#587: Samsung’s VR Strategy with Tom Harding, Director of Immersive Products

Without explicitly announcing a new specific product, Samsung quietly implied that they may be developing a new standalone mobile VR HMD during a session during their developer conference last week. While there were no big VR announcements during the main keynote at SDC, in a session titled “What’s on The Horizon: A Look at the Future of VR at Samsung” Tae Yong Kim Samsung Electronic’s VP, Head of Graphics R&D, showed a graphic with a question mark in between a Gear VR mobile VR headset and a Samsung Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality HMD. Kim said that the Gear VR is “fully mobile, quickly attaches via a cell phone, and affordable” while the Odyssey offers a “premium experience coming from the positional tracking of the headset and the controllers, and the computing power of the PC.” He said, “The question is ‘How do we combine the benefits of those two technologies together for our next VR system?'”

Kim then showed a slide saying the next steps for Samsung’s mobile VR include inside-out tracking and 6 degree-of-freedom controllers, and he said, “We are partnering with global partners like Intel to bring inside-out technology to our next mobile product portfolio.” Neither Intel nor Samsung had any further comment about this quiet announcement of a “next VR system” and “next mobile product” in Samsung’s portfolio, which seems more significant than merely adding positional tracking and 6-DoF controllers to existing Gear VR devices.

It looks like we’ll have to wait until CES this year to learn if this is more than a positional tracking and 6-DoF tracking update to Gear VR, and whether Samsung is developing their own standalone headsets independent of Facebook’s Oculus Go. It’s unclear what software would be running on Samsung’s new headsets as it appears as though Samsung has a non-exclusive agreement with Oculus since the Samsung S8, S8+, and Note 8 are both Daydream and Gear VR-enabled, but it doesn’t appear that Facebook has a non-exclusive agreement with Samsung. Or if Facebook is able to expand to any OEMs beyond Samsung, then appears as though they have not done so yet. It could be that Facebook is planning a walled-garden hardware ecosystem similar to Apple, and will be focusing their energy on the control that comes with building their standalone headsets.

It’s unclear how healthy and sustainable the current partnership between Facebook and Samsung is. It appears as though Facebook mostly handles the software while Samsung handles the hardware, and while there’s obviously overlap between the two, it’s possible that these next HMDs will indicate whether Facebook takes more control over the hardware and Samsung takes more control over the software.

tom-hardingI had a chance to talk with Samsung’s Tom Harding, who is the Director of Immersive Products in charge of product strategy and bringing VR to the market. We talked about the Gear VR, marketing VR, Samsung Internet VR, Gear 360 and Round cameras, the 3-DoF Gear VR controller, as well as the the collaborations Google with Daydream and ARCore and with Facebook/Oculus on Gear VR.


I challenged Samsung for not investing many resources within the VR content ecosystem or attending very many community VR events over the past couple of years. Harding says that Samsung’s focus has been on scale and making VR solutions available to all, and that they’ve been primarily focusing on driving adoption. But I wonder how much you can drive adoption of VR technologies without also investing in the content that will ultimately drive grassroots word of mouth and adoption.

A number of independent video creators expressed frustration that Samsung has not been doing more to support the needs of content creators, including how Samsung has not created any marketplace for immersive content creators to sell their work. One creator told me that Samsung did not not offer them any licensing fees to feature their work in the Samsung VR app, and a survey of content creators whose work was featured at Sumsung’s Evening of 360 show revealed that there was not any payment offered for featuring their work. A lot of the content curation and marketplace development has been offloaded to Oculus since they serve as the primary point of contact with the VR development community, and so Samsung has been really disconnected from the needs of content creators. Samsung is in a financial position to invest a lot more within the future of the VR medium, but it appears as though that they have not been taking a holistic approach to supporting the VR content ecosystem or more directly engage the grassroots of the VR community. I hope to see Samsung a lot more in the year to come, and that they take the initiative to engage, listen, and help serve some of the larger needs of the VR community.

