Qualcomm wants your phone to drive your next VR and AR headsets

Qualcomm wants to create a new device category, XR viewer headsets, that combine the compute power of its current Snapdragon 855 platform with the speed of 5G on a smartphone to provide you with mobile VR and AR experiences — or ‘Extended Reality,’ as Qualcomm likes to call it — with six degrees of freedom tracking. The company announced this new initiative at MWC in Barcelona and noted that it expects OEMs like Pico to launch devices later this year.

The idea here is that the headsets will be tethered to a smartphone via a USB-C connection that drives high-res displays, with a lot of the content being streamed over — ideally – a 5G connection.

The headsets are an extension of the company’s previous XR work which mostly focused on using a phone’s camera’s and displays to power AR experiences. The company did start an accelerator program for head mounted displays (HMD), the aptly named HMD accelerator program, back in 2017. In many ways, today’s announcement is an extension of this work.

“Our HMD Accelerator Program has been a critical catalyst for ecosystem partners ranging from component suppliers and ODMs, to bring quality standalone XR headsets to consumers,” said Hugo Swart, senior director, Product Management, Qualcomm. “Building upon the momentum of this program, we will extend this to XR viewers and compatible smartphones, starting with smartphones enabled by the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform.”

Qualcomm has signed up a number of platform and software partners like Arvizio, NetEase-AR, Iconic Engine, NextVR, SenseTime and Wikitude, as well as manufacturers like Acer and Asus.