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Nreal, a maker of augmented reality glasses, has raised $15 million in a funding round led by Gentle Monster parent firm IICombined.
Beijing-based Nreal is one of the few companies still standing from the early wave of AR glasses makers. And last year it unveiled the second-generation Nreal Air glasses with big improvements.
The announcement comes as Nreal doubles down on its consumer AR market focus, in a bid to expand the appeal of AR to more customers.
The funding comes on the heels of a $60 million funding led by Alibaba in March. The new funding will be used to increase investment in R&D, accelerate the company’s global business expansion to new markets this year — including China — and strengthen Nreal’s existing partnerships with developers and partners to deliver a wider range of content and experiences to users.
The goal of the Beijing-based company is to keep moving fast on the leading edge of the technology and create multiple generations of products so that it can be ready with the right one when the AR market takes off. The company is pitching the device as a “portable movie theater.” Nreal wants to lead the AR glasses movement with lightweight glasses. Nreal has established partnerships with more than 10 carriers and brought its product to six countries to date. The company has said advancements in AR technology have accelerated exponentially since Nreal Light as first unveiled.
And that makes smaller and more compact augmented reality technology available. The company has also designed the new glasses for specific applications, such as streaming TV shows and playing mobile games.The aim is to create an immersive experience in a form factor indistinguishable from daily worn sunglasses.
Nreal Air boasts it has the best display on the market available for any AR device, as it is capable of projecting up to a (simulated) 201-inch virtual display, when viewed at a distance of six meters, which is well suited for watching multimedia content. The glasses will still be tethered to your smartphone, just like the Nreal Light. But the glasses are about a third lighter and are more comfortable to wear than many previous AR glasses.
The latest device has a micro-OLED display. Nreal Air’s display has a high density of colors, with as many as 49 pixels per degree (PPD). This ensures that fine details are clearly visible and enhances the realism of the content, Xu said. And it has a refresh rate of up to 90Hz, and the features don’t drain the phone’s battery. As one of the survivors, Nreal has been able to raise more than $260 million to date, including $200 million in the past year. The first glasses debuted in South Korea, Japan, and Europe.
Most recently, Nreal Light began retailing in the United States in Verizon stores nationwide, before selling out within the first day. And to drive interest among consumers in February, Nreal launched Nreal’s brand new line of ultra-thin AR glasses, Nreal Air through an online and offline retail partnership with NTT DOCOMO and KDDI, two leading telecom operators in Japan.
Founded in 2017, Nreal has 400 people.Nreal and IICombined are exploring new collaboration opportunities to push the boundaries of fashion and technology. The move comes as Nreal makes strides in expanding the appeal of AR to a broader audience base, delivering on the promise of AR for consumers everywhere.
“This investment is an exciting try for the combination and exploration for the boundary of fashion and tech. In the future, we will leverage both parties’ strength and make joint efforts to create more possibilities,” said Hankook Kim, cofounder of Gentle Monster and CEO of IICombined, in a statement.
“Gentle Monster is a fantastic fashion brand for eyewear with truly inspirational designs. We feel fashion and design will be important aspects in the future development of AR glasses, as we continue to expand the sector’s consumer base. As such, having Gentle Monster as our investor will open up interesting opportunities not just for Nreal, but also for the wider AR industry as a whole,” said Peng Jin, cofounder at Nreal, in a statement.
Doubling down on consumer focus
Despite most AR devices looking and feeling out of reach for the average consumer, Nreal’s competitive pricing (the Nreal Light retails at $600), and its devices’ comfortable and portable form factors, are broadening the appeal of AR to the mass market. As part of these concrete steps to widen the accessibility of AR technologies, Nreal is working on a multi-pronged strategy.
Meanwhile, Nrea said its previously announced partnership with electric vehicle maker Nio highlights how the AR brand is leading the way forward with innovative real-life use cases, with the first-ever automobile application. That’s in addition to a near-constant stream of immersive AR app releases.
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