This headset had the parts of a phone built in to the headset, so no need to use your own phone, and promised to run almost all of the same apps and games as the Gear VR. At the time, Oculus made it seem like the Oculus Go was not there to replace the Gear VR, that each were viewed as significant to Oculus. And sure, that makes sense, Oculus still had at least a few hundred thousand people actively buying things on that platform. It would be a while before this new platform was anywhere near those numbers.

If you take a look at the demos of the Galaxy Note 10, it's clear Samsung now believes pursuing augmented reality is the way to go.

But the reality is Oculus has been able to do significantly more with Oculus Go than it was ever able to with the Gear VR. By using a full Samsung phone, Oculus had to navigate the mess of existing background applications all demanding precious system resources and consuming battery. As a dedicated hardware and software setup, the Oculus Go could not only do more with less from a gaming perspective, but also offer richer visual experiences at higher framerates. Even though the Oculus Go was noticeably less powerful on paper than the Samsung Galaxy S8 that powered the last Gear VR, it outperformed the phone-based VR headset in every way.

After Oculus Go was released, we stopped hearing about how dedicated Oculus was to continue support of the Gear VR. And when you combined the silence from Oculus with the silence from Samsung, it wasn't at all surprising to see again with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S10 the Gear VR was nowhere to be found. Now, with the Galaxy Note 10 making it official with no support at all, this headset and its platform are now officially dead. But honestly, I'm okay with that. While it's not going to come free with your phone, Oculus Go is still an incredible headset at a really good price, and I think Oculus made the right call in moving on without Samsung.

Samsung's VR aspirations, both for the Gear VR and for the nearly equally inactive Windows Mixed Reality platforms, are done for now. In both situations, Samsung was just the hardware partner, and not really involved in the parts of the ecosystem that made the most money in the end. And at this point, if Samsung were to try to spin up its own system to replace what it has lost, it's not immediately clear the company would be able to successfully pull it off.

So for now, the headset manufacturer is moving on. If you take a look at the demos of the Galaxy Note 10, it's clear Samsung now believes pursuing Augmented Reality is the way to go. It's another pop culture event analysts say will be hugely popular, and so Samsung is following its same playbook and jumping in to say it's a part of the moment. But unlike the Gear VR, which was powered by a company with ambitions of pushing the limits and exploring something new, Samsung's just going to ride this new wave until the next one.

