Photo from Road To VR

Before VR Can Go Mainstream (At Least) These 3 Things Need To Happen

Christmas is just days away and thousands await opening what they anticipate will be their favorite gift — a Samsung Gear VR. You can imagine the scene: The appropriate sized box is identified and it’s addressed to the right expectant person. These people rip off the paper and give a “Whoop Whoop” of delight that their top gift wish has materialized. Without hesitating to watch others open gifts, they rip open the packaging, grab their Samsung phone and plug it into the Gear VR. As this happens, the recipients’ excitement builds into an even more hyped fever. After those few pregnant moments the wait is over and, Voila! the recipients snap on their headgear and start oohing and awwwing into a newfound virtual world.

That’s how it should happen, right? That’s how you’d expect Samsung to want it to happen during this especially critical phase of attracting the mainstream to VR technology. And that’s how I anticipated it would be. However, that is far from my own experience — one that could foretell some very, very disappointed people in just days…

My Gear VR story:

Seconds after Fedex delivered my new Samsung Note 5 (which took weeks to arrive and built up the suspense even more than anticipated), I began ferociously tearing open the packaging. Then I plugged the Note 5 into my Gear VR and NOTHING HAPPENED. No synching, no downloading software, not even a beep. NADA.

Completely caught off guard (who wouldn’t expect them to sync when connected?), I ran over to a co-worker who had just setup a Note 5 the day before. He told me the Gear VR software should download immediately when I plugged in the phone to the headset. “But that’s not happening!” I replied and then asked two more people for help. But they, too, had no idea why Gear wouldn’t start working. I then tried what mainstream American might — a few Google searches — and found this reddit thread that described other people experiencing what seemed to be the same setup problem… except their problem stemmed from the configurations of their International phones. The solutions they suggested did not work on my phone. Of course, wouldn’t Samsung want to avoid setup problems for all types of phones?

After some trials and tribulations I realized that my Note 5 did not have the correct software update that triggers the Gear VR to recognize the phone and get it running as a virtual reality device, which didn’t happen for 16 hours after my first attempt. Read on to know the story…

Now my experience (and many others’ experiences) could have been so much more pleasant if only Samsung anticipated these problems and did their best to follow my suggestions below. (Hopefully there still is time or the Grinch may steal many new Gear VR owners’ Christmas!)

1. Make Sure All Setups are Plug-and-Play

If the Gear VR is promoted like a consumer device, it should act like one. It should come pre-loaded with software so that the device will WORK each time. If people are buying Samsung phones to use for virtual reality, they need to work seamlessly with the headgear, with no issues. Now if this is too much to ask, then Samsung should at least provide items #2 and #3 below (which it currently does not as I found out to my dismay)…

2. 24/7 Chat Support

On a mission to get the software on my phone, I contacted AT&T chat support who, quite frankly, had no idea what I was talking about. The agent recommended that I talk to someone at Samsung, who might have more insight as to why my phone was not working. Thanks AT&T Support! You really helped a lot. Pass the buck! Well, let’s see if Samsung can help, I thought. After all, it’s their equipment:

While the Samsung agent had an idea of what the Samsung Gear VR was, their only suggestion was a link describing how to put the phone into the Gear VR….

I turned to the Twitter-sphere, where I was lucky to get help from Nick DiCarlo, who confirmed that AT&T had to send me an update and even John Carmack, who recommended I talk to Oculus support:

Because my phone was already connected to the AT&T network, my next line of attack was to contact Oculus support. I wasn’t too optimistic because I knew I was relying on AT&T to push out the update and thus, fell asleep waiting for a response from Oculus…

If there was a dedicated chat support section on either Samsung or Oculus’s sites, employed with people who would know how troubleshoot these problem or expedite the network update, it would have made for a better all around experience of not having to explain myself various different times about what my issue was.

3. Publishing Troubleshooting Guides for Samsung VR

Given these fruitless attempts at getting instant assistance beyond “your phone needs to update”, I searched for troubleshooting guides that could potentially walk me through this problem. I only found one guide on installing the software, but nothing beyond that. If there are known issues in the ecosystem, there should be guides on how to troubleshoot. (Reddit is currently the only resource where people are voicing their issues; an Oculus employee ‘TheTwistGibber’ has been responding to queries of people with recent Gear VR issues). Oculus has a history of these guides for the Innovator Edition but only 1 guide on the consumer edition, with a broken link to their support:

Want to know the bittersweet end of my Gear VR story?

When I woke up from my sleep while waiting for Oculus, the software update was still not available on my phone. A few hours later — 16 hours of frustration after I started to setup the Note 5 — my phone *suddenly* had an update. With the update, I was finally able to get Samsung Gear VR working but had no real insight into WHY it started working other than the fact that AT&T *blessed* me with an update*.

I know that my experience is not unique; others have told me about their fiascos ranging from not being able to update software from Oculus* to buying unlocked international Samsung phones that will not work with the Gear VR.

Remember all these incipient VR enthusiasts waiting anxiously to open their new Gear VRs on Christmas? You get the idea of an (unnecessary) fiasco about to transpire. Not everyone is going to have the tech knowledge, the VR support community and the search skills I’m lucky to have. It’s going to be one huge deluge onto an unprepared set of third-string support people unlucky enough to have been given the Christmas shift….

Pretty much all of their frustration — and mine — could easily have been avoided if the three suggestions I write in this blog are followed. If we want VR to go mainstream, setup should be seamless and when it’s not, the resources are in place to guide anyone through.

*Am troubleshooting this Note 5 issue for a friend, if you know how to help please reach out to me.

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