Samsung is giving the Gear VR perhaps its widest showing yet, rolling out demos at select Best Buy stores across the US. Today, the company confirmed that “Samsung Experience Shops” inside the stores will soon be offering demonstrations of the virtual reality headset, which uses a Galaxy Note 4 smartphone and was developed in partnership with Facebook-owned company Oculus. Interested parties can find a participating store here starting February 8th; while a previous rumor said 100 locations would get Gear VR units, we’re seeing roughly 68 on the list. SamMobile also has a rumored list of specific experiences users will likely be able to try, which is more detail than we’ve been given.
Samsung first announced the Gear VR in early September, and the first units shipped in early December, sold through AT&T and Samsung’s online stores. It’s unclear how successful the Gear VR has been, but Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe said at CES that Samsung “ended up selling a lot more than they expected.” This year, we’re seeing what looks like the beginning of a second wave of sales: long unavailable at AT&T, the Gear VR is now back in stock, and Best Buy added it to its online catalog in late January.
The Gear VR has been on display at a handful of malls across America, and it’s appeared at various events and trade shows, so it hasn’t been impossible to find. But Best Buy’s rollout is more explicitly commercial, and somewhat at odds with Samsung and Oculus’ contention that this isn’t a device meant for consumers just yet. There are other signs, of course, of its maturation. Samsung launched Milk VR, its dedicated video service, late last year, promising a steady stream of VR content. It’s also theoretically preparing a payment platform that will let developers charge for games, so buyers may no longer be mostly restricted to five-minute demos and “lite” versions of experiences.
No matter what, of course, the Gear VR only makes sense for a limited audience: people who already own a Note 4 or are seriously considering buying one. It’s the only phone that will fit into the headset or launch content from it, and even then, users are strongly recommended to buy a separate gamepad to really take advantage of the device. Since advertising VR secondhand is a notoriously difficult task, though, more demo opportunities can only help.