Qualcomm and Microsoft Developing Special Chips For AR Glasses
Qualcomm and Microsoft are partnering to scale up augmented reality through the development of a special chip for future augmented reality (AR) glasses that could usher in new and smaller Microsoft AR glasses.
This news suggests that Microsoft is looking to shrink its HoloLens 2 headset to new products capable of connecting with phones.
Qualcomm has scored a major partnership in its drive into the XR era: Microsoft is partnering with the US chip manufacturer for the design of special processors for next-generation AR glasses. Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon revealed this during the CES 2022.
Apple and Google recently decided against Qualcomm for their smartphones and opted for their own chips. However, Qualcomm still develops chips for the two largest hardware manufacturers in the XR segment: Microsoft (HoloLens) and Meta (Quest headset).
The HoloLens 2 AR headset from Microsoft already runs on the Qualcomm chips and today’s partnership guarantees that Microsoft’s future AR glasses will also run on Qualcomm chips. Future products based on the custom chips will integrate Microsoft’s mixed reality software with Qualcomm’s phone-based AR platforms.
According to Qualcomm, the partnership with Microsoft also integrates the software platforms. Microsoft currently has the cross-device Microsoft Mesh VR/AR ecosystem as well as its Windows Mixed Reality platform. This year, Microsoft will also be integrating Teams into VR and AR. Qualcomm is also building a software platform for phones called Snapdragon Spaces which is aimed at bridging the coming wave of Augmented Reality glasses and Android phones.
The Custom Chip is Light and Energy-Efficient
At the CES 2022, Qualcomm boss Amon announced that his company’s tailor-made Snapdragon chip has been optimized for energy efficiency and is lightweight for the next generation of Augmented Reality glasses.
Energy efficiency and a lightweight design are key factors for XR glasses chips. A face computer must neither be too heavy nor too warm on the nose. Amon says the partnership with Microsoft is a step towards making Augmented Reality glasses for the mainstream market and is a major step in the right direction when it comes to scaling augmented reality.
It is likely that the aim of the new Qualcomm-Microsoft new chip collaboration is for the development of AR glasses/devices for everyday use, at least for enterprise use-cases. Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 is still purely aimed at the enterprise market.
Amon says this custom chip has been specifically designed for the Microsoft ecosystem. It is not clear from the information whether Microsoft secured chip exclusivity in this partnership.
Smart glasses are still in the nascent stages. A major piece that they are still lacking is a common software platform. It looks like Microsoft’s partnership with Qualcomm is aiming to solve that bottleneck.
Mesh and Snapdragon Spaces to Become One
A Qualcomm press release states the partnership will entail the development of custom AR chips that will usher in a new wave of power-efficient and lightweight Augmented Reality glasses capable of delivering rich and immersive experiences and that the collaboration will see the two companies plan to integrate software such as Microsoft Mesh and the Snapdragon Spaces XR Developer Platform. The partnership indicates that a common connecting thread between a future lineup of AR products is already emerging. A future metaverse will require such connectedness of platforms.
Microsoft has already been working on using its HoloLens 2 headset in outdoor scenarios as a stepping stone towards future AR devices with smaller form factors. Last year, Microsoft entered into an explorational partnership with Niantic aimed at exploring how gaming would in the future work for smart glasses.