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Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So, it's been over a year and a half since I've had a chance to catch up with anybody from Samsung. Samsung hasn't been really engaged within the VR community. I haven't seen them represented at very many VR events. They haven't been sponsoring a lot of events. it's been difficult for me to kind of catch up with them. So I went down to their Samsung Developer Conference last week and had a chance to catch up with their Director of Immersive Products, Tom Harding, just to get some update as to what they've been working on for the last two years. So in this interview, we try to cover a lot of that ground. At the Samsung Developer Conference, they were kind of announcing their latest strategies. And so Samsung is primarily a hardware company. And they had a huge focus of Internet of Things and their SmartThings platform, where they're going to be able to bring all these interconnected devices with Bixby, which is their equivalent of their AI assistant, have these conversational interfaces for you to be able to operate all these different devices within the home. So there actually wasn't a lot of talk about virtual reality in their main keynote where they're making all their big announcements to developers. They did have Claiborne come out and talk about ARCore. ARCore is going to be launching on three of the Samsung phones with the S8, the S8+, as well as the Note8. And so they had specific calibrations done so that they can start to do these augmented reality features within their phones. But there wasn't a lot of other talk about VR in the main keynote session. However, they did have a session about the future of VR by Taeyang Kim. And he kind of dropped a bit of a soft announcement that Samsung was working on some type of standalone headset. he didn't explicitly say it was a standalone headset, but he said they're working on the middle ground between mobile VR and high-end VR and trying to combine the convenience of mobile with the computing power of a PC. And so they announced verbally that they're going to have global partners like Intel to bring Insight Out technology to quote our next mobile product portfolio. So I think that means that they're going to be coming out with a standalone headset at some point. But Again, it was like kind of a soft announcement. And had I not been in the room and listening to Taeyang say it, I would have completely missed it because it wasn't emphasized at all in any of their keynote or anything else. So I went down to SDC to kind of check out the latest in VR from Samsung. I was hoping to get a chance to try out their Windows Mixed Reality headset, the Odyssey, but they didn't really necessarily have any on hand for me to try out, which to me was a bit surprising. But they did have an area up on the third floor with a bunch of different companies that were doing specific integrations with Samsung. So I got a chance to try a lot of those demos. So I have a lot more thoughts about Samsung and what's happening with Samsung, but I'm going to first dive into this interview with Tom Harding, who's in charge of the immersive product strategy as well as bringing VR to the market. So this interview with Tom happened on Thursday, October 19th at the Samsung Developer Conference that was happening in the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:03:21.786] Tom Harding: My name is Tom Harding. I'm Director of Immersive Products and VR at Samsung America. My focus is primarily on product strategy and bringing these products to market in the States.

[00:03:33.490] Kent Bye: Great, so I know that you've obviously launched with the Gear VR, so maybe you could give me a little bit of a state of the union as, like, how is the Gear VR doing?

[00:03:42.321] Tom Harding: Yeah, absolutely. 2016, I think, was really when Gear VR ultimately came to markets and it was introduced to the mainstream. We've been thrilled with the performance of Guile VR since it launched. I think well over 5 million devices are in circulation today in consumers' hands. It's been growing from an ecosystem perspective. Awareness is incredibly high of VR and Samsung has been working very hard to make sure that consumers are aware of this phenomenal new medium and providing as many ways as possible to get consumers to try it and experience it firsthand.

[00:04:15.505] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that's the the challenging thing with virtual reality is just the marketing of it. And so I guess what has been your strategy as what you have found to be some of the most effective marketing? Because I know that there's a grassroots movement of people who just fall in love with VR and are able to become this grassroots evangelist for the medium. So they hear about it that way. And then there's all sorts of other marketing campaigns have a certain limited amount of just with 2D show what VR is all about and so just maybe talk about like what you've been doing in order to really get the word out about VR.

[00:04:49.372] Tom Harding: Absolutely. So I think I remember when we first deployed Gear VR to Best Buy, you know, I think we even installed swivel chairs in the stores and they were attended by a Samsung representative and we helped them put on the goggle and and show them where to find the touchpad. And since then, obviously, you know, our learnings have evolved very quickly. Obviously, you know, we wanted to make sure that Gear VR was accessible as broadly as possible, so an unattended demo is vitally important as people walk into retail channels. And in addition to that, we've focused very heavily over the last couple of years on experiential events, whether it's Sundance or some of the work that happens in Manhattan over at 837, our Samsung Experience area, just to get Gear VR into as many consumers' hands as possible. Six Flags is another great example. We partnered with Six Flags to introduce VR to roller coasters and as a result of that we've been able to introduce Gear VR to millions of consumers and blow their minds in all of the locations that Six Flags are in in the States. And I think, you know, we've learned an awful lot as well about how to present VR in above the line communications as well through, you know, advertising and marketing activities. And I think, you know, that's focusing on the use cases that are most resonant with consumers. And so I think it's a good combination of sort of evolution in messaging, but also providing opportunities for consumers to try VR in as many places as possible.

[00:06:12.101] Kent Bye: And so what are people doing in Gear VR? You have access to all these metrics and numbers. What can you tell me in terms of the types of experiences that people are doing in VR?

[00:06:22.268] Tom Harding: Yeah, I think maybe unlike, say, some of the console or PC-based VR experiences, on mobile, Gear VR, we tend to see a good 50% mix between gaming and then video. And video can obviously take multiple forms, whether it's 360 apps like Netflix and Hulu that are delivering 2D content, but in a phenomenal new way.

[00:06:45.082] Kent Bye: Yeah, and here at the Samsung Developers Conference, Laszlo Gámbos was talking about the Samsung Internet VR browser, where he actually said that the Internet VR browser was the number one app in terms of usage. And so maybe you could tell me a bit about why do you think that people are going into the Internet browser, and what are they doing with that?

