Is Samsung Developing an Augmented Reality (AR) Headset?

For years, critics have accused Samsung of slavishly copying Apple’s hardware. The two tech giants even went to court over it, with Apple insisting that its rival had violated numerous design and utility patents related to the iPhone. And you’d think, after all that drama, that Samsung would refrain from anything that even hinted of copy-pasting Apple’s work.

Nonetheless, Samsung seems intent on following Apple’s (much rumored) plunge into augmented reality (AR). According to new South Korean patents discovered by Galaxy Club (hat tip to The Verge for the link), Samsung is apparently interested in building an AR headset. If such hardware actually sees the proverbial light of day, it could end up competing against an Apple headset that (if the scuttlebutt is correct) may hit the market as soon as early 2020.     

(And yes, make all the jokes you want about a Samsung AR headset with exploding batteries; we’ve already thought of a dozen of them.)

If Samsung enters the AR market, it will come off as a bit of a strategy pivot; after all, the company spent years attempting to establish a toehold on the virtual reality (VR) market with the Gear VR headsets, which relied on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone as a screen. But over the past few years, it seemed as if virtual reality was rapidly becoming a sub-niche primarily focused on gamers; industry attention has now shifted to augmented reality (AR), which advocates feel would have applications not only in gaming, but also productivity and everyday use. 

Of course, any AR ambitions on Samsung’s part are just trying to take advantage of what could prove a burgeoning market—but that won’t stop people from comparing any headset it produces to whatever Apple produces. After years of legal back-and-forth and marketplace competition, the two companies are inevitably linked in folks’ minds.

But as a whole, technologists don’t seem totally sold on the concept of augmented reality. In September, we launched a poll asking if readers thought that AR would succeed, and a full 59 percent said “no.”

It’s easy to see where that pessimism comes from. So far, the only blockbuster AR app to hit the market is “Pokemon Go.” Even AR games based on other, ultra-popular properties such as “The Walking Dead” have failed to grip audiences the same way. Meanwhile, productivity and lifestyle AR apps have generally fallen flat, although a number of folks have enjoyed playing with the IKEA app for a few minutes.

Will the presence of AR headsets from big tech companies change the equation? That’s a multi-billion-dollar question.  AR headsets from Microsoft (the HoloLens) and well-funded startup Magic Leap haven’t attracted huge audiences, but these devices are also expensive and (by the companies’ admission) still very much in the development stage. Presumably whatever Apple and Samsung launched would be cheaper and far more polished. But will they sell?