Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., part of the larger Samsung Group, has 15 regional offices across the globe and operates across 73 different countries. The company is best known for its smartphone devices, primarily its Galaxy S-series, the latest iteration of which is currently the Samsung Galaxy S9 (released in March 2018). Samsung has created an ecosystem built around its smartphone products, and it is the company’s Gear VR headset and Samsung VR online service that are the part of this ecosystem that provide Samsung’s main offering to the Augmented and Virtual Reality markets.
Samsung Electronics breaks its business down into three operating divisions. The first is its Consumer Electronics (CE) Division, which manufactures and sells TVs, monitors, refrigerators, washing machines, medical devices, and other electronics. The second is its IT & Mobile Communications (IM) Division, which manufactures and sells smartphones, computers, network systems, and other telecommunications devices. Finally, its third division is the Device Solutions (DS) Division, which manufactures and sells DRAM, NAND flash, mobile SoCs (System-on-Chips), and other components for use in IT and mobile devices.
Samsung’s VR offering, which mainly consists of the company’s Gear VR headset and Gear 360 camera hardware, is included within the IM division. The company also notes that an increase in demand for AR and VR products has led them to be proactive in their response for expanding their lineup of advanced memory products. The DS division is therefore responsible for memory semiconductor technology that is utilized in many devices with AR and VR applications.
The company first ventured into the VR market back in 2014, with the launch of its Gear VR Innovator Edition headset. A year later in September 2015, Samsung launched its consumer edition of the Gear VR headset. This consumer version of Gear VR has seen some updates and improvements since it was first launched, and has also seen the introduction of a handheld controller, for use when navigating VR content whilst wearing the headset. Prior to this controller, Gear VR owners were able to utilize Xbox wireless controller compatibility, which was introduced in 2016.
Today, Samsung is certainly a key player in the VR market, particularly when it comes to bringing VR to the masses and increasing user adoption of the technology. Samsung has stated that it aims to make VR “more affordable, accessible and relevant to consumers and enterprises of all sizes”. The company is well placed to do this as well, as Samsung’s 2017 annual report indicated that it was leading the global mobile phone market in 2016, with a 19.2% market share. This figure grew to 21.9% by the end of 2017, according to an article by Fortune.
This market share doesn’t exactly reflect Samsung’s VR compatible devices, as most of the company’s lower-end models will not have the specifications required to properly run VR applications – in fact, Samsung’s VR offering is mainly limited to their flagship Galaxy S series product line. However, it does demonstrate that the company certainly has the potential to really push consumer VR further and grow its VR user base to its existing smartphone users.
Although VR is not the center of Samsung’s focus, it has stated that one of the aims of its IT & Mobile Communications (IM) division is to “respond to varied consumer demand through its wearable products – Gear S3, and VR – that cater to the customer needs”.
2018 saw Samsung launch a new initiative that added original episodic VR content to the Samsung VR video service. The initiative, named ‘Pilot Season’, is part of the company’s efforts to expand its VR content offering and drive growth within the independent VR filmmaker community. Samsung’s Pilot Season initiative was also a chance for the company to demonstrate the capabilities of its 360 Round camera, a 360 degree camera which can be used for the creation of VR video content. The camera was launched in October 2017. This was the second 360 degree camera that Samsung announced in 2017, as earlier in the year, it also launched an updated version of its Gear 360 camera.
In February 2017, the company launched a new version of its Gear VR headset, powered by Oculus. This 2017 model was the version which also featured a handheld controller, and was the company’s first ever Gear VR headset to include this. Gear VR was made compatible with Xbox wireless controllers in September 2016, and the new controller that is included with the headset now means users can interact with VR content with the Gear VR straight out of the box.
Samsung has several partnerships in place across various industry verticals, and partners with the likes of international sports teams, music festivals, healthcare providers, and retailers to name but a few. However, it seems that Samsung’s focus is mainly pointed towards consumer recreational VR experiences, through the use of its online Samsung VR portal, as well as its offering to the healthcare sector.
One good example of Samsung’s healthcare collaboration is the company’s Relúmĭno application, which works in conjunction with the Samsung Gear VR headset to help people living with low vision to see the world more clearly. Or, as Samsung puts it: “to provide something more approachable and affordable by using smartphones and virtual reality which are both widely used today.” The benefit of Relúmĭno is that smartphones and Gear VR replace visual aid products, which are often costly. Samsung has said that it is continuing to improve its Relúmĭno application in order to help users, and that its C-Lab (Creative Lab) is also working on a new model in the form of eyeglasses that are as small and as convenient as sunglasses.
Looking forward, the company doesn’t always comment on what its future strategy for VR involves. However, it does state that its outlook for 2019 will involve the expansion of its flagship smartphone sales by offering new designs and an enhanced lineup. It could therefore be inferred from this that the company’s work on its VR accessories, which form part of this wider smartphone ecosystem, will also continue to grow.
Samsung's main product offering to the VR market is its Gear VR headset, which is compatible with the majority of the company's flagship smartphones, and also comes with a single handheld controller. The company also has its Samsung VR online service, where users can find a range of VR content. Samsung Gear VR owners also have access to exclusive content that is available on the Samsung VR online portal.In addition to the Gear VR, Samsung makes a host of peripheral devices that are aimed at VR content production. These include the Samsung Gear 360 and Samsung 360 Round, which are both 360 degree cameras for VR content capturing in the form of 360 degree pictures and videos.
The company also produces a Mixed Reality headset, the Samsung Odyssey headset, which was announced in October 2017 in partnership with Microsoft. The headset and controllers are designed for use with Windows Mixed Reality, and provide a 110-degree field of view, and includes a Six Degrees of Freedom (6 DOF) sensor.
