Samsung’s Answer to Apple Vision Pro Can't Repeat the Gear VR's Failures

All eyes are on Samsung and its partner Google to offer a more affordable mixed reality headset.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Getty

While the metaverse might have faded into the background, thanks to Apple's Vision Pro, there’s still growing interest in the “spatial computing” and mixed reality (XR) experiences that are available today. Meta and Apple are already in the game, and in early 2023, Samsung announced plans to release its own XR headset in partnership with Google and Qualcomm. Samsung is working on hardware, Google is developing a new version of Android for headsets, and Qualcomm is providing the processing power through the Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 2 chipset.

This isn’t Samsung’s first foray into virtual reality and headsets. As rumors and leaks start to fill in what the company’s Vision Pro competitor could look like, it’s worth considering what the company could learn from its first stab at a head-mounted display, the Gear VR, a virtual reality headset that used a Galaxy phone as its display and on-board computer. Because even though it faded into obscurity, it was certainly more approachable and maybe, even more versatile, than Apple’s exorbitantly priced $3,500 headset.

The Rise and Fall of Gear VR


The Gear VR was originally released on August 21, 2015 as a $99 accessory for the Galaxy Note 4. Essentially just a housing for lenses and additional controls, it used the display of the Note 4 to play 360-degree video and a limited library of virtual reality experiences that were navigated with your head and controls on the side of the Gear VR. The headset would go on to be compatible with Galaxy phones through the Galaxy S8 line, and would even be revised to support a remote-style controller with a touchpad and buttons to offer a more immersive way to play games and control videos.

The Gear VR was developed in collaboration with Meta’s Reality Labs, at the time still working as Oculus, and was considered a sort of entry-level VR headset before Oculus released the original all-in-one wireless Quest. Back in the early 2010s, phone-based VR seemed like it might have a future, at least while Google maintained Google Cardboard and later its more robust VR platform Daydream, and Samsung sold the Gear VR. But it wasn’t meant to last. Due to a lack of interest from developers and phone buyers, Google ended support for Daydream and its own Daydream View headset on October 19, 2019. Samsung stopped supporting its Gear VR applications not long after in 2020.

Google’s Daydream View headset was propping up phone-based VR.


Now, virtual reality and mixed reality headsets are standalone computers rather than phone accessories, and ironically, advertise their ability to let you use your phone (and see the world around you) with them on. This is largely thanks to the display improvements and a refocusing on mixed reality rather than pure isolated VR. Meta introduced the Quest 3 with a color passthrough camera and dual internal displays that have a smooth 120Hz refresh rate and 2,064 x 2,208 resolution per eye. The Vision Pro, meanwhile, is being sold on its revolutionary display technology, which squeezes 23 million pixels into tiny micro-OLED panels, and based on teardowns, are capable of roasting your eyes with a resolution of around 3,660 x 3,200.

Neither of these headsets would work without apps, and the current focus on mixed reality has made software that amounts to floating resizable tablets an acceptable alternative to immersive experiences. The Vision Pro is able to use Apple’s extensive library of iPad apps to supplement the Vision Pro App Store until XR development catches on, and Meta’s headset has multiple generations of app and game development to draw on. The Gear VR, even with Samsung’s flagship phones backing it up, was never able to match that kind of visual fidelity or number of apps.

What Samsung’s XR Headset Needs

Qualcomm’s reference headset for its Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 2 chip could give a hint of what kind of headset Samsung has in mind.


That’s not to say Samsung can’t keep those shortcomings in mind as it preps its answer to the Vision Pro. The company’s headset is reportedly using micro-OLEDs from Sony, according to Daily Korea, which SamMobile speculates could have a 3,840 x 3,552 resolution that would give the Vision Pro a run for its money. The device also isn’t likely to need an external battery or slot for a smartphone to function, based on a leaked battery spotted by SamMobile.

Even if the raw specs are taken care of, there are still some important targets to hit for the headset to have any chance at success. Until more apps are developed, Samsung’s headset is going to need a way to run existing Android apps like the Vision Pro does with the iPad. Tablet apps make sense for the virtual floating windows Samsung and Google are likely imagining, and if that increases interest in developing Android apps for larger displays, all the better.

Samsung’s headset will also need multiple different control options. The Vision Pro is a real breakthrough in combining hand tracking and eye tracking for a more natural and intuitive interface, but even Apple’s short in-store demos can’t hide how it could strain your eyes over time. The Quest 3 combines hand tracking and controllers to track you in mixed reality and virtual reality environments, and it works well enough at both, even if it doesn’t feel as smooth as the Vision Pro. At the very least, Samsung’s new headset should offer the single controller option of the original Gear VR. But there’s an opportunity to get even more Quest apps ported over if the headset supports two. Why not be as open to different controls as possible?

With the Quest 3 priced as much as current consoles and the Vision Pro costing more than most premium laptops, it’s hard to overstate how appealing the original $99 price tag of the Gear VR was, especially when you consider how often Samsung bundled it at a cheaper price with its phones. Given the caliber of headset Samsung needs to compete with in 2024, I can’t imagine it'll go for bargain prices, but the company could do well undercutting the $3,500 Vision Pro. Even selling a $1,000 headset would be infinitely more appealing than what Apple’s asking, and it would accommodate the extra cost Samsung is likely going to pay to create a headset that’s a noticeable improvement on the Quest 3.

The Real Android of XR

Since the Vision Pro was unveiled, Meta has been trying to position its Quest hardware and software as the Android of the XR space because of its more approachable cost, “openness,” and flexibility in comparison to the Vision Pro. Whether you agree with how Meta presents itself (it’s all relative) it’s clear there is an opportunity to define a headset and software platform in contrast to Apple, and Samsung and Google might be the tag team to do it.

Maybe Samsung’s headset won’t be the “Android” in terms of openness, but it could be in terms of price, and access to Google’s AI models, which increasingly feel like they could play a part in whether a “spatial computer” makes sense for anything other than playing games. The Gear VR didn’t take off, but it had pieces Samsung could easily integrate into a better, standalone alternative to the popular headsets available today. One thing is certain: Samsung’s not going to just sit around and let Apple or Meta win what everyone believes is the next major computing platform. Where Apple goes, Samsung always follows, which can only mean better and more affordable headsets for everyone.

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