Samsung’s week just might be a sign of the times.
Like other tech and retail giants, the South Korean company’s numbers tumbled on Tuesday to its lowest quarterly profit in eight years amid slowing demand for phones, computers and the chips that power them. But the show must go on, so one day later, on Wednesday, the technology conglomerate held its first in-person Unpacked event in three years to showcase its new Galaxy phones and laptops, along with a new partnership with Google and Qualcomm to drive mixed-reality experiences on mobile.
The action at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco started with the latest Galaxy gizmos, in a bid to tempt shoppers with updated specs but at last year’s prices. Then executives from Google and Qualcomm sprang up from the audience to join TM Roh, president and head of mobile experience business at Samsung Electronics, onstage to talk about their latest partnership to bring more mixed reality to Galaxy customers, which could influence a massive proportion of mobile consumers.
Smartphone shipments may be in decline right now, but Samsung still owns 20 percent of the market share, according to Canalys data, following behind only Apple, at 25 percent.
According to Roh, “Today, we are transforming the future of mobile once again, by building the next XR experience together. We foresee a future in which immersive, shared experiences, enhance and enrich people’s lives, revolutionizing how we connect with one another, even on opposite sides of the planet.”
Samsung’s new Galaxy smartphones use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chips to enhance processing performance and power artificial intelligence features. “But we’re also collaborating to bring next generation experiences to other Galaxy products, including laptops, tablets, XR and more,” said Cristiano Amon, president and chief executive officer of chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.
“In XR, we’re working to create a new era of highly immersive digital experiences that blur the lines between our physical and digital worlds. With our Snapdragon XR technology, along with Samsung’s amazing products and Google experiences, we have the foundation to make these opportunities a reality in driving the future of the spatial internet.”
Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of platforms and ecosystems at Google, set the stage for Google and Samsung partnerships from phones to wearables, adding that since WearOS 3’s launch in 2021, the number of active WearOS watches has tripled. Now it’s expanding into augmented reality and virtual reality, two areas of longtime investments for Google.
Google has scaled AR Core, the search giant’s software development platform for AR, to more than 1 billion Android devices, he said, and it has taken AR into search, YouTube and Google Maps, as well as Google Lens, which is now used on more than 8 billion visual searches per month.
“These technologies are integral to the new phase of computing, as it can change the way we interact with people and information to get things done in the real world,” Lockheimer explained. “But delivering this next generation of experiences requires cutting-edge advanced hardware and software. That’s why our collaboration with Samsung and Qualcomm is so exciting.”
Notably, Google’s early hardware efforts at phone-based VR were more of a tiptoe than a major step. Now-defunct projects like Google Cardboard and Google Daydream, in which people tucked their phones into an eye-worn viewer, were curious at best in their efforts to familiarize the masses with immersive experiences. Those followed Google’s Glass project, a connected AR monocle with camera that kicked up privacy concerns and gave rise to an infamous “Glasshole” backlash.
Today, those initiatives seem quaint at best. Newer entertainment, gaming and shopping experiences have given the average consumer more familiarity with this sort of tech, at least via their phones, and that’s poised to grow thanks to metaverse development likely to span both AR and VR. Notably, the momentum behind the metaverse movement has waned in recent months, at least in crypto investor circles, but that’s not true for everyone. Many technologists and digital creatives are still bullish on the premise, and that apparently includes Samsung, Qualcomm and Google.
The elephant in the room, of course, was Apple. The iPhone maker is rumored to be on the brink of announcing its own long-awaited AR or XR device in the form of a headset or techie eyeglasses.
Samsung and its partners didn’t specify what they’re working on, but Lockheimer hinted at what’s to come: “We’re working toward a new generation of computing enabled by immersive experiences across brand-new form factors that will further elevate what you can do with Google,” he continued. “All this is incredibly exciting — from the hardware and core technology technological capabilities to the apps and services.”
Whether that will include a headset remains to be seen. After all, Samsung has already dabbled with its own phone-based VR Oculus-supplied headset called the Gear VR. It’s unlikely to offer another, so it sounds like a stand-alone headset or glasses could be in the works. Either way, it will surely involve or connect to a Galaxy smartphone, or allow its apps to run on that device. For that, the unit would have to be very powerful.
Advances in smartphone technology over the years have produced relatively sophisticated mobile cameras and processors. It’s arguable whether that mattered to everyday end users who just wanted decent selfies or landscape shots, until recently. Over time, the camera has been moving to the center of mobile commerce, with virtual try-ons for makeup, accessories and furniture purchases or measurement features for bespoke fashion, eyewear and more.
Enter Samsung’s latest phones.
Its most powerful to date is the new Galaxy S23 Ultra, with 200-megapixel camera sensor and double the storage, at 256MB, out of the box. It joins the Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus, which now share the Ultra’s floating camera design, night-ography features and other updates. Perhaps to tempt a hesitant shopper, they’re available at last year’s prices — with sustainability messaging, as they’re produced and packaged with less waste — starting at $799 on up to $1,199 for the Ultra.
The phones and partnership were announced alongside the new Book3 family of convertible laptops. The Ultra, Pro and Pro 360 models — with S Pen, for use in drawing, notetaking and other scenarios in tablet mode — offer a 3K resolution screen, with Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, a 120 Hz refresh rate and a quad speaker system with dual microphones and artificial intelligence-driven noise canceling. The 16-inch Ultra packs upgraded processors into a form that’s a wee bit slimmer and roughly one pound lighter than Apple’s latest 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Preorders for these devices began Wednesday, with shipping on Feb. 17. As for the new mixed-reality tech, there’s no word yet on when that might arrive.