360-deg cameras and virtual reality devices

Smartphone companion devices like 360-degree cameras and virtual reality goggles, and souped-up flagship phones dominated the announcements in the lead-up to the Mobile World Congress 2016.

Korean tech giants Samsung and LG unveiled their first portable 360-degree cameras a day before the opening of the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry in Barcelona, Spain, yesterday.

These 360-degree cameras allow users to easily create their own virtual reality (VR) content for viewing on VR headsets, tipped to be the next big thing with the imminent release of the Oculus Rift and the PlayStation VR set this year.

At the Samsung launch event, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took the stage pledging the social media network's commitment to support 360 videos.

"Pretty soon, we're going to live in a world where everyone (can) share and experience whole scenes as if you're right there in person... That is why Facebook is investing so much early on in virtual reality," said Mr Zuckerberg.

Specifically, Samsung showed off its Gear 360, a portable 360-degree camera with two 15-megapixel fisheye lenses facing back- to-back. Content taken can be viewed on the Samsung Gear VR headset released last November.

Meanwhile, LG unveiled the LG 360 Cam, which sports two 13-megapixel 200-degree wide-angle cameras, as well as its first VR headset, the LG 360 VR. It also unveiled other companion devices to its smartphones, including the LG Cam Plus, an add-on camera module that gives users physical buttons to operate the phone's camera, and the LG Smart Controller, which allows users to control drones.

The two Korean tech giants also announced the latest, souped-up models of their flagship smartphones: the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge, and the LG G5.

Analysts think that companion devices like 360-degree cameras and virtual reality headsets will take three to four years before they gain mainstream adoption.

Ms Julie Ask, vice-president and principal analyst at research firm Forrester, cited the high cost and the lack of an open ecosystem as the main obstacles. "Not all of this technology is easy to set up or control via a mobile device," she added.

Mr Thomas Husson, vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester, said: "With 360-degree cameras, self-created virtual reality content will slowly emerge, and entertainment firms will progressively create immersive gaming experiences."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2016, with the headline '360-deg cameras and virtual reality devices'. Print Edition | Subscribe