Last week, Samsung made a number of interesting disclosures during the Galaxy S23 launch event. Fans were undoubtedly taken aback by the sudden alliance between Qualcomm and Google on an impending mixed-reality platform. The new “XR” technology is the junction of augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, or MR.
In a year that will see a new PlayStation VR headset, a new HTC Vive VR headset, a new Meta VR headset, and likely a first-ever Apple VR headset, how and when will this Samsung device (or products) change the game?
Samsung’s on-stage statement was quite ambiguous, with Google’s Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer and Qualcomm’s CEO Cristiano Amon promising new hardware and software that will deliver new experiences. But Samsung’s and Google’s histories in virtual reality (and augmented reality), as well as Qualcomm’s prominence in the sector, can provide some answers. Likewise, the last major relationship between Google and Samsung, on smartwatches two years ago, can serve as an example.
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Google’s relationship with Samsung in 2021 prompted a reconsideration of its smartwatch lineup, which culminated in the release of the Pixel Watch last fall. This new Samsung-Google-Qualcomm cooperation may play out similarly in augmented reality and virtual reality. In this case, though, both Google and Samsung will be making long-overdue returns to the VR/AR markets after several years’ absence.
Here are the reasons why Samsung and Google’s entry into the market makes sense and is desperately required.
VR and AR needs to work with phones again
A half decade ago, VR eyewear were compatible with mobile phones. In the days of the Samsung Gear VR and Google’s Daydream View, you would place a smartphone into a pair of inexpensive goggles that used the device as a VR screen. It was a delightful novelty at the time and substantially increased accessibility, but it also had limitations. In 2023, surprisingly, VR headsets barely function with mobile phones.
It is bothersome because the majority of us live on our phones. VR, on the other hand, tends to stand alone. The Meta Quest 2’s partnering app has progressively gained hooks into mobile devices, but its cross-device intelligence is severely lacking.
Qualcomm has already attempted to tackle this problem on its own. Using an early wave of augmented reality (AR) glasses and certain Android phones, the business has been building tools to connect apps and experiences, as well as directly connecting glasses to phones.
Official Android support makes this considerably easier. Google would enable this, and this Samsung-Qualcomm-Google relationship appears crucial for determining how this might work with future VR headsets, AR glasses, or both.
Right now, VR is the future. Then, AR
AR glasses have not yet been finalized, however the hardware components are advancing gradually. The quickest solution to augmented reality is now standalone VR headsets with built-in cameras that display “passthrough” video of the real world overlaid with virtual reality activities. It is also known as “mixed reality,” and it is what the Meta Quest Pro does in certain applications. The next mixed reality headset from Apple should operate similarly. HTC’s Vive XR Elite to be released in February? the same thing
Samsung and Google are likely to produce a similar lightweight VR headgear with mixed reality features utilizing Qualcomm chips similar to those seen in other hardware (or a next-gen chipset). Following that, AR glasses.
Using a new AR2 Gen 1 chipset launched in the fall, Qualcomm has already promised a new generation of low-power wireless AR glasses that would work with next-generation smartphones within the next three years. In the future, Samsung and Google may investigate ways to create phones and glasses that are compatible with one another.
Google is now conducting research on assistive AR glasses and has a decade of experience in AR and VR. Samsung’s experience is limited to the Gear VR and its collaboration with Oculus. Between the two and Qualcomm, there appears to be a wealth of team knowledge.
A new OS (think smartwatches)
The greatest challenge and potential is evolving Android into a new software experience for VR and AR, and it would make a ton of sense for Samsung to rely on Google in this regard. Similar to the Meta Quest, VR headsets over the past five years have attempted to go it alone with specialized software shops. However, cross-device compatibility is central to the concept of “the metaverse.” And, theoretically, simple app support.
Samsung changed its watch approach by embracing Google’s WearOS as part of a partnership established two years ago, with the goal of bringing its watches closer to Google’s Android OS. But Samsung also assisted Google in rethinking its outdated wristwatch portfolio in terms of premium health and hardware features. Which leads us to…
A road to Pixel hardware?
Google will likely attempt to develop AR/VR hardware again at some point in the future. Clay Bavor has relocated the focus of the Daydream team to Google Labs, where they are working on more experimental projects like as Project Starline (and those research-based assistive AR glasses).
It appears quite likely that Google’s future XR hardware will be manufactured by Samsung, similar to how smartwatches were manufactured before the Pixel Watch. The Galaxy Watch 4 was the first device to utilize Wear OS 3, followed by Google’s Pixel Watch with Fitbit integration over a year later.
The complexity of AR and VR headsets is substantially higher. Perhaps Google delays the release of a Pixel device. Perhaps, as both Google’s Lockheimer and Qualcomm’s Amon seems to imply, there will be a number of forms and options, including those that are not even headsets. Remember that Google’s concept of “ambient computing” incorporates immersive technology from all angles, including non-wearable items.
What year will this emerge?
This is the difficult question. It appears likely that Google will go deeper into this relationship during its I/O developer conference, which is typically held in May, just before Apple discusses its VR headset at WWDC. We have not yet seen any evidence of genuine hardware. It’s not inconceivable that a standalone VR headgear in the vein of the Meta Quest may become a reality sooner rather than later, but it would be a great shock if anything appeared in 2023.
When Samsung and Google announced their Wear OS 3 cooperation in 2021, they included a teaser image of the watch and a pledge to provide hardware by the end of the year. This has not been stated or demonstrated at this moment, and 2024 appears to be the earliest plausible launch date.
Moreover, 2023 appears to be a challenging year for the XR industry as a whole. While an abundance of VR hardware is forthcoming, it is uncertain who will be able to buy it. The wisest course of action for Samsung and Google may be to wait out this congested year and figure out how to produce improved, potentially more affordable technology in 2024.