ByteDance-owned VR startup Pico strengthens ties with Qualcomm

Pico, the Chinese virtual reality startup bought by TikTok parent ByteDance back in August, has struck a major partnership with Qualcomm to push further into the extended reality (XR) space.

Pico’s XR products will be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Spaces, the chipmaking giant’s developer program designed to make apps more ready for extended reality. Rather than immersing people in a digital world in a virtual reality headset, the Snapdragon Spaces platform wants developers to build experiences for AR glasses and make them accessible through existing smartphones, making AR the “second screen” for users.

The partnership doesn’t come as a surprise given the relationship between Pico and Qualcomm has been tight. Pico’s latest virtual reality headset Neo 3 already uses the Snapdragon XR2 chipset.

“This is a great opportunity. Maybe over a decade, [XR] could be as big as the phones, especially as augmented reality glasses become an extension of every smartphone,” said Qualcomm’s CEO Cristiano Amon at Mobile World Congress, the major annual mobile connectivity show, this week in Barcelona.

“We are excited we will be working together on hardware, software and technology roadmaps to enable the ecosystem for people,” Rubo Liang, ByteDance’s CEO, remarked remotely via video.

Despite being a leading VR brand in China, Pico is nowhere close to the scale of Oculus’s user reach or creator ecosystem. Pico’s two major products claimed a total of just about 0.3% of the global VR headset usage in January, according to Steam’s survey. Oculus Quest 2 and Rift S together accounted for 60% of the market.

Industry observers are waiting to see whether having a deep-pocketed parent like ByteDance would help Pico win a bigger slice of the market. At least in China, Pico is getting a slew of ads on Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese version.

The Qualcomm partnership could give Pico’s content ecosystem a boost and attract developers eyeing China’s XR market, which is expected to see significant growth given the country’s aggressive 5G rollout. According to Qualcomm, Snapdragon Spaces is the “first headworn AR platform optimized for AR Glasses tethered to smartphones with an OpenXR conformant runtime.” It also includes handy developer kits for mainstream 3D engines, including Unity and Epic Games’ Unreal.