[00:07:04.670] Tom Harding: Yeah, great question. I think one of the sort of big stories is this sort of, there's so many learnings that are happening today. We're learning what makes a great game, what makes great 360 content, what makes a great 2D experience in a 3D space or environment. And similarly, what do consumers just want to do? What kind of traditional use cases do they want to do in VR as well? So, you know, the internet browser has had great success. Consumers are, you know, visiting obviously sort of some of their traditional habits in a more convenient way or a more immersive way. And I think we're really just scratching the surface in terms of those learnings. PhoneCast is another great example of an application that's been very, very popular. The ability to be able to play your Android applications within the Oculus experience is great, and we obviously hope to add more and more capabilities and more of those phone functions over time.

[00:07:51.542] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to try out the PhoneCast demo, and the thing that I was really surprised to see was being able to play actual mobile games using the controller, as well as productivity applications. Seems like another trajectory where you start to have this ability to have an immersive experience of being able to really focus and maybe doing word processing. Maybe you could talk a bit about that future development in terms of productivity applications.

[00:08:14.657] Tom Harding: Yeah absolutely and sort of the bridging between ideally we get to a stage where this very same application can do 2D productivity when you need it to when you're on the go and you can't put on a headset but is extensible enough to be able to give you a new perspective or an enhanced experience when you can put on a gear VR for example. And so I think, yeah, we see an awful lot of opportunity bringing phone functions to VR. I think that also help consumers not feel too isolated from, you know, sort of the phone functions they use on a very regular basis. So we bring those into the VR headset. It's obviously going to help with engagement and isolation.

[00:08:51.521] Kent Bye: So we're here at the Samsung Developer Conference, and I was a little surprised to see that there was no real explicit announcements or news about Gear VR, even a mention. I mean, I guess it was mentioned briefly, but it was not sort of featured. It was much more focused on augmented reality. And so I'm curious, why was there very little mention on virtual reality and so much focus on the other things that are happening in terms of internet of things and smart things in that way?

[00:09:22.250] Tom Harding: There's just so much innovation going on. I think, you know, there's only so much time that we can spend talking about every particular topic. But I think, you know, it's also testament to the fact that VR is now very much part of cultural awareness. You'll have heard in yesterday's presentation from my colleague Taeyong, talk of the work that's going on in Gear VR to add six degree of freedom capabilities to the headset. So we're very excited about that. So certainly lots of innovation to come, not much I can talk about today I'm afraid. But very much we see AR and VR ultimately being part of the same immersive category. And I think what's really interesting about AR is that we're going to see many of the use cases with AR start to become more and more Visible and accessible to consumers we're going to learn a lot about sort of visual computing Through AR on a phone and I think fundamentally that's going to also help in VR So we'll start to I think we'll start to see the distinctions between AR and VR Ultimately blur over time and I think there's learnings and technology that's shared between both categories So it's very exciting lots of exciting AR and VR news to come

[00:10:28.070] Kent Bye: And I was also hoping to get a chance to try out the Samsung Odyssey headset, but I'm here at the Developers Conference, and I'm having a hard time even finding an ability to be able to try it. So maybe you could tell me a little bit more about the Windows Mixed Reality, the Samsung Odyssey headset, and where that's going.

[00:10:46.955] Tom Harding: Delighted to. We'll have to get you in an Odyssey as quickly as possible. It's a fantastic piece of equipment. So, it's essentially a Windows headset with a phenomenal display, great resolution, integrated audio, care of AKG, and, you know, really sort of represents sort of a big evolution in terms of the way that these head-mounted displays are going. The tracking is inside out, so the headset is actually looking out at the real world and determining where you are in space. And obviously, you know, that helps in terms of consumer adoption, less things to install. So we're very excited to bring that to market and can't wait to get you in it as quickly as possible.

[00:11:23.033] Kent Bye: Well, at the session that was looking at the future of virtual reality, you showed that there was a lot of work that's going on right now in the Gear VR and sort of like the incremental improvements that are continuing to happen on that platform. You have at the far end, you have the Windows Mixed Reality headset with the Samsung Odyssey, and then there was an announcement that you are gonna do some sort of self-contained standalone headset, presumably, that's gonna be somewhere in the middle. The Six Degree of Freedom headset's using some technology from Intel, it was announced verbally yesterday. So I'm just curious, what can you tell me about this new standalone headset?

[00:12:00.643] Tom Harding: Not much today I'm afraid Kent, although you know we work with many partners on many fronts and you know with a couple of years of experience with Gear VR we're really thrilled with the you know what the consumers have done with the device and what they like from it and obviously you know the phenomenal experience you can get on the Rift and on Odyssey and Vive really is a testament to how the category is growing and evolving and obviously we at Samsung are very much focused on democratizing that as much as possible and making sure that some of these advanced technologies can be accessible to as many people as possible. So, the work that we're doing on Six Degree of Freedom is designed to be, you know, something that Samsung customers can get their hands on at a great price point.

