Over the past couple of years, alternative realities – be that augmented, virtual, or mixed reality – have taken more than their fair share of headlines. From early devices like the HTC Vive and Microsoft HoloLens, through to Nreal Air, we’re witnessing a transition in the industry. The amalgamation of these technologies is often referred to as extended reality.
Many “VR” experiences used to depend on a powerful computer, connected via cables to a headset. While these systems can offer some of the best VR experiences – and the PlayStation VR2 exemplifies this approach – the pursuit of a lighter weight, more mobile, XR experience has been underway for a couple of years. Which is where Snapdragon Spaces comes into play.
Launching initially to support the development of VR, it has now expanded to cover AR too, under the umbrella of XR.
What does Snapdragon Spaces aim to do?
Snapdragon Spaces is the name that Qualcomm has given to a range of initiatives looking to bring cohesion to the development of XR experiences. When we were first introduced to Spaces, it sounded like it was purely for developers, but Snapdragon Spaces has now taken on added significance, especially with the announcement of Snapdragon Spaces compatible devices.
In the future, we’ll see devices branded as Spaces Ready as it moves into commercial availability, but it is, in its current form, aimed at developers.
Hugo Swart, VP of XR at Qualcomm, talking on a panel at Mobile World Congress 2023, outlined that Snapdragon Spaces was designed to avoid fragmentation in the development of XR experiences and devices. Spaces provides a software development kit (SDK), to allow those working in XR to develop to the same standards.
The problem in the past has been that every new entrant was developing solutions in their own way, meaning that everything was different across devices. With Snapdragon Spaces, however, we’re seeing the evolution of Snapdragon Spaces headsets that will seamlessly work with Snapdragon Spaces-certified phones.
What hardware is Qualcomm using to empower XR?
Qualcomm has long been developing hardware to power XR devices and through a number of generations we’ve seen greater power efficiency and smaller sizes, giving manufacturers more freedom when they’re developing devices.
Core to the current efforts – in 2023 – are Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 and Snapdragon XR2, in a couple of variants. The former is designed for smaller and lighter AR products, while the latter is aimed at MR and VR experiences with higher demands.
While that’s the hardware you’ll find in the devices themselves, you’ll find support for Snapdragon Spaces in Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, for example, putting the hardware into smartphones, so they can wirelessly support these devices too.
However, it’s down the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to decide whether they will support Spaces or not. Some brands will actively promote Spaces compatibility, some might support it but not talk about it, some might decide they’re not going to support it at all.
What devices are Snapdragon Spaces certified?
The first phone to announce that it had Snapdragon Spaces certification was the OnePlus 11. This means it has the potential to connect to Spaces headsets, but most of the hardware that’s been announced so far is for developers, rather than for customers.
With the launch of the Xiaomi 13, we have a second device that’s Spaces Ready and of course, Xiaomi has also announced the Xiaomi Wireless AR Glasses Discovery Edition, suggesting strong intent to be a player in emerging XR market.
Is Snapdragon Spaces wired or wireless?
It can be both. Because Snapdragon Spaces is designed to support the development of XR solutions, that could be anything from the Lenovo ThinkReality VRX which is a full-on wired headset, through to a set of really lightweight wireless AR glasses.
Spaces is designed to be versatile, to support all arms of the development of in XR, the idea being that in the future, you’ll be able to buy a headset knowing it will work with your compatible phone with no problems.
When will Snapdragon Spaces devices be available?
As we said, there are already Spaces Ready smartphones available to buy, but currently, most of the headsets are aimed at developers. The Spaces software development kit is also still in development, so it hasn’t reached version 1.0 yet – so we’re not quite at the point of being consumer ready right now.
Talking at Mobile World Congress 2023, Qualcomm told us that the plan was to have the software at version 1.0 in June 2023, but this isn’t a fixed timeline and that’s no indication of when we’ll be seeing at explosion of Spaces Ready devices available to buy.