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  • Kyle Chua

Google & Tencent Race To Launch AR Headsets To Compete in Metaverse

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Google is taking another crack at augmented reality (AR) headsets after first unveiling Google Glass almost a decade ago. If The Verge’s sources are to be believed, the search engine behemoth is in the early development phase of an all-new wearable device that could come out in 2024.

Clay Bavor debuting Google's Daydream View VR headset in 2016. Credit: Reuters

Internally known as Project Iris, the headset combines the use of outward-facing cameras and an unspecified custom Google processor to put graphics onto a video feed of the real world. And instead of having clear and transparent lenses, wearers of this new device see their surroundings through a screen, with the current prototype said to resemble a pair of ski goggles.

The report adds that Project Iris works as a standalone device and doesn’t need to be tethered, which explains why it’s relying on cloud-based rendering to get around power limitations. It also runs Android, though recent job listings suggest that Google could also have a custom OS in the works.

The project is supposedly being kept a secret from within the company, with Project Starline manager Clay Bavor overseeing operations. Project Starline is Google’s 3D video chat booth, which makes users feel like they’re talking to each other in person.

Bavor, who reports directly to CEO Sundar Pichai, is joined by Google Assistant creator Scott Huffman, ARCore manager Shahram Izadi and former Meta executive Mark Lucovsky on Project Iris, alongside over 300 developers, with plans to hire hundreds more. The Pixel team is also involved in some capacity, according to the report.

Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2. Credit: Google

Google’s previous wearable outing, the Google Glass, didn’t exactly live up to expectations. Sure, it was ahead of its time, but it didn’t do enough to attract consumers to spend hefty sums for it. So why try again? And what’s different this time around?

The metaverse, that’s what’s changed. Facebook rebranding itself to Meta last year brought the conversation about the metaverse, the seemingly sci-fi-esque concept of interconnected virtual worlds, into mainstream consciousness. And it didn’t take long for other big tech companies to announce their own ambitions of venturing into this so-called next-generation internet. The concept could change the way people interact with each other, with spaces for work, education and socialisation, among other activities, becoming entirely virtual.

The idea of the metaverse, however, only works with specific kinds of hardware, namely mixed-reality headsets and wearables. As such, this is what the likes of Meta, Microsoft, Apple and now Google are sinking their resources into – the research and development of metaverse-compatible technology.

And the race appears to be heating up among these companies. Apple has long been rumoured to be working on its own AR headset. Meta, meanwhile, has on numerous occasions said that it’s investing in the development of the metaverse platform itself as well as AR headsets.

Even in China, talks of the metaverse has been growing. Tencent is positioning itself to be another metaverse stakeholder, with the company recently rumoured to be buying out Black Shark, a manufacturer of gaming phones and accessories. According to The Motley Fool, Black Shark is expected to shift to developing AR and VR headsets after the acquisition. And the gaming company could be Tencent’s ticket to capturing the mixed-reality market and help turn its metaverse dreams into reality. The report further notes that, given the Chinese giant’s expertise in gaming, social networking, cloud infrastructure, artificial intelligence and digital payments, it’s one of the most well-equipped companies to tackle the metaverse.

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