[00:12:39.749] Kent Bye: So, one of the odd collaborations that I see with the Gear VR is that you're collaborating with Facebook and Oculus, and they're basically managing a lot of the software, taking control of vetting all the software and the programs there, and then Samsung's been doing a lot of the hardware side. And just at the Oculus Connect 4 conference, Facebook made a lot of their goals that they want to come to a billion people in headsets, but they didn't say we're going to do it through Gear VR. They were like, we're going to do it through our own self-contained headset. So I get the impression that Facebook, in some ways, wants to start to become in more control of their own destiny when it comes to virtual reality. And with now the Samsung Odyssey that in some ways you're starting to become a competitor to Oculus because that's basically feature for feature like even actually better higher resolution, but it's in the same domain in terms of PC VR. So Samsung's starting to go in their own direction in that way. So I'm just curious to hear your perspective in terms of like is there going to be a split in the future in terms of taking more control over the curation as well as the distribution of applications when it comes to the future of applications on your headsets?

[00:13:55.691] Tom Harding: Great question. I mean, look, Samsung partners with many platforms on many different fronts, many hardware manufacturers and software developers. Samsung's focus is always on delivering scale and making this technology, this cutting-edge technology as accessible as possible. You know, we work tirelessly on software as well. Samsung VR is a fantastic 360 player. Obviously, internet and phone cast are another two really great applications. And, you know, I think all of these partners and all of the people working in this industry are all very much in the sort of the test and learn and make sure that we get this out to as many people as possible and ultimately collaboratively grow the ecosystem. So, it's by no means a zero-sum game. We're all working in this together and we're thrilled to be working with so many great partners.

[00:14:40.420] Kent Bye: Well, you have the Gear VR framework, which is like more of a Java framework, which I guess is a way to go beyond just like a unit development. So you're really targeting that towards like Android development. So maybe you could just tell me a little bit more about how you see the Gear VR framework kind of fitting into the ecosystem, if that's something that's specific to people who are already doing applications in Android, and that's sort of adding on immersive components. Because, you know, a lot of the people that are creating VR experiences up to this point are using Unity, and that's sort of a whole other different production pipeline. So I'm just curious to see how you see the future evolution, if you're going to try to integrate both Unreal, Unity, or try to also, you know, fit into this Java framework that allows people to do things that you can't do using these other frameworks.

[00:15:28.300] Tom Harding: Again, it's really all just about testing and learning and collaboration as much as possible and providing as many forums to be able to experiment. I think we have as an organization or sort of as an entire category, should I say, so much to do in terms of learning what works and what doesn't. And I think, you know, that goes from hardware all the way through to experiences and applications. So I'm really thrilled that there is so much experimentation going on. I'm delighted that Samsung is helping contribute to driving as much adoption and as much experimentation as is possible.

[00:15:59.615] Kent Bye: What can you tell me about the Samsung S8 and the other versions of the S8 Plus, as well as the Note, being able to have Daydream-enabled features as well? I mean, again, Samsung has the Gear VR, but you're also enabling the Daydream, and one of the first companies to be able to do that. So I'm just curious to hear all the things that you had to do in order to do that, and what the implications are of that.

[00:16:25.195] Tom Harding: It means that my Note 8 is my dream device. It really leaves my pocket. If it's not in my pocket, it's on my face. And I think, you know, it's been great to be able to sort of unlock and deliver Daydream on these flagship devices. Again, you know, Google and Facebook and Oculus are partners of ours on many levels. And this is another great case in point of how Samsung is helping unlock VR to the masses and making sure that as many people can try it and get involved.

[00:16:53.345] Kent Bye: Well, in talking to Clay Bevore, one of the things he said is that part of the reason why they delayed announcing ARCore for so long was that they had to really get down the tuning process in terms of both algorithmically, but also the calibration for the sensors. And so maybe you could talk a bit about what you had to implement in terms of Samsung's processes in order to get the sensors to the right spec in order to be enabled for both ARCore and Daydream.

[00:17:19.276] Tom Harding: I would love to geek out on that, Kent. I'm afraid I wasn't too close to that process, so I don't know much. But I am very thrilled with the end result. I mean, I think any awareness and adoption of AR capabilities on a phone is fundamentally good for the entire category of immersive, and I'm thrilled that Google have been able to unlock that on our devices.

[00:17:39.072] Kent Bye: And I guess what are some of the big things coming up in terms of the big open questions that you're trying to solve in terms of with the Gear VR?

