The Korea Herald


Metaverse scramble exposes Samsung's software weakness

Despite stagnant smartphone biz, Samsung still seen tied to mobile while others on race to new market

By Kim Byung-wook

Published : Jan. 19, 2022 - 15:04

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Samsung Electronics’ obsession for foldable smartphones is drawing market concerns as the South Korean tech giant is missing out on what’s coming next: The metaverse.

According to market tracker Counterpoint Research Wednesday, Samsung remained as the No. 1 global smartphone brand by market share in 2021, but its smartphone business by sales grew just 0.9 percent on-year, drawing a big comparison with Apple’s 25.5 percent and Xiaomi’s 35.1 percent.

Though growth has apparently stopped for its smartphone business, Samsung is still pushing for foldable smartphones to reignite the momentum, without offering the next big thing -- XR devices -- to log into the metaverse.

XR, short for extended reality, is an umbrella term encapsulating augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality and everything in between. The term has emerged as a key concept to understand the pandemic where every aspect of daily life migrates to the online sphere or the metaverse.

Competitors of Samsung such as Apple, Microsoft, Meta and Sony are developing or have already rolled out XR goggles to usher users into the metaverse, but Samsung remains quiet on its progress. It’s unclear whether the company is developing XR devices at all.

Already a latecomer

Even if Samsung develops XR devices, the company lacks the content and the platform to create a metaverse ecosystem, experts say.

“Big tech companies, rather than smartphone manufacturers, are leading XR devices because they have the necessary content and platforms. Google has an operating system Android, Microsoft has Xbox and Sony has PlayStation. It’s risky for Samsung to roll out XR devices, so it has no choice but to stick to foldable smartphones,” said Kim Gwang-soo, an analyst at eBest Investment and Securities.

Statista, a German market data company, projects that the global XR market will grow 10 times to $300 billion in 2024 from $31 billion in 2021. The number of XR devices, which stood at 10 million units in 2021, is set to increase to 70 million units in 2025. By 2030, XR devices are expected to partially replace PC and smartphones and become mainstream IT devices, analysts predict.

To latch onto the booming XR device market, Samsung in November made belated investments in DigiLens, a startup that makes XR glasses based in California.

However, the race for XR devices is already on, with major players making serious commitments to take the lead.

Others in the race

At the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas earlier this month, XR devices developed by Japanese firms stole the spotlight. At the event, Sony unveiled a gaming headset PS VR2 mounted with an OLED display that supports smooth frame rates of 120Hz, a wide view angle of 110 degrees and 4K resolution. Shiftfall, a subsidiary of Panasonic, showcased a super-lightweight and super-resolution XR device Meganex.

Meanwhile, Apple is scheduled to showcase an XR device in the fourth quarter this year that weighs just 300-400 grams. The device is expected to be equipped with chips as powerful as M1, 4K display and motion-tracking 3D sensors.

At Meta, a new high-end VR headset codenamed Project Cambria is under development, its launch scheduled within this year. The device, installed with interior sensors, tracks users’ facial expressions and portrays them to characters‘ faces in the metaverse.

For Samsung to stay relevant, it has to find an “XR partner” with content or platform in exchange for its expertise in chips, as witnessed by the partnership between Qualcomm and Microsoft, experts say.

Qualcomm, the world’s largest telecommunications chip maker, has partnered up with Microsoft to make a foray into the metaverse market. Based on its experience of developing XR1 and XR2, chips for AR and VR devices, Qualcomm is developing a new AR chip for Microsoft’s AR glasses. The new chip will allow Microsoft’s AR glasses to consume less electricity, meaning that the device can become much lighter with smaller batteries.