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Qualcomm's New Wireless AR Glasses Are Made to Blend With Phones

Wireless AR Smart Viewer Reference Design looking like a pair of thick sports sunglasses
Qualcomm's next pair of AR glasses works wirelessly with phones.
Qualcomm

What's happening

Qualcomm has a new design for wireless AR glasses that connect with phones.

Why it matters

Most tech companies are promising AR glasses now, but few work well with phones. Qualcomm's design suggests how they could work together, and without plug-in wires.

What's next

At least four manufacturers are already working on glasses based on Qualcomm's design, pointing to a wave of new AR glasses in the coming year or more.

If you want to know the direction of VR and AR products these past few years, you can get an easy sneak peek by following what Qualcomm does. The chipmaker's processors are in most AR/VR headsets right now, and the company's latest reference design for AR glasses shows a wireless, phone-connected future.

Standalone AR headsets like the Hololens 2 or Magic Leap 2 have been bulky to date, or required separate connected processors. Qualcomm has already advanced a wave of early phone-connected AR glasses that connect with USB-C, but the results of that first wave of products -- including Lenovo's ThinkReality A3 and the NReal Light -- have suffered from a lack of phone software and useful features, besides their awkward design and cabled connection.

Qualcomm's envisioned next wave of wireless glasses may not solve the software problem yet, but the hardware looks considerably better. The visorlike glasses have a Snapdragon XR2 chip on board, similar to Meta's Quest 2, which powers onboard cameras and processing, but it works in tandem with certain Android phones running Snapdragon processors and Qualcomm's Snapdragon Spaces software. The glasses connect over Wi-Fi 6 and 6E connections, promising extremely low latency.

The glasses share processing between the glasses and phones, which is a relationship Qualcomm thinks is the way forward for lower-cost, everyday AR glasses of the future. While these "XR viewers" will still stand apart from fully self-contained stand-alone VR and AR headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 and Hololens 2 for now, Qualcomm's head of XR, Hugo Swart, sees the landscape converging in several years. Qualcomm plans to build momentum on these wireless AR headsets over the next year and onward, while larger stand-alone VR and AR headsets add 5G.

Swart confirmed that four manufacturers are already working to develop products based on Qualcomm's reference design. Qualcomm already is partnering with Microsoft on chips for future AR glasses, while HTC, Lenovo and Motorola are frequent early adopters of Qualcomm's AR/VR advances.

The glasses boast some impressive specs, at least: dual 90Hz, 1,920x1,080 micro-OLED displays, capacity for hand and eye tracking, Bluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, plus dual front cameras for 6DoF 6 degrees of freedom) motion tracking and an additional RGB camera that could capture color video. The AR visuals will have roughly a 40-degree diagonal field of view.

The glasses look weird and certainly not "everyday normal," but weighing 115 grams with a 15.6mm-thick frame, they're more compact than the tethered model Qualcomm made a year ago,. 

A 650mAh battery is in the arm of the glasses, which raises the biggest question: How long will these work on a charge? According to Swart, that's still up in the air. Qualcomm's design has additional swappable batteries, but choices will depend on future manufacturer decisions. Full-feature AR glasses like these are still a long way away from having all-day battery life, which will be what these will really need at some point if they're ever going to replace the everyday glasses many of us already wear on our faces.