[00:17:46.300] Tom Harding: Yeah, I think we've been very much focused on driving awareness and making a broad audience aware of this profoundly new medium, profoundly important one. and figuring out what great retail looks like and what great experiential looks like and how to tell the story in commercials and in other forms of marketing. And I think with that great foundation that we've established, just like all of the other organizations out there working in VR and AR, it's really learning which of those use cases and which of those behaviors have the greatest resonance with consumers. and how do we continue to experiment in those categories moving forwards. So I think, you know, 360 video is a great case in point, right? We introduced, I think, very early on with Samsung VR, formerly known as Milk VR back in the day, on the first Gear VR Innovators Edition, this 360 player, that was based on our thesis that people like seeing people, and we wanted to make sure that there was a regular behavior that we could cultivate and deliver to consumers to delight them. And it did that, and I think through that process over the last couple of years we've learned a tremendous amount about camera placement and putting a camera in a 2D event and does it work for a audience member that's potentially looking in every direction. And I think there's so much experimentation in terms of continued testing as to what's best for lives, what's best for recorded content, what kind of streaming technology do we need in order to really unlock the potential, how do we connect consumers with the content creators and make them feel part of the experience. And I think, you know, that's across the board. It's not just 360 video, it's across apps and entertainment, gaming, productivity and enterprise. That's like continued experimentation. So we're very much in that sort of, we've introduced it, now we're going to keep on experimenting and learning. What's the magic and what do we need to focus on and experiment with next?

[00:19:43.495] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there's also the Gear 360 as well as the Gear Round immersive stereoscopic camera that you have created. And so maybe you could tell me a bit about the camera technologies that you're innovating on in terms of what that is doing for the marketplace in terms of actually allowing people to create their own 360 degree photos and videos.

[00:20:04.745] Tom Harding: Absolutely. Democratization is number one most important thing, I think, for the entire category, right? The more that we can get VRs into people's heads, and hands, the more that consumers can check this technology out and have their minds blown, the better. And I think, you know, in terms of that drive and that quest for democratization, it's been very important that we give people the tools to be able to capture their own moments. And it could be something as humble as, you know, a family get-together. It could also be sort of, you know, Unity is getting even more accessible and Unreal is getting even more accessible. let people start playing around and developing their own experiences. So the camera was really designed to sort of further democratize this category and bring it home and make it part of your own life and your own personal experience. And so, you know, the Gear 360 camera is now on its second iteration. It's a phenomenal device, captures 4K video, great form factor, and it's exactly the kind of thing that you plunk in the middle of your table when you're with friends and family or you capture a specific moment And it's there, it's preserved. It's a profoundly important little device and we're thrilled with the way it's been adopted by consumers. And I think, you know, every day there's a moment where I think, gosh, I should have recorded this on my Go 360. And so invariably it's always traveling with me.

[00:21:19.362] Kent Bye: Well, in terms of the content, in talking to a number of different independent creators, one of the challenges, distribution as well as getting funding, either to produce content or even to, once it's finished being produced, a marketplace to be able to actually sell it. And so, what is Samsung doing to either fund content or to create a marketplace for independent creators to be able to sustain themselves in creating content as a profession?

[00:21:44.356] Tom Harding: Yeah I think it's a great question. I think you know really Samsung's focus has been on scale and making VR solutions available to all regardless of sort of what platform they want to use whether it's a flagship phone or a PC and so we you know continue to focus on sort of really driving that adoption and obviously the more audience members there are out there then the greater revenue opportunity there is for developers so The more that we can do to continue to scale up this ecosystem and make headsets available at multiple different price points and multiple different technologies, I think it's fundamentally good for developers. And so hopefully developers are thrilled with the efforts we've put in to date in terms of broadening awareness from a commercial perspective through to retail, through to experiential. And we're always thrilled to talk with developers about how we can further help them get their great content out there.

[00:22:33.974] Kent Bye: I guess I also have a question about Samsung and its engagement with the VR community because I've been to probably about 40 different events over the last three and a half years and the last time that I've seen Samsung at an event was back in Sundance 2016 and then there was not a lot of presence in 2017 and just I guess I feel like there's been a bit of an absence and a void when it comes to Samsung engaging directly with the VR community and I'm just curious if like why and like where where have you been and What plans do you have to actually sort of you know get engaged with the grassroots of this movement?

[00:23:10.803] Tom Harding: Absolutely. 2016 and 2017 has been really focused on getting new product out there and obviously there's an awful lot that needs to be done and we have to do in the background in terms of bringing these experiences to life in retail and in channels and from a marketing perspective. So we're very much active in terms of getting the headsets out there for the community and making sure that a broad consumer audience are able to get access to this great technology. We've certainly been at all of the events. I didn't even bump into you, I saw you at Connect last week but I should have popped over and said hello. But we are working furiously and obviously we're very keen to connect with as many developers as possible and content creators. And it had to change slightly while we focused on rolling out new technology and focusing on retail and making sure that all the infrastructure's in place to obviously delight consumers in store and get them into experiential. put headsets on roller coasters. So that's where our focus has been. But we're very much part of the community and we love to network as much as possible with those working in this space.

