Feb 25, 2021
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
The excitement around high-quality extended reality (XR) increases every year, with the XR industry projecting to reach over $18 billion by 2023. As more industries across sectors adopt XR, we can expect to see exciting new innovations.
Our Qualcomm Snapdragon XR technologies are helping fuel this momentum. Recently, we were the recipient of the VR Awards’ Innovative Company of the Year. It’s an incredible honor not just for the Qualcomm XR team but the entire company, and it reaffirms our commitment to transforming this industry.
We thought this was a great opportunity to take a closer look at what’s happening in extended reality, so we spoke with Qualcomm Technologies’ VP and GM of XR Hugo Swart about what’s next for this technology. He shared his thoughts on the challenges of widespread adoption, upcoming developments, and Qualcomm Technologies’ vision for pushing XR forward.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about XR?
For virtual reality (VR), I think the biggest misconception is that the technology exists just for gaming. Yes, VR offers incredible entertainment value, but the technology is already being used in important ways across many industries. For example, we work with application providers that have commercial solutions in education and healthcare. Today there are commercial solutions that allow patients to do physical therapy at home using a VR device, and where students can join their class in a virtual classroom and dissect a frog. This is all being done today in VR, and there’s still enormous potential for XR applications to transform social interactions and enable new forms of entertainment.
When it comes to AR, I believe there are two additional areas of misconception. The first is that AR is a smartphone-only application. People have some familiarity with mobile AR — like placing a sofa in your living room to see if it suits your home or using filters on social media apps. While that is a great start, it’s far from the kind of disruption that AR can enable when applied to wearables, like glasses. The second misconception tends to set very high expectations for immersive AR experiences as if they’re right around the corner. Those sorts of experiences won’t happen overnight. While we’re going to get year-over-year improvements, the benefits of which won’t truly blossom for another five to ten years.
What are the most interesting developments you see happening in the XR space?
I’m really fascinated by 2D apps that you’d normally use on a phone or PC entering a 3D space. With XR, you can view these apps through glasses as virtual monitors and displays in the real world (anchored on walls or around your physical PC). I think these are going to be really game-changing. I’m also really excited by collaboration applications. The ability to be together and work remotely has taken on a pressing importance these days. Making those interactions as life-like and engaging as possible is going to be very meaningful in the coming years.
There are many more things to be excited about, and I’m especially interested in seeing more creative XR-powered smart viewers used with smartphones. Smart viewers can independently handle some of the processing for an XR app that would otherwise be done solely on the smartphone. They can handle multiple programs at once, all while keeping latency low and power efficiency optimal. This will enable us to create more complex XR apps and lead to many interesting concepts not previously possible.
What are the challenges for the industry today?
The first challenge will always be power. The applications and XR devices themselves are incredibly complex and require a robust processor that runs as efficiently as possible. End users don’t want to have to charge their devices too frequently, nor do they want to compromise the form factor for larger components or batteries.
The second challenge is content — a classic chicken and egg scenario. Devices must exist to run the actual content on, but that content needs to be created so the devices have something to run. We saw this challenge in the early days of smartphones, and we as an industry were able to eventually solve that problem. Nobody thought we’d be watching television and movies on our smartphones, or even surfing the web with them. In my opinion, we face a similar situation with XR content.
There are many more technology challenges, but the last one I’d like to mention is displays. We need display technology to continue to advance so that more complex and immersive XR apps can be run on them efficiently and in all kinds of environments. The more we iterate on that technology, the sooner it can continue moving forward.
How does 5G come into play for the future of XR?
5G is going to offer manufacturers a major lift by offloading processing power to the network edge that previously would’ve run on the device. It’ll be fluid and won’t disrupt the user experience. This means designers of XR applications can focus more on improving the quality of the application without worrying about processing limitations that would otherwise halt innovative ideas. 5G unshackles this mindset and allows creatives in the industry to expand what’s possible.
Tell us more about the Qualcomm XR Enterprise Program
At Qualcomm Technologies, we have a strong belief that the best way to enable the industries we support is to uncover ways for them to grow and expand. This is how the entire ecosystem thrives. Simply producing the processors, like our Snapdragon XR2 5G Platform, isn’t enough. That’s why we created a way for XR industry innovators to come together to build groundbreaking applications, and for us to collaborate with them. We’re here to help them achieve their goals and provide technical support where possible. We also want to support the ecosystem by connecting companies and amplifying their solutions and successes across our channels. We’re proud to have doubled our membership in the past year, and we’re always excited by how much we learn from these creators.
What’s next for XR at Qualcomm Technologies?
For XR to hit the potential we know it will, the devices must have an exceptional processing solution. That’s why we work enthusiastically to support the XR industry with advanced chipset technology that can tackle these inherent processing challenges. In doing so, we believe we can help drive the industry toward more amazing innovations that benefit everyone. It’s how we can deliver on our mission to transform industries and enrich lives. There’s so much to look forward to, and the entire XR team at Qualcomm Technologies is excited to keep working hard to drive the XR ecosystem forward.