I finally got around to watching John Carmack's keynote from Oculus Connect. I was totally wrong about Gear VR. I assumed that the benefits provided by Samsung giving Carmack such low-end access to the Note 4 were significant, but not so significant that it was worth sacrificing tens of millions of 2015 VR users. It's now clear to me that it is worth the sacrifice - simply because it is completely necessary to achieve compelling VR experiences on a mobile platform. I made my original judgement of Gear VR while watching the live announcement from Samsung, but I'm not too proud to admit that it was a judgement made too hastily. I won't be getting Gear VR because I can't afford a new phone so soon after upgrading from my old Galaxy S2, but I am now 100% on the bandwagon, and think that Gear VR might be the single most important VR device ever, after CV1.
I'm leaving my original post here for posterity.
I feel like this Gear VR thing is being blown way out of proportion. I quite literally shed a tear or two in frustration while I was watching the live-stream of Samsung's announcement, upon realising that you have to have a Note 4 to use Gear VR, and upon watching John Carmack's talk during the same announcement, understanding that the optimisations were so low-level that it was unlikely it would support any other smartphones ever.
I feel like mobile VR, in 2014/2015, has two advantages over PC VR. The first (and most obvious) advantage is the lack of cables, allowing an untethered experience. The second (and more important) advantage is that while very few people have a GTX 660 or better in their desktop PC, many, many people have a relatively new smartphone, and most people update their smartphone every year or two. So a good quality VR adapter for smartphones increases the potential market for VR from a couple of million high-end PC owners to hundreds of millions of smartphone owners.
When I learned that Oculus was co-operating with Samsung to release a mobile VR adapter, I was so excited, because it meant that we would finally have a guarantee of a good experience (since Cardboard, Dive, etc are pretty mediocre ultimately) for the masses. I bought a Galaxy S5 in no small part because I figured a Samsung phone would probably work better with Gear VR than other smartphones (but I naturally assumed that it would work with any modern smartphone, since that's the whole point of smartphone-VR).
Watching the livestream, it slowly dawned on me that Gear VR was Note 4 specific, and I wanted to cry.
Now, don't get me wrong, I understand 100% why this decision was made, both from Samsung's point of view, and from Oculus' point of view. Samsung sells more of their flagship smartphone and furthers their goal of creating a device ecosystem. Carmack is able to drastically increase the quality of the VR experience by optimising for the exact hardware of the Note 4. Everybody wins. Except the >95% of smartphone users who don't own a Note 4.
Gear VR was my golden hope to bring VR to everybody (because even CV1 will initially be a device only for those with the computers capable of handling it), and it shattered my dreams by restricting its audience to a single (albeit popular) smartphone. I understand why, but that doesn't lessen the blow at all.