[00:24:13.436] Kent Bye: Do you have a sense of looking into the future like the leverage points in terms of getting VR to mass ubiquity? What type of things are gonna need to happen if there's a specific killer app or if there's gonna be just a slow and steady monotonic growth of continuing to do what you're doing now? And I'm just curious as you're looking forward in the future how you kind of track progress and if you have specific goals or like how do you even think about that?

[00:24:40.768] Tom Harding: We focus on obviously making sure that we can get as many headsets into as many consumers' hands as possible. Obviously, you know, I have a vision as to what I would like from a headset. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what that would be on this podcast. You know, I think there is a certain level of just continued iteration as we learn what works. And I'll go back to my 360 example. You know, even 360, there's so many learnings that we still need to apply and we need to test and learn from. And I think it's going to be the same across all of the different mediums within VR and AR. There's going to be continued experimentation. But I think, you know, it's phenomenal to take stock of where we were two years ago from sort of a handful of applications on Gear VR through to now. thousand applications. And so we're seeing just, you know, continued great work from the development community, from devs and publishers as they test and learn themselves. You know, I think it was interesting in the keynote from Mark last week at Connect, you know, the reference to how we've seen the controller. lift consumer engagement and lift retention and also change their habits in terms of downloading content. So I think all of this is great news. We were thrilled when Gear VR controller was made available. We were really excited to have that. I mean, you know, in hindsight, touchpad is not a bad idea if you need an interface and you're making this up. But, you know, we were thrilled to get the controller out there and I think it's great. It's great for developers. It unlocks brand new expression. and hopefully we can bring some of the expressive elements of 6DoF to a broad market in the near future.

[00:26:13.184] Kent Bye: What can you tell me about other Samsung research in terms of, I've heard that you were looking at being able to control motion sickness with sound and audio and just curious to hear what other things you've been looking at in terms of audio and other things when it comes to different technologies that are going to fit into the ecosystem of VR.

[00:26:32.459] Tom Harding: We have a fantastic talent base across the world working in everything from display technology through to audio. So, you know, we've got a fantastic team and over at AKG they're working on audio solutions. I think one of the things that's so exciting about Samsung is because we have such breadth, breadth in terms of, you know, everything from TVs through to phones and audio and wearables, it's great when we can kind of bring some of those technologies together. And obviously, if I had my way, I would obviously cherry pick all of the cool stuff from every one of those categories and put it in a headset. But there's so many teams working on different bits of technology, all of which have application to visual computing in general.

[00:27:12.732] Kent Bye: Here at the Samsung Developer Conference, there's been a lot of talk about Internet of Things. Bixby was coming up over and over again, and there was just announced an open SDK for Bixby, and Bixby 2.0 coming. So having Samsung's version of an intelligent assistant being able to be embedded into all the different applications. I'm just curious to hear some of your thoughts in terms of how you see the integration of these artificial intelligence assistants and maybe computer vision type of functionalities blending into the future of your immersive computing platforms.

[00:27:46.214] Tom Harding: Yes, I think the thing that we obviously all want to achieve is sort of, you know, that every experience and immersive experience is, you know, low friction. And I think, you know, all of the work that we're doing in Bixby and connected devices is ultimately focused on sort of removing consumer friction. And I think the same can be said with sort of immersive tech. There's going to be a stage where, you know, even a controller probably feels sort of slightly antiquated. And the more that we can connect people with experiences and remove as much of that friction, I think is a positive thing. So I'm thrilled to see all of these pieces coming together. You know, from a headset perspective, the connectedness of all of these devices and obviously, you know, our work in the cloud opens up a ton of possibility in terms of where computing is done. and how much of the computing is done on a device versus somewhere else. And I think by virtue of immersive technology having such demands on graphics and on connectivity, I think we're really well positioned to solve a lot of those problems with our partners.

[00:28:48.631] Kent Bye: Great. And so what do you want to personally experience in VR?

[00:28:53.678] Tom Harding: Ah, that's, you know, I think, well, I tell you what, after going to watch Blade Runner 2049 only a week ago, I would love to be over in a Deckard's Hotel. I would love to experience firsthand what that environment was like. There's a little bit of me that would just love to just sit there and soak in all of those incredible environments.

[00:29:13.314] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:29:22.918] Tom Harding: I think the potential of virtual reality is the potential to let people realize their own potential. It's a profound medium that presents the opportunity for consumers to remove those barriers to them doing what they would like to do. Whether it's access to certain tools or limitations in terms of the tools they have in front of them. VR and immersive in general, unlocks that human potential to get out there and create and sort of create the things that they want. So I think it's an incredibly profound technology and I'm thrilled to jump out of bed every day and help make it with you guys.

