Don't count virtual reality out -- its growth looks a lot like the early days of the iPhone

Chris Tan
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Following last year's over-optimistic prediction of VR statistics, many people are left disappointed by VR sales. But, that got me wondering, just how well is VR doing when when compared to the growth of other "disruptive" technologies. Since the most common comparison of VR is to mobile, I decided to objectively compare the first year of iPhone sales with VR devices (specifically, the Gear VR).

1) iPhone — Year 1 Sales

The original iPhone was announced on June 29, 2007. Traveling back nearly a decade to the release of the first iPhone, we saw massive sales (700,000 iPhones) on opening weekend. But, how did the iPhone fair overall in the first year?

Official Units Sold:

Year 1 Total: 6,129,000 iPhones

2) Gear VR — Year 1 Sales

There are 2 reasons I only chose 1 VR device to compare with the iPhone:

Gear VR has the highest adoption rate

Samsung is the only company to have shared their official number of devices sold

Throughout all of 2016, Samsung dropped hints that their Gear VRs were "selling" like wildfire e.g. news that 1 million people used the Gear VR in April and the 300 thousand units "sold" in Europe (May). Though they were extremely tight-lipped about Gear VR statistics in 2016, during CES of this year, they finally made an official announcement:

Official Units Sold:

Year 1 Total: 5,000,000 Gear VRs

3) Non-Gear VR Platform Sales

I typically don't like including estimates because it's hard to gauge accuracy. I've included it for completeness sake, but please take it with a grain of salt:

Number of VR devices sold in 2016:

750,000 — PlayStation VR

420,000 — Vives

260,000 — Google Daydream

240,000 — Oculus Rifts

2016 Total: 1,670,000 Other VR Devices

Percentage of Population (iPhone vs. Gear VR)

The population of the world in 2007 (iPhone release year) was 6.6 Billion and in 2015 (Gear VR release year) was 7.2 Billion. iPhone Year 1 Units sold represents 0.093% of the population and Gear VR Year 1 Units sold represents 0.083% of the population (at their respective years).

Price Arguments

An argument can be made on price that the Gear VR ($99) is significantly cheaper than the iPhone and a counter-argument can be made that the original iPhones we're only available through a 2-year AT&T subscription.


Not all 5M Gear VR headsets that Samsung "sold" were bought. As a clever marketing tactic, they had bundle promotions for Gear VR devices to come free with their flagship phones to speed adoption of VR.

The Gear VR growth graph slope was an estimate and assumes compound quarterly growth.

Summary — 3 Numbers to Know

6,129,000 iPhones sold (Year 1)

5,000,000 Gear VRs sold (Year 1)

1,670,000 (non-Gear VR) VR Devices sold (2016 Estimate)


To be honest, I was quite happily surprised with the way VR has been growing. Although the analysts overhyped the space in 2016, when we objectively look at the data, we're doing quite well. Gear VR growth, when coupled with Samsung's marketing strategies, is a force to be reckoned with. Add this to other VR platform sales (like the PSVR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive) and you have the start of something special!


I'd like to close by including an inspirational quote from Tony Parisi at the last VR Tuesday event:

"As I like to say, you don't actually get to a billion headsets until you go through your first few million." — Tony Parisi at VR Tuesday (at 26:07 of this video)

by Chris Tan, CEO of Construct VR. Follow him on Twitter @

This post originally ran on Medium.