Samsung, Google and Qualcomm Team Up to Build a New Mixed-Reality Platform
Samsung is the latest tech giant to dabble in virtual and augmented reality. The smartphone maker says it will work with Google and Qualcomm on an upcoming mixed reality platform. The news was shared at Samsung’s Unpacked event on Wednesday and follows reports suggesting that Apple may be releasing its first virtual reality headset this year. Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon and Google Senior Vice President for Android Hiroshi Lockheimer appeared on stage to co-announce the collaboration.
Samsung didn’t mention if any specific products are in development. He also didn’t provide a timeline for upcoming mixed reality products or services.
“This is more of a declarative announcement about how we’re going to get it right trying to build the XR ecosystem,” TM Roh, president of Samsung’s mobile business, said in an interview with CNET by through a translator before the event.
“Google has a long history of investing in experiences and technology in AR and VR,” Lockheimer said on stage. “Delivering this next generation of experiences requires cutting-edge hardware and software. That’s why our collaboration with Samsung and Qualcomm is so exciting.”
Mixed reality is an umbrella term used to describe technology that combines features of augmented reality and virtual reality. Augmented reality blends software with the real world by overlaying graphics on the user’s environment, similar to Google Glass. Virtual reality, by comparison, encases the wearer in a 360-degree virtual world, like the Meta Quest 2.
However, a new wave of VR headsets are advancing mixed reality through passthrough cameras, a technique that allows VR and AR technologies to blend into a single product line. The Meta Quest 2 and Quest Pro headsets can do this, as can the upcoming Vive XR Elite. Apple’s expected headphones should incorporate the same concept.
The announcement comes at a time of heightened interest in virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Apple is expected to release a mixed reality headset in 2023 that could cost $3,000, according to Bloomberg. Sony’s PlayStation VR 2 and HTC’s Vive XR Elite are both set to launch this month, and Google teased a new pair of AR glasses at Google I/O last year aimed at language translation. Meta’s Quest 3 is coming by the end of the year.
Samsung has been relatively quiet on virtual reality aside from its Gear VR headset, of which it launched several iterations between 2015 and 2017. This device is a head-mounted case for smartphone-powered VR experiences. Roh says there has been more consumer demand for augmented and virtual reality, which is why the company chose this time to start discussing its plans. He says the company has been researching the category for some time.
“And now we think we’ve reached a certain threshold,” he said.
The collaboration makes sense since Samsung, Google and Qualcomm are already working together to develop smartphones. Samsung builds the hardware for its Galaxy phones, while Qualcomm supplies the processor and Google runs the software’s underlying Android operating system.
Roh said Google and Qualcomm will play similar roles in the development of this upcoming XR platform, although they likely overlap in some areas. Even if Qualcomm would provide the processor, for example, Samsung could make some optimizations, just like it was done for the chip in the Galaxy S23 line.
“Each player takes the lead in each category and then we will work closely together in the different categories,” Roh said.
CNET reached out to Qualcomm for comment on the partnership and received the following prepared statement: “Building on our existing collaboration with Samsung and Google, we have meaningful plans to collectively advance XR experiences. With our Snapdragon XR innovations – with Samsung’s incredible products and technology from Google – we have the foundation to make these opportunities a reality and drive the future of space internet.”
Qualcomm has been the chip supplier for nearly every major VR and AR headset for years, and has its own initiative to generate a wave of phone-compatible VR and AR headsets over the next few years. Qualcomm is also collaborating with Microsoft on its future AR glasses hardware, and with Meta on its future devices. It’s unclear if this new collaboration will be compatible with Qualcomm’s existing Snapdragon Spaces platform for headsets and phones.
Google’s Kaori Miyake, when asked to comment, added, “We’re excited to work with our partners to create a new generation of immersive computing experiences that will further enhance what users can do with Google.”
A collaboration similar to Wear OS?
Two years ago, Samsung and Google announced a collaboration on a wave of next-gen Wear OS watches, culminating in the Galaxy Watch 4 and predating Google’s Pixel Watch. While this Qualcomm/Google/Samsung partnership is entirely different, the spirit of the collaboration may be much the same.
On Wear OS, Samsung served as a hardware partner to help improve the core functions of Google’s next-generation watch platform, while Google focused on software crossovers with Android, as well as added Fitbit features. Building a successful next-gen mixed reality hardware platform will likely require compatibility with existing apps and even phones to ensure the end device doesn’t feel left on an island of apps as it often does. Meta material.
As Apple’s headset looks likely to weave in VR and AR compatibility with existing Mac and iOS products, Samsung’s Google/Qualcomm collaboration could do the same for Google and Samsung mobile hardware.
If that’s the kind of collaboration this mixed reality partnership suggests, then Google’s moves in this space remain the next big question mark.
Samsung has announced its mixed reality ambitions alongside its new Galaxy S23 line of smartphones, which include faster performance, longer battery life on the two smaller models, and improved cameras.
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