Here's what Max Cohen, the vice-president of mobile, keeps repeating to himself when working with Gear VR content: Why virtual reality at all? What makes an experience better in virtual reality than something on a standard display — what he refers to as "flatland" when we spoke.
It's not about making something work in VR, it's about using VR to make experiences and applications better, or brand new.
"You're not trying to replicate behavior, you're trying to do something new that people haven't seen before. I feel very strongly that we're not competing with other VR products at this stage, we're competing with a substitution for people's time," Cohen told Polygon. "We're competing with what else could they be doing other than being in VR."
One idea he was willing to share? Watching movies with your friends.
Why this is better in VR
Virtual reality already offers an amazing way to watch movies and television shows; instead of a standard screen you can sit down in your own private movie theater, complete with a huge screen, and enjoy. But what if other people could join you?
"One thing we're prototyping internally is what does it mean to watch content with other people in the same virtual space as you?" Cohen asked.
It's an experiment they're working on right now with no release date or even assurance it will be released, but the idea is to populate that virtual movie theater or similar environment with other people watching the same movie. So if your friend is in another location you can both put on your Gear VR, sync a piece of content, and hang out in the theater and watch, while speaking to each other through voice chat.
They're using an audio SDK with 360-degree audio so when someone "sitting" to your left speaks, you hear them from the left. You can tell from what direction the speech is coming from, so you know who in your virtual space is talking and can turn to look at their avatar or respond.
"Some people like to say VR is isolating, but I think it can be incredibly inclusive. Because you can take people who are far apart and make it seem like they're right there in the same space together," he explained.
"That's an area we think will have a big payoff when the content comes to fruition along with it," he continued. Cohen said that integration with streaming services or partnerships with content providers will likely come closer to the retail launch by the end of the year, and they have teams talking to multiple services. Imagine a future where you would be able to put on your device and marathon House of Cards with a few friends.
He did say that dramas weren't the best pick, as people tend to want quiet so they can focus on the content, but comedies or things like sports highlights could be fun to watch socially.
We've already said the same thing; watching video content in virtual reality, especially the Gear VR, is a wonderful use of the technology. You get to cut yourself off from distraction, watch a movie on a huge screen, and enjoy the experience of being a theater wherever you are.
This prototype may not go anywhere, but the thought of sharing a great movie with a friend or family member remotely is certainly attractive.