Samsung and Zuckerberg make claim for VR supremacy

The importance of virtual reality (VR) technology at this year’s Mobile World Congress was underlined by a surprise appearance by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a Samsung product launch tonight (21 February), during which he predicted VR will be “the most social platform”.

A shot from Samsung’s presentation at Mobile World Congress tonight

Although the main purpose of Samsung’s presentation was to unveil its new flagship Galaxy S7 and S7 edge smartphones, VR was in many ways a bigger focus of the event. The company put thousands of its Gear VR headsets onto the seats of the auditorium so that every media and mobile industry delegate in attendance could experience demonstrations of the technology during the announcement.

Gear VR is powered by Oculus, the VR technology acquired by Facebook in 2014. The Samsung headset went on sale in the UK last December for £80, making it one of the first VR devices on the market.

However, Gear VR only works with compatible Samsung phones, which clip into the headset. A series of other VR devices are due to launch in the coming months, including a dedicated Oculus Rift device.

“Gear VR is by far the best mobile VR experience,” claimed Zuckerberg, adding that its low price had contributed to strong early uptake. “People have already watched more than one million hours of video on Gear VR.”

Samsung also unveiled Gear 360, a new camera device that allows people to create 360-degree videos for watching or streaming on their VR headsets. Zuckerberg said he was excited by the potential of 360-degree videos, claiming it would create highly immersive, social content.

“It’s still really early for 360 videos,” said Zuckerberg. “But one day soon all of us are going to have the power to broadcast live what we’re doing, whenever we want, so that our friends and families can experience it as if they are right there with us.”