As the company had strongly hinted — and then accidentally leaked — the new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge were unveiled.
But smartphones weren’t the only stars of the show; Samsung was also pushing its Gear VR virtual reality technology, even bringing Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg on stage to talk virtual reality and partnerships.
Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge
It’s pretty hard to understate the importance of the new Galaxy S7 flagship smartphone to Samsung. Its smartphone market share slid 2.2% in 2015, despite finally caving to consumer demand and ditching plastic in favor of the premium metal and glass Galaxy S6.
And that was an “s” year for Apple Inc. (AAPL), with the iPhone 6s offering relatively minor upgrades over the iPhone 6. 2016 will see Apple release the iPhone 7, expected to be much tougher competition for the premium, high-margin smartphone dollars.
As expected, Samsung largely stuck withe the upscale design introduced with the Galaxy S6. However, the Samsung Galaxy S7 gets a slightly more rounded back making it much more comfortable to hold, while the Galaxy S7 Edge grew slightly to a 5.5-inch display — making it a direct competitor with Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus. Both smartphones also stole a page from Apple’s book, going with a more modest pixel count camera, but boosting the size of the pixels for better low light performance.
However, the big news on the Samsung Galaxy S7 front was the effort paid to bringing back the Galaxy faithful who felt the Galaxy S6 killed too many key features. So the new Galaxy S7 regains a microsSD card slot — allowing users to cheaply upgrade storage — and it’s once again a waterproof device. While Samsung didn’t bring back the user replaceable battery, the built-in battery in the Galaxy S7 series gets a big capacity boost so it will last much longer.
Samsung Gear VR and Gear 360
Samsung is really pushing its Gear VR virtual reality technology and Unpacked 2016 was the strongest evidence yet that Samsung expects virtual reality to be the next big thing.
The company streamed the entire Mobile World Congress event in 360-degree video for Gear VR owners, and provided Gear VR headsets for all Samsung Unpacked attendees.
Samsung took the wraps off a new device designed to make it easier to capture VR content. The new Gear 360 is a spherical camera roughly the size of a tennis ball, with two fisheye lenses. It captures photos or video in 360 degrees, and is meant to be easy enough and affordable enough for consumers to use.
The content imports into the Galaxy S7 where an app “stitches” it together to create the finished product that can be viewed using a Gear VR headset.
And if there was any doubt that Samsung is serious about virtual reality, that disappeared the moment Mark Zuckerberg stepped on stage.
Zuckerberg — whose company Facebook owns VR pioneer Oculus — gave an impassioned presentation on the growing importance of virtual reality, including Facebook’s plans to develop social apps that take advantage of VR. He also spoke about Samsung’s leadership in the OLED technology used in VR displays and his company’s partnership with Samsung in bringing VR to the mainstream.
Zuckerberg dropped some impressive stats, including 200 VR gaming apps in the Oculus Store and 20,000-plus 360-degree videos uploaded to Facebook to date. He also confirmed that Microsoft’s (MSFT) hugely popular Minecraft will coming to the Oculus Store — something that could help spur adoption of those Galaxy Gear headsets.
The new Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge hit store shelves on March 11, with pre-order starting Feb. 23. Samsung is also offering to throw in a free Gear VR with pre-orders, sweetening the pot.
The Gear 360 is expected to launch in Q2 2016. Want to know all the details about the Galaxy S7? We’ll be publishing a full overview of the new smartphones, so watch for that.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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