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(Pocket-lint) - It's fair to say that AR glasses haven't exactly taken the world by storm, but it's an open book as to whether future developments using the tech will be successful. Certainly, there's still a lot of interest and development money being spent around AR, with continued efforts from some of the world's biggest names in tech.  

Microsoft recently debuted its Microsoft Mesh project for collaborative working and playing using its HoloLens 2 AR headset, while Apple is continued to be rumoured to be working on VR and AR technologies and hardware. Google appears to be concentrating more on technologies enabling us to have remote experiences using our smartphones rather than hardware to follow up the ill-fated but brilliant Google Glass. Sony intends to stick with VR on the PlayStation 5 with the launch of a new headset 


Qualcomm refers to the technologies under the umbrella term of XR, or Extended Reality. It estimates that the XR market will be worth $18 billion annually by 2023. 

Qualcomm has a history in VR technologies, but recently launched a new AR headset design based on the Snapdragon XR1 chipset first debuted way back in 2018. The reference design that other manufacturers can use as a template for their own designs. Lenovo's recently-debuted ThinkReality A3 (launched during CES 2021) uses this platform. 

There should also be a new device incoming from Nreal, makers of previous smart glasses featuring Qualcomm tech. HoloLens 2 also uses a Snapdragon platform, so we could also see an update there. 

The device is designed to tether to a smartphone or Windows PC. The hardware is designed to share the computational load with the host device. Most headsets of the past have either offloaded all the work to the host or done it itself. So there's a change here in that it can adapt to particular circumstances. 

The benefit is in power consumption. Qualcomm estimates that there's around a 30 percent drop in power consumption as a result of this shared load. 

The ThinkReality A3 uses stereoscopic Full HD 1080p displays and focuses on business instead of entertainment. It enables tethering to a PC, a Motorola phone or another compatible mobile device via a USB-C cable. It enables you to see up to five virtual displays. 

Although not a focus of the Lenovo model, entertainment is a key tenet of what new headsets based on the design could bring into play - and not just for gaming.

The system is designed so protected content - such as streamed movies - could be viewed. Multiple virtual displays could also be used for PC windows or smartphone apps. Qualcomm says that these virtual displays could be anchored to 'planes' in the real world, so you could show one as being on a wall, for example. 

The displays in the reference design are 90Hz micro-OLED versions, a taste of what tech might be inside future headsets. 

Qualcomm's head of XR Hugo Swart says that it's a misconception that such tech only exists for gaming. "Yes, VR offers incredible entertainment value, but the technology is already being used in important ways across many industries. For example, we work with application providers that have commercial solutions in education and healthcare."

Swart also adds that AR is far from being a smartphone-only application: "While that is a great start, it’s far from the kind of disruption that AR can enable when applied to wearables, like glasses."

He also says that we tend to "set very high expectations for immersive AR experiences as if they’re right around the corner. Those sorts of experiences won’t happen overnight. While we’re going to get year-over-year improvements, the benefits of which won’t truly blossom for another five to ten years."

Swart says the key challenges for XR devices are power firstly because we never want to charge a headset too frequently, and the second is content - "a classic chicken and egg scenario. Devices must exist to run the actual content on, but that content needs to be created so the devices have something to run."

"We saw this challenge in the early days of smartphones, and we as an industry were able to eventually solve that problem. Nobody thought we’d be watching television and movies on our smartphones, or even surfing the web with them. In my opinion, we face a similar situation with XR content."

Writing by Dan Grabham.
Sections AR & VR