Samsung to sell new virtual reality camera in 2016

Samsung’s new Gear 360, a camera for recording virtual-reality videos. Credit Samsung
Samsung’s new Gear 360, a camera for recording virtual-reality videos. Samsung

With competition continuing to heat up in the handset market, Samsung Electronics is relying heavily on virtual reality to help distinguish its smartphones.

The South Korean manufacturer, which is the world’s largest phone maker by units, on Sunday announced two new Galaxy smartphones along with Gear 360, a camera for recording virtual reality videos. The company made the announcements at the Mobile World Congress, one of the tech industry’s largest events for mobile products, held in Barcelona, Spain.

The Gear 360 accompanies Samsung’s Gear VR, the virtual reality headset that the company developed with Facebook’s Oculus, which was released in November. The Gear 360 has two cameras — one on the front and one on the back — to allow consumers to shoot 360-degree videos. The videos can then be viewed through the Gear VR, which works only with Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

As for the phones — the Galaxy S7, with a 5.1-inch screen, and the Galaxy S7 Edge, with a 5.5-inch curved screen — there isn’t much new about them. The devices are water-resistant up to five feet deep and the cameras have been improved to autofocus on images faster. The gadgets also have what Samsung calls Always-On screens that constantly light up just the pixels needed to show the time or calendar notifications; the feature turns off when the phone is tucked away in a pocket or purse.

With the lack of new phone features, Samsung is betting hard on virtual reality to help maintain its lead.

“Samsung continues to push the boundaries of the mobile experience to extend beyond the smartphone,” D. J. Koh, a Samsung executive, said in a statement.

In the fourth quarter of last year, Samsung had 21.4 percent of the smartphone market, followed by Apple, with 18.7 percent, according to the research firm IDC. Notably, the Chinese phone maker Huawei increased unit sales by more than a third, to grab 8.1 percent market share.

“Usually, the conversation in the smartphone market revolves around Samsung and Apple, but Huawei’s strong showing for both the quarter and the year speak to how much it has grown as an international brand,”Melissa Chau, a research manager for IDC, said in a statement.

Samsung did not reveal price details on the new products. The phones will be released on March 11 in the United States, and the Gear 360 will be available later this year.

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