Remember that scene in Ready Player One that has people in VR headsets running in the streets, waging digital war against an onslaught of evildoers? Qualcomm is looking to bring that concept closer to reality with their new XR Viewer Ecosystem, a concept which includes powerful APIs for their new Snapdragon 855 System-on-a-Chip (SoC), as well as broad partnerships with several of the industry’s leading vendors. The term XR is being used as a fusion of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), and is a rather broad term used to describe all partners and products that have compatibility with Snapdragon 855-powered smartphones. Given that somewhere around half a dozen or so Snapdragon 855-powered phones have been announced at MWC 2019, there’s sure to be a sea of compatible devices available in just a few months’ time.
XR Viewers come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from ear-mounted units from Vuzix and RealWear, to sleek sunglasses from nReal, Rokid, and Shadow Creator, and even full-fledged immersive VR headsets from HTC Vive, Oculus, and Google Daydream. This wide range of headset designs and styles reflects the goal Qualcomm is hoping to achieve; enhancement of real-world tasks for each and every situation you find yourself in, all powered by just your smartphone. It’s this last point that’s so important to the form and function of the XR platform as a whole, and one that makes the cost and ease of entry lower than other solutions provided before. While full-fledged VR headsets like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift require PCs that are somewhat complicated to operate and maintain, not to mention are quite expensive, units in the XR ecosystem only require the phone you’re likely to already have in your pocket at any time.
These XR headsets, whether they are AR or VR-focused, plug straight into the USB Type-C port on any Snapdragon 855-powered phone and interface with supported apps and games on the phone, and can even deliver context-sensitive information and interaction in real-time. It’s not just about seeing augmented reality projections over real-world objects though, it’s interacting with these virtual objects in ways that haven’t been possible or comfortable until now. XR headsets will include a range of technologies including high-quality displays, light and comfortable designs, and a bevy of tracking sensors for eyes, hands, heads, and even controllers. This means that you won’t need special controllers or input devices for every situation, rather, that developers can create ways of interacting with virtual objects in the real world with more natural and immediately available ways that keep you from having to carry more around.
The idea is to create an ecosystem that can support a thriving development environment without the constraints that proprietary hardware platforms restrict, and to take complicated hardware requirements out of the equation. Any Snapdragon 855-powered smartphone will be able to utilize this XR ecosytem, meaning all you’ll need to get in on the action is a compatible headset and a supported app, leaving very little to error or confusion. Many units will also offer 5G connectivity, furthering the idea that readily-available, on-time information and real-time communication through these XR Viewers is something that won’t take a lot of configuration or time to fully appreciate or enjoy. The first wave of XR Viewers include the Acer Viewer VR headset and the nReal Light AR glasses.