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • These things are just another flash in the pan that next to nobody uses or wants. Just like 3D TV at home.
  • I agree with you yes it's good for some games but will never be the default and I just don't see vr getting any bigger than it is now.
  • VR will get orders of magnitude bigger than it is now, with absolute ease. VR is good for most games, actually.
  • Nope, never going to happen. "Magnitude bigger" LOLOLOLOL
  • “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” - This is the equivalent of your thinking, and it's hilarious. Look, you can't see it, okay. But those of us who actually understand VR's potential and see how it's developing know that it will be massive and change society as we know it. That's not to say we will use it 24/7, but it will become very common and very important/useful. I bet my life and all my earnings that VR will reach more than one hundred million sales within 5 years, 300 million within 10 years, and a billion within 15-20 years.
  • @OhAlfie, paraphrase correctly: the comment was "...orders of magnitude bigger..." Do you understand what that means?
  • "Never going to happen" Lol. "640K is more memory than anyone will ever need" - Bill Gates.
  • You're completely wrong to think that. This is nothing like 3DTV and this absolutely positively confirms you have never tried VR. You will be wrong, that I can assure you as if my life depended on it.
  • R.I.P. then. VR is never going to be mainstream, ever. It's barely a thing now and won't gain traction ever with the masses. It's just another fad that only true geek like gamers cling to right now. Will die off just like 3D at home once manufacturers decide to finally cut their losses.
  • You have no knowledge of VR and yet you're so confident. You really aren't a smart individual are you? If you were, you'd realize how ridiculous you're being. As it turns out, the biggest market for VR likely won't even be for gaming, but rather for socialization and telepresence; going places with people and sharing experiences.
  • LOL! Sounds like you live by the Dem's playbook. :) VR headsets are and always will be niche at the BEST. People don't want to be as isolated as you are with that giant hunk of plastic strapped to your head.
  • Maybe the whole point is that the tech will evolve to where you wont need giant hunks of plastic strapped to one's head.
  • Possible but slim chance it will ever be mainstream regardless.
    Funny how the 3D at home fanboys were deadset that 3D was the end all be all and will be MASSIVE, as in everyone will have 3D setups at home and if you ever poo poo'd the idea of that, they became rabid froth at the mouth nutjobs.
  • 3D has no relation to VR. There's a bigger nutjob in people who compare the two than people who were crazy for 3D.
  • Lol at the folks who are so confident no matter what side of the VR camp they're on. Only time will tell how VR one knows. Its too early.
  • I bought a 63" Samsung 3D Plasma TV in 2010. I think I used the 3D maybe 10-15 times since then. Was hard to watch a whole movie without eye strain. The LG sets with the passive 3D was a lot easier to watch. The Samsung still works 9 years later and hangs in my bedroom :)
  • So true even 3d vision was killed off this past spring
  • Welln not nobody. Valve and Oculus are selling their newest headsets steadily not as fast as the some thought but still.
  • Real question is what happened to Google Daydream?
  • it's hard to say Goodbye to Yesterday
  • I used mi e just the other night. Always very entertaining. It's sad it wasnt adopted as well as I could have been
  • I've never tried VR, and really don't have much interest in trying it. Sure, I most likely would have tried it if I received one for free, but trying it briefly would have been the extent of it. I'm not much of a gamer, and I'm sure it died because maybe less than half of those who received one aren't gamers, either.
  • Well, that sucks. I actually still use the platform. Looks like I'll still be holding on to the S10 as it's the last device to support it. I wonder how long before they actually shut it down.
  • Well, just looked at the price of an Oculus Go. They're not too expensive. Looks like I may have to go that route in the near future.
  • I'm sticking with the platform as well. I paid £30 for my GearVR (compatible with my Galaxy S7). I didn't know how good/bad VR would be, so wasn't prepared to spend any more. Gotta admit, I've been very impressed with the platform. Oculus Go I just saw for £194 (32gb)/£244 (64gb) = more expensive than what I paid, and probably not much different.
  • I still use my gear vr all the time actually and it was a selling point for me to stay with Samsung.
  • As expected by the real experts/the public, all the industry experts and analysts got it wrong on predicting VR to be the next big thing, and it fell flat almost as much as 3D TV. The only real potential I ever saw was to unite VR with gym/fitness equipment, such as bikes, treadmills, rowing machines, so you get a virtual experience that works by getting the telemetry from the machine (most bikes already have a cable that feeds data from the mechanicals to the control panel via 3.5mm jack, so retrofits are easily possible). Still waiting on a company to bring my idea to market. Better late than never I guess.
  • You completely missed every point made in this article. For that, I commend you. This is mobile VR we're talking about. The industry only ever thought of it as a stepping stone to standalone VR which fully replaces it. Mobile VR was meant to die, and Samsung knew this. Heck Samsung released a new high-end headset this year and have more on the way. VR is doing just fine. There is no downward trend like 3DTV. Sales are up, software is up, hardware is up, and user retention is up. It's just a slow burn because that's how all technology works; adoption takes many years. Smartphones took 10+ to go mainstream. If the only real potential you saw in VR was gym/fitness, you never gave it any real thought. The uses for VR are extremely large and can change society massively. To tell you in a summarized way: Being able to go places to have shared experiences with other people as avatars.
  • I have three headsets and enjoy taking walks in London or exploring Machu Picchu. Having the equivalent of a 70 inch screen you can carry in your hand is nice, and I have several dedicated VR apps. It's a learning and fun experience, though a lot of people just don't "get it".
  • Boy, member the time this site and many like it took shots about Apple and the fact the iPhone did not have a vr offering? They went hard when Google introduced daydream and Apple was silent. That's why I am a fan of tech, just not a fanatic, it will always leave you with eggs on your face at the end.
  • VR on Android is not dead, just VR for Samsung. Apple devices can be used in normal VR headsets, but the experience is subpar because of screen resolution, which is probably one of the reasons Apple didn't embrace it.
  • VR on Android is not dead! Who else is doing VR on Android? Google's VR daydream is dead, did not mention once on stage during I/O and their latest phone Pixel A does not support it. Samsung the other vendor and biggest cheerleader for mobile VR just killed theirs. It's not for their lack of trying, God knows they tried, they gave those things out like candy and it went nowhere. So, let me ask again if the platform owner and the biggest Android OEM could not get mobile VR off the ground, who on the Android camp is or will?
  • Pretty sure Oculus Quest runs on Android
  • Wouldnt mind a real life nerve gear
  • Samsung likely dropped support because the camera is now part of the screen rather than outside it. If you have been quite jarring to have a gaping black hole in your field of view. VR in itself has all sorts of mainstream uses, from teleconferencing to remote surgery and risk-free training of dangerous procedures. The University I work for has done some incredible research into using it as pain relief for burn victims where anaesthetic is impossible. But I don't think VR will ever take off as an entertainment medium. People are too self-conscious to wear them in public and the backlash and Ready Player One is the antithesis of the current backlash against tech addiction. Don't get me wrong: the potential is there and it has some great experiences but ultimately whilst social spaces exist, it is still an isolating technology against real human contact. Contrast this with AR and the difference is night and day. Just popping along to your local Pokémon Go community will demonstrate the impact AR has had, and we're not just talking camera overlays. I've also seen some incredible AR research done, like a walk-around viewer for CAD files using multiple projectors that required nothing more than a pair of 3D glasses. Multiple people could view the same model in the same physical space.
  • Why assume people will wear them in public? VR entertainment will happen in the home 99% of the time, so people will be fine with feeling self-conscious or not. Infact, people who do feel self-conscious will actively want to be in VR so they can be a better version of themselves with a more ideal avatar. Isolation is no issue in the near term future because VR headsets will be able to map people around you into the experience in real-time, and will basically become MR headsets. So there are no barriers in the end that you describe.
  • Well that's a shame, the GearVR is what made me buy a buy a VR headset for my PC. Well, here's to some fond memories. The only question now is will the new phone be Daydream compatible? 😆
  • This article is clickbait. What you've mistakenly called 'GearVR' is actually Oculus Mobile.
    GearVR and Oculus Mobile are parallel systems, running the same apps and software, on the same Snapdragon SoC 8xx.
    They run Android and are built on cellphone technology for convenience and low cost.
    So then, Is Oculus mobile dead?
    Is it long past time to say goodbye? With a quick glance right now there are 3 brand new Mobile Snapdragon sets, one from facebook and two from qualcomm. Manufactures using the same SoC for cellphones and vr headsets means we get everything.
    Every VR improvement that happens in the silicon will continue to be found in smartphones running Snapdragon.
    They couldn't take that out even if they wanted to, it would be more expensive. "GearVR" isn't the end, it's just the beginning. P.S. a better story would be investigating into what Samsung and Apple have quietly been up to rather than what they haven't been up to
  • And one more thing, I really hate to see people being mislead and discouraged like this, these other comments are just hopeless and sad.
    It's one thing to be unhelpful, it's another thing entirely to be anti-helpful.