Huawei plans to commercialize its own augmented reality glasses over the next one to two years, but doesn’t expect their value to be instantly apparent to consumers. “In the beginning you may feel AR … is nothing,” Huawei consumer CEO Richard Yu told CNBC, “but in the future you will see more and more the value of that.”
The Chinese company’s push into AR appears to have been inspired by Apple, which has reportedly been working to release its own AR glasses within the same timeframe. Like Apple, which is using ARKit to bring AR games and apps to iPhones and iPads, Huawei expects to train users with AR experiences on phones before releasing glasses. Some AR apps are already available on its flagship Mate 20 Pro, which runs Android 9 Pie.
Huawei might be able to leverage its hardware development expertise to compete in the AR space. The company has already released two virtual reality headsets and develops its own chips, including the Kirin 980 chipset found in the Mate 20 Pro, and 5G modems. This chip expertise could enable it to build a custom hardware solution quite different from AR platforms already under development by Microsoft, Qualcomm, and others.
It has also been working on AR glasses for years, last year demonstrating a bulky pair of AR glasses that it said would demand fast data speeds to operate without pauses. At that point, Huawei anticipated that edge-of-cloud computers near users will handle much of the headsets’ complex processing needs, a common concept among AR hardware developers.
For that reason, companies such as Magic Leap, HTC, and Qualcomm have announced plans to integrate 5G cellular chips into next-generation AR headsets, enabling cloud servers to push high-bandwidth AR data directly to users’ lenses. Unfortunately, Huawei’s currently precarious position with multiple governments over 5G hardware might endanger its chances of shipping AR hardware in certain countries, including the United States.
Regardless, the company is promising that its AR glasses will offer a better user experience, and expects that they will expand AR’s use beyond the cramped dimensions of a smartphone display. “With this AR, you can have AR glasses working with phone, maybe you can watch more of a large area,” Yu told CNBC. Whether the company ultimately offers something practical enough for users to actually pay money for remains to be seen.