[00:30:05.643] Kent Bye: Okay, awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thanks. So that was Tom Harding. He's the Director of Immersive Products at Samsung and he's in charge of product strategy and bringing VR to the market. So I will say that Samsung has been actually doing a lot of things to be able to market and get the word out about virtual reality. I think generally what I would say is that I don't think that Samsung is doing enough to really support the VR ecosystem in a holistic manner. What I mean by that is that Samsung has pretty much been absent from all community events over the last two years. I haven't seen them have a booth, they haven't been showing their products, they haven't been connecting to developers, and they haven't been funding content. Even in the Samsung VR application, they don't pay licensing fees for content, which I found super surprising to hear from different content creators. And the content that they were featuring at the actual development conference, they weren't paying any licensing fees or paying any money to anybody that was showing any of the content that was there. So my sense is that Samsung has so much money and they could be doing so much more to actually supporting the content part of the VR ecosystem. And they've pretty much offloaded a lot of that onto Facebook. Oculus is in charge of the software development kit and doing all of the interactions with the developers because Oculus is pretty much in charge of both vetting and controlling all the software that's on the Gear VR. So I think Samsung is probably coming to the point where they're starting to realize this, that they actually need to do more and actually need to start to think holistically about the VR ecosystem. My sense is that Samsung has looked at VR through the lens of their hardware sales and screen sales. So Samsung has had these different partnerships to create screens for both Facebook as well as the Gear VR. And if you look at what's actually happened with Samsung, Facebook, and Google, So Samsung's able to collaborate with Google and have the Daydream on the S8, S8 Plus, as well as the Note 8. And so you can buy an S8 and do both the Daydream as well as the Gear VR. However, for Facebook, you don't see the gear VR or the software from Facebook on anything other than a Samsung phone. They've been pretty exclusive minded when it comes to that partnership. And so it sounds like there's some sort of like exclusive agreement from Samsung and Facebook and that there's a non-exclusive agreement when it comes to the hardware and being able to collaborate with other companies like Google and when having the daydream. So this to me is not tenable. This is not a sustainable solution. I don't think it's going to last. That's my sense. I don't have any information to confirm that, but just listening to what Facebook and Oculus was saying at the Oculus Connect 4, whenever they were making an announcement that Facebook was going to get to a billion devices, they weren't saying, and we're going to do it with the help of Samsung and on the Gear VR. They're basically like, we're going to create our own hardware now with these standalone headsets. So you have this thing where there's these hardware companies and software companies and that all the software companies are becoming hardware companies. And the question is, how well is a hardware company like Samsung able to turn into a software company? They've been doing like Bixby and the artificial intelligence. But when it comes to relative to Facebook and Google and Amazon and even Microsoft, I think that the quality of artificial intelligence is just not as high as these software development companies. And so Samsung's having to kind of play catch up when it comes to that. Google also has an open ecosystem with Android where they've been pushing out Android and supporting many different phone manufacturers. And Samsung's approach to their phone is to put a lot of like special proprietary stuff on top of the Android. And so when it comes to cultivating a developer ecosystem, I'd say that Google has been able to do a much more successful job of creating an open platform that inspires lots of innovation and lots of different players. Whereas Samsung's approach tends to be pretty inwardly focused on their own hardware solutions. And so their Internet of Things solutions was basically like, oh, here's a bunch of Samsung things that you can do. Whereas when Google announced their Internet of Things platform through the Google Home, it was much more like we have like a thousand different applications that you can run. through the Google Assistant. And so Google's open ecosystem approach as well as the Android approach and sort of more open source, I personally think is the winning strategy in the long run. So I feel like Samsung's in this position where the future of software development for virtual reality is a little bit of an open question. If Facebook bails from their partnership and then sort of goes off on their own, then are they able to really sustain the content ecosystem that they need to? They haven't been putting a priority in creating a marketplace for content creators. And so from a lot of content creators I've talked to, they don't really necessarily have much of a relationship with Samsung. It's just, like I said, they've been kind of absent from the community and they're not really providing much for content creators to actually serve their needs. And the thing that's disappointing to me when I see this is that they just have so much opportunity. And I hope that they are going to make the decision to actually invest in content and to start to think holistically about the VR ecosystem and start to really do the things that they need to, to support it. Whether that's like sponsoring different conferences, to show up at Sundance, because, you know, Tom said that they were at Sundance, but that was in 2016. They basically didn't show up at all in 2017. It was just like a void after they had put so much effort in making a presence there to evangelize virtual reality to the larger film community. But then in 2017, they just basically opted out and didn't come at all, which I thought was a telling message as well. And Samsung was actually collaborating with Sundance in order to help show the New Frontier section, but then they were pretty much absent in 2017 and they had Google Daydreams. for showing the mobile VR experiences, which at that point, the Daydream headsets were not as good as the Gear VR. I think that actually with the latest release of the Daydream View, it's on par as a really super solid mobile VR experience. One of the things that I was really surprised about going to the Samsung Developers Conference was that I couldn't find a Samsung Odyssey anywhere. And so there was just no representation for the Samsung entrance into the Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem. It's