In spatial computing – spanning AR and VR – there are big-name players like Meta, Apple and Snap. And there are underlying tech providers and enablers doing the heavy lifting. One company that hits both marks is Qualcomm, whose chips are the gold standard in XR processing.
It has established that position by focusing on XR’s unique processing needs. That includes key elements such as displays, illumination, power & thermal, and motion tracking. These endemic functions require the purpose-built approach in its flagship Snapdragon XR-2.
To quantify that, Qualcomm chips power 50+ AR and VR headsets, including the industry’s leading hardware. Among them are Oculus Quest 2, Hololens 2, Nreal Light, and Lenovo ThinkReality A6. You could say the company is powering and propelling the XR sector.
Moreover, it recently doubled down on this positioning by moving up XR stack. This takes form in Snapdragon spaces, a developer kit. Unveiled by Qualcomm’s XR lead Hugo Swart at November’s AWE, it’s the focus of this week’s XR Talks (summary and video below).
Center of the AR World
Developer platforms sit at the center of the AR world. This accelerated with Apple’s ARkit in 2017, followed soon by Google’s ARCore. And let’s not forget Snap’s Lens Studio, Facebook’s Spark AR, and focused third-party plarforms like Zappar, Wikitude, 8th Wall and Niantic Lightship.
Qualcomm now joins the landscape with Snapdragon Spaces, a developer kit to enable the creation of headworn AR experiences. It’s built around three pillars, says Swart: innovation in platform capabilities, openness for cross-device support, and reducing friction for developers.
Starting with the innovation piece, it’s represented by AR capabilities like object recognition, positional tracking, occlusion, plane detection, scene understanding, and spatial mapping. Some of this comes from Qualcomm’s acquisition of Wikitude, and we believe more M&A could follow.
Moving on to the platform’s openness, this is in Qualcomm’s DNA in providing chips for 50+ AR headsets. Snapdragon Spaces will support the OpenXR platform, and will work with industry-standard tools such as Unity and Unreal engine to import 3D assets and existing work.
That same openness applies to distribution as well. In other words, developers can push out apps and experiences built with Snapdragon Spaces to any app stores they already work with. All of this is meant to standardize and de-fragment AR for a wide addressable market.
Lastly, Spaces’ goal is to be developer-first and reduce friction. For example, one platform hallmark is “AR as a Feature.” AR glasses functionality can be added to 2D mobile apps, meaning that both smartphones and AR glasses are accommodated, casting the widest net.
Stepping back, Snapdragon Spaces brings Qualcomm further up the AR stack. As the gold standard in compute processing for AR and VR devices, the installed base of its Snapdragon chips tees up Spaces for all of the tech and business advantages of vertical integration.
In that way, Spaces is a logical move in terms of optimal product performance and strategic positioning. For one, controlling the software and the chipset (and forays into hardware with its reference designs), Qualcomm can achieve tighter integration of software and silicon.
This will manifest in more operationally sound and efficient systems but also work towards long-term improvements to its core chipsets. In other words, it now has more of a first-hand feedback loop for optimizing chip design for end-user software performance further up the stack.
From a business and go-to-market standpoint, all of the above provides a powerful selling point to enterprises and developers. Furthermore, Snapdragon’s installed base provides inroads to distribute Snapdragon Spaces via Qualcomm’s existing channels including OEMs and telcos.
All the above advances Qualcomm’s AR positioning on product and business levels. Meanwhile, Snapdragon Spaces is available to select developers and opens up widely this Spring. If early partners like Epic Games are any indication, it will be a powerful and well-placed tool.
We’ll pause there and cue the full video below including Swart’s segment, and that of early partners like Epic and Felix & Paul Studios…