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Shown during Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona, Xiaomi’s Wireless AR Glass offers one-handed hand gesture control and a break from the wired connection, thereby solving a portability pain point, a key driver for mainstream focused AR glasses. However, a consumer launch is unclear as the device remains a prototype with poor battery life.
The device has a new “retina-level” display, a pixel per degree (PPD) of 58, offers one-hand gesture control and a brightness of up to 1200 nits. The device is light at 126 grams. The Wireless AR Glass does not require a wired connection and can be connected wirelessly to a Xiaomi 13 series phone or any other Qualcomm Snapdragon Spaces-enabled phone.
Xiaomi glasses offer mixed reality, battery life and low latency
The glasses from Xiaomi combine elements of mixed reality – a combination of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which leads to the metaverse segment. This allows the glasses to leverage use cases for both VR and AR, rather than limiting their use to one technology. The glasses also use one-hand and finger gestures to move around the user interface and control smart home technology, a step up from competing consumer glasses that remain mostly single-use devices.
Current AR glasses are either designed for a single use case, e.g. for real-time language translation (like Xiaomi’s Mijia glasses), or they are nothing more than wearable displays. Other glasses like Microsoft’s HoloLens are used exclusively for business, which offers more use cases and revenue opportunities. But most AR glasses still need to be plugged into a cable to be used. Although Xiaomi’s glasses are untethered, that freedom is offset by an unacceptable 30-minute battery life that remains a stumbling block for any device with mainstream aspirations.
Xiaomi’s glass lenses enable a blackout mode that offers an immersive experience when viewing content, while the transparent mode creates a more vivid AR experience that mixes reality and virtual elements. But it’s difficult to fully describe what mixed reality will become. As networks address latency, more use cases will emerge. Xiaomi also addresses the latency issue.
The Wireless AR Glass Discovery Edition comes with Xiaomi’s proprietary low-latency communication link, which offers a wireless latency of just 3 milliseconds between the smartphone and the glasses and a tethered latency of just 50 milliseconds without a cable, which is comparable to wired solutions. AR glasses, with their unobtrusiveness, are expected to be the next frontier of devices in the metaverse.
Mainstream AR will need the support of US Big Tech
AR glasses are not without problems. Scaling down AR’s immersive technology into consumer-friendly hardware has been the biggest challenge for businesses. However, companies like Lumus, an Israeli AR optics company, have been working to shrink its waveguide technology down to just a few millimeters so it can be inserted into a corner of an eyeglass lens.
The future potential for unobtrusive AR products — for example, glasses that are far less noticeable than headsets and easier to wear — in the consumer space is great, perhaps not as much as a smartphone right now, but iteratively building on features and capabilities to mature Networks will drive the growth of AR devices. GlobalData estimates that smart glasses alone, which include AR glasses, will generate $2.3 billion in sales by 2030.
Xiaomi’s position as an IoT powerhouse
But mainstream AR glasses won’t be possible without the support of big tech companies like Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft. Globally, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Xiaomi (BATX) are viewed as Chinese competitors or equivalents to US Big Techs. Xiaomi is an IoT powerhouse and is dubbed the “Apple of the East”. Xiaomi has a thriving and diverse ecosystem of devices ranging from smartphones to kettles, wearables, lightbulbs, headphones, shavers, pens, etc.
Xiaomi also has a strongly motivated strategy of introducing consumers to Mi-branded devices and services and effectively engaging them in the Mi ecosystem, which is probably the most successful in the Android space.
Smaller players in the AR/VR space, including Magic Leap, which is heavily funded, continue to falter. The company laid off a large number of employees in 2020, including its CEO, and abandoned its mass-market AR plans to focus on healthcare, manufacturing and defense. The current goal is to be acquired by a large technology company.
Big Tech soldiers on
But big tech companies keep going despite setbacks. Meta has acquired seven of the most successful VR development studios and now has one of the largest VR content catalogs in the world.
Google and Apple have bought several smaller start-ups in the AR/VR segment. Despite misfires like Google’s abandoned Glass project and Microsoft’s now enterprise and military-focused HoloLens, the race to develop consumer-friendly AR glasses is on.