Qualcomm has revealed Snapdragon Spaces, an Android-focused platform for augmented reality, allowing developers to build AR support into Android apps that’ll play nice with any Snapdragon Spaces-enabled AR headset. While that’s great news for AR developers, it has larger implications for the AR market that suggest 2022 could be a very exciting year for AR headsets.
Snapdragon Spaces is a platform designed for the "next generation of AR glasses" according to Qualcomm, leveraging the company’s 10+ years of research into augmented reality to provide advanced features like object and image recognition, spatial mapping, scene understanding, and more to AR developers.
The platform is available in early access to select developers right now via the Pathfinder Program, with most able to access the platform - full of example code and other helpful materials to help developers create content for Spaces - from spring 2022.
That could signal that Qualcomm, and other AR manufacturers, are ready to begin the transition from business to consumer. Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 AR glasses, already available to business users, will be one of the first to support the platform, signalling a possible shift in focus - but it’s not the only sign that exciting things are about to happen in the world of augmented reality.
Xiaomi is another big player in emerging technologies, and it hasn’t been secretive about its plans for augmented reality glasses, revealing several concepts - including a standalone pair of glasses still a while away from becoming reality.
So, it should come as no surprise that Xiaomi is one of Qualcomm’s early Snapdragon Space partners, with the company "looking forward to enabling headworn AR application developers" and more specifically, "future Snapdragon Space enabled devices," according to XueZhong Zeng, SVP of Xiaomi.
Given Xiaomi’s desire to be first to market with new tech, it’s possible that we’ll see something from Xiaomi soon after developers get full access to the Snapdragon Spaces platform in spring 2022.
Oppo, another company that has showcased smart glasses concepts in the past, has also partnered with Qualcomm on the project. "Utilizing Snapdragon Spaces, we look forward to helping to bring compelling spatial experiences and devices to the market, to help reimagine the possibilities of headworn AR" said Levin Liu, VP of OPPO.
Oppo revealed its concept smart glasses, dubbed Oppo AR Glass 2021, at its Inno Day in November 2020, teased for release in 2021. However, we’ve yet to see the glasses and 2021 is coming to a close, so it’s possible that plans have changed and the glasses will appear sometime next year with Snapdragon Spaces support.
Though unconfirmed, if Oppo already has the hardware ready and it’s just waiting on Snapdragon Spaces-enabled content before it ships, it could be closer to release than we might think.
There’s also the competition to consider. Given that Snapdragon Spaces is Android-only, that competition comes in the form of Apple, which is currently the largest provider of AR content in the world thanks to its ARKit.
ARKit has been around since 2017, giving developers literally years to play around with the emerging tech on smartphones, and it’s possible that Apple could take advantage of the library of ARKit apps by working support into its upcoming AR/VR headset, which is currently rumoured to appear in - you guessed it - 2022.
Doing so would provide Apple with an enormous consumer-focused library of content from day one, immediately making its AR/VR headset more appealing than anything from the Android side right now where AR is very much still a niche, and in classic Android form, it’s fractured among developers and different platforms/devices.
Snapdragon Spaces’ ability to unify many of these problems and give developers a set of tools that’ll let them create AR experiences that’ll work on a variety of headsets without any huge changes to code will likely make it the default Android AR platform.
It’s possible that, with most developers getting access to the Snapdragon Spaces developer platform next spring, we’ll begin to see Android-based smart glasses appear around (or more likely, just before) the reveal of Apple’s headset later in the year.
So, with all that in mind, 2022 is shaping up to be a massive year for augmented reality - and I for one cannot wait. For more on the world of augmented reality, consider why everyone hates smart glasses.