essentially a VR headset that's working with Windows. Perhaps it's because a lot of these developers were like Android and mobile developers, and there weren't a lot of like, you know, desktop developers that were there but you know at the same time it just sent a weird signal to me that they didn't even have available the Samsung Odyssey headset for other people to try out because I know that a lot of people are curious about it and only a handful of press have been able to check it out so far. And one of the areas that I think that Samsung's doing a lot of really great work is with the Samsung Internet VR. And I think that WebVR and WebAR is going to be a huge part of the ecosystem of virtual reality coming into the future. And if Samsung doesn't want to work directly with a lot of developers to be able to have native applications, they do have the Gear VR framework for anybody that's creating an Android phone and writing in Java. They have this framework to be able to integrate some of these immersive features. So I think there will be things that you're able to have direct access to some of the hardware that you will be able to do that through the Gear VR framework that you can't do through right now through something like WebVR, WebAR. But with the open web, I feel like that this is actually an area where it's a really super interesting collaboration between Google, Facebook, and Samsung, because all of them are using the Chromium browser and developing on that. And Samsung's actually like the second largest contributor to the Chromium web browser. And Oculus is also working on their browser, which also uses Chromium. So they're collaborating on the open web in that way, which I think is really fascinating. And I have an interview with László Gámbos from the Samsung Internet VR team, as well as one with Diego Marques from Mozilla and Brandon Jones from Google, as well as an update from album from Sketchfab, just talking about all their web VR features. So I'll be having like a whole week about web VR coming up here at some point soon. So I just wanted to flag the response from Tom when I asked him what people are doing in this Samsung Internet VR application. And he said that people are visiting some of their more traditional habits in a more immersive way. And I don't know if that's kind of a euphemistic way of saying that people are looking at porn in the Samsung Internet VR application, but I imagine that that is happening because if you look at the Pornhub statistics when it comes to immersive VR content, that line has been increasing as more and more VR headsets have been getting out there. And so the other thing is just that there are some applications that Samsung Gear VR doesn't have a native app for, such as like YouTube. And so because Google hasn't decided to create a native VR app for the Gear VR, and maybe they're using the native app to be able to drive their Daydream cells, you can still have access to the immersive 360-degree content that's on YouTube by going through the Samsung Internet VR browser. And this is just the larger point that if there's any content that's out there that doesn't meet the Terms of Service requirements in order to be officially launched within the store, then the Samsung Internet VR browser is just going to allow people to publish just about anything that they want. And I think that's a huge power of the open web and the open internet, as well as the future of web VR, as well as web AR. And finally, the last app that I want to call out is the phone cast app, which I hadn't really had a chance to dive into, but it's actually pretty impressive all the things that they've doing. You can watch movies in there, which it seems like is probably the largest use case. You can cast it onto a TV, which I'm not quite sure why people would want to cast themselves watching a movie onto a TV, which is basically like including them starting to move their heads around and have all that head rotation. But you can also start to play mobile games on this kind of immersive experience. You can play like Angry Birds with the 3DOF controller. So it's a little bit different than actually being able to actually touch the touchpad. You're using this 3DOF controller to essentially kind of use it as a mouse pointer to play these mobile games. So sometimes the mobile version of it actually is a little bit more intuitive and a better user interface. But if you wanted to have an immersive experience of some of these mobile games, then you can have that using the PhoneCast app. they're starting to have more productivity applications in there as well. And so I'm curious to see how the evolution of like word processing may look like while you go into VR and be able to actually do some productive work and just start to really focus on what you're working on. So finally I just wanted to wrap up here by just sending a thank you immense gratitude to my Patreon supporters. It's my Patreon supporters that gives me the stability to be able to go and travel to all these different conferences and to be able to go toe-to-toe with some of these big companies within the VR community. I know that when I didn't have my Patreon supporters, it was a lot harder for me to do that, often because I was going to some of them, asking and seeking sponsorship, and I found that there is a bias, an implicit bias, that when you are taking on these big companies and sponsors, it makes it less likely for me to step out and to speak out. and to really try to hold a level of accountability with these big companies, whether it's saying, Samsung, hey, I think you need to do more to support the content ecosystem within VR, or going to Google or Facebook and saying, hey, you know, I think there's some deep issues about privacy that we need to reevaluate some of these surveillance-based capitalism business models. And one of the ways that we can start to fight that is to create a new ecosystem for patron-supported content like the Voices of VR. the fact that you're willing to donate to be able to support a podcast like this is creating the future that I want to live in. And it's not always easy. It's like I feel like I'm scraping by, but I'm committed to this process of doing what it takes for me to be really emotionally grounded and present and to be living into the future that I want to create. And I Hope that by you listening to this podcast and the Voices of VR podcast that you're able to hear other people living into those futures and talking about them and helping you get inspired to be able to also participate within this industry and to really make a difference. So I encourage you to become a member to the Patreon. Anything that you can give makes a big difference and allows me to continue to do what I'm doing here on the Voices of VR podcast. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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