Samsung is one of the world’s leading microchip manufacturers, and in November 2018 Samsung announced its latest offering to the sector – its Exynos 9 Series 9820 application processor, which the company states will have applications in the augmented & virtual reality domain due to its processing power. In August 2018, the company also announced its 16-gigabit GDDR6 memory chipset, which too has applications for use in a variety of fields, including video processing and AR/VR.
Looking forward, Samsung has not mentioned much about releasing a new or updated version of its Gear VR headset. In fact, it seems possible that the company will put its efforts in to the development of a hybrid VR/AR headset instead. According to an interview with Lowyat.net in October 2018, DJ Koh, CEO of Samsung’s Mobile Division, hinted at the possible future release of a headset that incorporates both VR and AR. This is off the back of Koh’s comments in the same interview, where he stated that Samsung has identified and is working to overcome two obstacles when it comes to its VR headsets. The first is an issue of content, and the second is an issue of user comfort when wearing a headset.
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2018 saw Samsung report an overall increase in sales, up by 1.75% to KRW243.77 trillion, compared to 2017’s total of KRW239.58 trillion.
EBITDA margin was up by 3% on the previous year to 34% for 2018.
Overall, Q4 of 2018 saw sales fall compared with Q3, down by 9.46% to KRW59.27 trillion, down from KRW65.46 in Q3. Samsung’s IT & Mobile Communications (IM) and Device Solutions (DS) business units were the main contributing factors for this decrease. The only division to see an increase in sales in Q4 was the Consumer Electronics (CE) business, which saw an increase of 15.82% compared with Q3.
In terms of 2018’s divisional breakdown of sales, the IM division, which is responsible for Samsung’s VR offering, reported total sales of KRW100.68 trillion*. This represents a year on year decrease of KRW5.99 trillion (5.62%), coupled with a fall in operating profit of KRW1.66 trillion (14.03%) compared with 2017. The company attributed this slump in sales and operating profit to a dip in sales caused by “weak smartphone shipments amid a stagnant market”.
Conversely, Samsung’s DS business unit recorded another consecutive year of impressive sales increases of 9.61% compared with the previous year, bringing 2018’s sales figures for the division to KRW118.57 trillion*. Of these sales figures, the Semiconductor sub-division accounted for 95.81%. Operating profit for the DS division was also up, by KRW6.19 trillion (15.35%), to KRW46.52 trillion, making the division the company’s most profitable for another year running.
Looking forward, Samsung has stated that it aims to lift sales within its IM division, by introducing new designs and diversifying lines for its flagship models, as well as strengthening hardware specifications and reorganising lineups for its mid-range and below products.
The company has also said that it is aiming to “boost technological leadership by launching 5G and foldable models”. What a foldable smartphone will do for the VR, AR and MR markets is yet to be seen, however, one can be fairly certain that with new smartphone technology will come new applications and innovations for all three.
Within the DS division, Samsung has stated that in 2019 it will aim to shift towards higher capacity memory chips, as well as expand its image sensor lineup. As with the above, improved image sensor technology can only be beneficial to the VR, AR and MR markets.
*figures include inter-segment sales
Samsung reported overall sales of KRW239.58 trillion for 2017, which represented an 18.68% rise on the previous year’s total of KRW201.87 trillion.
Samsung’s VR offering, which mainly consists of the company’s Gear VR headset and Gear 360 camera hardware, is included within its ‘IT & Mobile Communications’ (IM) business division. The IM business noted a 6.35% increase on 2016’s KRW100.3 trillion, to bring total sales for the division (including intersegment sales) to KRW106.67 trillion in 2017. Operating profit for the division stood at KRW11.83 trillion in 2017, which again, represented an increase of 9.44% compared with KRW10.81 trillion in 2016.
Although the IM division’s Q4 sales were down on Q3 (by 8.02%), a strong first half of the year helped contribute to an overall increase in 2017. Samsung stated that it expects earnings for the division to further improve in 2018 due to the release of its flagship Galaxy S9 smartphone.
The company also notes that an increase in demand for AR and VR products has led them to be proactive in their response for expanding their lineup of advanced memory products. Samsung’s Device Solutions (DS) business division is responsible for memory semiconductor technology that is utilized in many devices with AR and VR applications. For 2017, Samsung’s DS business unit saw a significant increase of 45.15% to KRW74.26 trillion, vs 2016’s figure of KRW51.16 trillion (figures include intersegment sales).
Although not directly related to Samsung’s own VR offering in a financial sense, an increase in global demand for AR and VR tech could still potentially impact the DS division’s figures. However, this is very difficult to determine and would likely have to be a very significant update in demand for AR and VR technology. It seems much more likely that the increase in the DS division’s sales is down to a general increase in global demand for semiconductors for use in server products, datacenters, and cryptocurrency mining, to name but a few contributing factors.
Vice Chairman and CEO, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd./President & CEO, Device Solutions (DS) – Kin Nam Kim
President & CEO, Consumer Electronics (CE) – Hyun Suk Kim
President & CEO, IT & Mobile Communications (IM) – Dong Jin Koh
President & CEO, Samsung Electronics Africa– Sung Yoon
President & CEO, Samsung Electronics America – Young Hoon Eom
President & CEO, Samsung Electronics North America – Tim Baxter
Senior Vice President, General Manager, Samsung Electronics America – Justin Denison
Director, Product Strategy & Marketing - Mobile Computing, Samsung Electronics America – Hassan Anjum
Director, Product Marketing, Samsung Electronics America – Jonathan Wong
General Manager/ Head of Product Marketing, Mobile Computing, Samsung Electronics North America – Shoneel Kolhatkar
Senior Manager, Virtual Reality & Immersive Products Strategy, Samsung Electronics America – Stephen Hawke
Information up to date as of January 2, 2019