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Samsung co-CEO says next Gear VR coming 'soon'

JK Shin, the head of Samsung's mobile business, tells CNET the exact launch date of the virtual-reality device is "a secret," but buyers won't have to wait too long.

JK Shin, the Samsung co-CEO in charge of the company's mobile business, shows off the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ during an event in New York.Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

NEW YORK -- Consumers may not have to wait much longer for Samsung's next virtual-reality device.

JK Shin, Samsung co-CEO and the head of the company's mobile business, told CNET on Thursday that the next Gear VR will hit the market "soon" but said the precise launch date is "a surprise." Samsung has tended to introduce new versions of its Gear VR headset when it launches new flagship phones, but it didn't say anything about virtual reality during Thursday's Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ launch in New York.

Samsung, facing a slowing mobile market, has looked for ways to revitalize phone and tablet sales, as well as enter tangential markets. Gaming is one of those. Samsung in 2013 offered a Bluetooth controller, called the GamePad, that turned any Android phone into a portable gaming device. But it dived into virtual reality -- the new hot sector in tech -- with its first Gear VR headset a year ago.

That initial device, created through a partnership with Facebook's Oculus, only worked with the Note 4, and the follow-up Gear VR -- shown off in March -- was tailored for the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. Many expected the company on Thursday to show off a new version that works with the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+, and market watchers have been hoping for a Gear VR that's focused more on consumers and works with multiple Samsung devices, not just one or two models.

Instead of talking about VR on Thursday, Samsung spent its 45-minute keynote showing off its new jumbo smartphones, as well as teasing its next smartwatch, the round Gear S2. Samsung plans to introduce the smartwatch S2 on September 3 at the IFA electronics show in Berlin. It could also use the venue as the place to show off its next Gear VR, though Shin declined to comment.

With its hardware expertise, Samsung could have built a virtual-reality device on its own, but it instead chose to partner with Oculus, a pioneer in the virtual-reality world. Oculus introduced a prototype of its headset, called the "Rift," in 2012, making a splash with the promise of high-quality virtual-reality gaming experiences. Industry veterans began singing its praises; a technology that had been the stuff of Hollywood storytelling since the early 1990s began marching toward store shelves.

Facebook bought Oculus a year ago for more than $2 billion and plans a consumer version of the product next year. Other companies jumping into the market include Sony ; Google with its simple Cardboard product ; and Microsoft with its HoloLens.

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