Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) could launch its own augmented reality headset to counter Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Glass soon, according to a recent report at Tizen Experts. The wearable device, which has been called the "Gear Glass" and "Gear Blink" by industry websites, will reportedly launch in March 2015 alongside the Galaxy S6.
The Gear Blink is expected to run Tizen OS, Samsung's own operating system. According to South Korean patents, the device could feature a virtual keyboard which projects augmented letters onto a user's hands, allowing a user to type words in thin air.
While Gear Blink sounds like an interesting rival to Google Glass, investors and tech enthusiasts probably wonder if a market actually exists for either device. Let's take a closer look at how Blink fits into Samsung's other mobile strategies, and whether or not it stands a better chance at gaining mainstream acceptance than Google Glass.
Samsung's new dartboard strategy
Gear Blink is just one of several ways Samsung is trying to compensate for its weakness in smartphones.
According to research firm IDC, Samsung controlled 25.2% of the global smartphone market in the second quarter, down from 32.3% a year earlier. That drop caused a 31% year-over-year decline in operating profit at Samsung's phone division last quarter. Rising competition from cheaper Chinese brands, like Xiaomi and Huawei, have caused the South Korean giant to lose market share across Asia and emerging markets.
To find new sources of growth, Samsung has tossed darts at new markets in mobile and wearable devices. The company has released six smart watches within a year to capitalize on the growth of the wearables market. To tap into growing consumer interest in virtual reality, Samsung partnered with Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) Oculus VR to launch the Gear VR, a headset which converts the Galaxy Note 4 into a VR headset.
The Gear Blink, when it arrives, will complement the Gear VR to give Samsung two footholds in the augmented and virtual reality markets. Research firm Markets and Markets expects the augmented and virtual reality markets, which are worth nearly nothing today, to be worth $660 million and $408 million, respectively, by 2018. While that market is tiny compared to the $265 billion per year smartphone market, it could grow rapidly if virtual and augmented reality apps catch on. Samsung's rivals are also thinking in the same way -- HTC, which will likely launch a smart watch next year, is also rumored to be working on a pair of smart glasses.
While Gear Blink seems like a longshot at best, Samsung might be able to leverage its growing enterprise security platform, KNOX, to introduce Blink to businesses, similar to what Google is trying to do with its Glass at Work initiative.
Is there a market for Gear Blink?
The problem is that market projections for VR and augmented reality glasses depends on mass market adoption to occur, which hasn't happened yet. VR headsets could carve out a niche as personal gaming devices, but augmented reality glasses -- like Glass and Blink -- face all sorts of social and privacy issues in public.
Last May, a survey from Bite Interactive revealed that 90% of Americans didn't plan to purchase Google Glass due to "social awkwardness." Earlier this year, a survey from research firm Toluna found that 72% of Americans refused to wear Glass due to privacy concerns. Meanwhile, the niche of early "Explorers" who wore Google Glass in public have been banned from some restaurants and other establishments, due to fear of the device's ability to discreetly photograph and record individuals.
It's unlikely that Gear Blink can escape this stigma, no matter how sleek the device looks. Meanwhile, letting people "virtually type" in the air certainly won't improve the public opinion of smart glasses.
The other problem for Gear Blink is Tizen. Samsung has only installed Tizen on select smart watches like the new Gear S, but it delayed its first Tizen smartphone in July due to a lack of developer support. Samsung likely wants Blink to run Tizen, since it wants the glasses to be independent from Google's Android ecosystem. But by doing so, Samsung makes it much harder for developers to port Google Glass apps, which run on Android, over to Blink.
The Foolish takeaway
In my opinion, Samsung should either delay Gear Blink until Google commercially launches Glass and gains more public acceptance, or market it as an extension of KNOX to target the enterprise market instead. Sending it straight to the public prematurely, however, will simply result in the device being eviscerated by the same crowd that hates Google Glass.