Samsung Unveils Two Phablets And A Virtual Reality Headset

Samsung showed off two new Android-powered phablets and a co-branded Oculus virtual reality headset at simultaneous events in New York City, Beijing and Berlin yesterday, hoping to create a stir in advance of the expected rollout of the iPhone 6 Tuesday, which sources say will have 4.7" and 5.5" diagonal screens, up from 4” on the iPhone5.

“If you liked previous offerings of the Note line — and plenty of people do — you’ll almost certainly like this one,” writes Time’s Doug Aamoth. “Samsung didn’t mess with anything too much, instead opting for various refinements over radical changes.”

Apple “will clearly have its work cut out for it,” writes BGR’s Zack Epstein, after his glance at the fourth version of Samsung’s Galaxy Note lineup.

The Galaxy Note 4 offers “improvements including better screen resolution, pixel density and an optical image stabilizer for the phone’s camera — apparently a first for a smartphone,” writes Benjamin Snyder in Fortune, while the Galaxy Note Edge features a “side display to give users easy access to Twitter, news, heavily used apps and more.”

“Long gone are the days when Samsung simply copied Apple’s smartphone blueprints,” observes Will Oremus on Slate while noting that the Edge is “among the odder smartphones yet released by a major player in the industry” and will prove challenging for lefties to use “since holding the phone with one’s right hand while touching the buttons with the left will obscure a significant portion of the panel.”

But the Edge, whose screen turns into an alarm clock display when it’s turned off, has intriguing possibilities. “Samsung also released a specialized software kit so developers can tailor apps to the side screen,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Brustein.

“Samsung took several tacit swipes at Apple throughout the event,” Brustein observes, “repeatedly mentioning that it was the first smartphone maker to go big-screen and noting that skeptics and cynics mocked it relentlessly for its phablets.”

The naysayers have retreated.

“Shipments of the phone-tablet hybrids” — with screen sizes between 5.5 and about 6.99 inches — “will surpass portable PC shipments this year and tablet shipments next year,” according to an IDC forecast released yesterday and reported on by CNet’s Shara Tibken. 

As for the Gear VR device developed with Oculus (which was purchased by Facebook this year for about $2 billion), the “market is obviously limited, since it only works with the Note 4 and will have little content at first,” writes Molly Wood in the New York Times

“Also, it is heavy, slightly uncomfortable and makes its wearer feel extremely self-conscious — not to mention slightly motion sick, at least during a 360-degree flyover of New York City,” Wood continues. “But it’s probably an attempt to kick-start content for future virtual reality devices.”

And there’s the rub.

“Several marketers are placing significant resources in a wager that virtual reality will be the next advertising frontier, as Ad Age has reported,” writes Ad Age’s Mark Bergen.

“Instead of interrupting people with ads, marketers could sponsor virtual experiences people actually seek out,” Cotton Delo pointed out in that July piece. “There's a completely new form of storytelling that has to evolve for this new [VR] canvas,” filmmaker and music-video director Chris Milk told Delo.

“For content, Samsung has inked a partnership with Oculus that will make games and movies downloadable for the Gear VR setup through the Oculus Store,” reports Wired’s Tim Moynihan. “Not all Oculus content will be compatible with the Note 4/Gear VR tandem; games and videos will need to be optimized for mobile in order to work.”

A MarketWatch hed blamed the Samsung/Oculus VR device for “spooking” Apple investors yesterday. Jennifer Bloom reports “shares of Apple fell 4.36% from all-time highs to $98.94 on Wednesday, erasing $26 billion of the company’s market capitalization in one day.”

USA Today’s Matt Krantz adds that reports of a security breach on Apple’s iCloud — those nude-celebrity photos you’ve been avoiding — over the weekend added to the disenchantment with the stock and points out that the “market value lost in Apple in one day exceeds the entire value of more than half the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500.”

So attention now turns to Tuesday’s event in Cupertino. And this time Apple won’t “won't be able to lean on just brand alone,” writes Pete Pachal on Mashable. “The iPhone phablet will be a lot of things — big, groundbreaking, a challenge for developers — but to succeed in today's market, there's one thing it cannot be: secondary.”

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