T-Mobile sharpens focus on AR glasses in partnership with Qualcomm

It’s no secret that T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray believes big things are afoot in the augmented reality (AR) space thanks to 5G.

A year ago, for example, he predicted we’d begin to see “really lightweight, highly capable” AR glasses start to hit the market in 2021. They’d be small, to be sure, but grow into a big space over the next several years.

Flash forward, and lightweight AR glasses aren’t exactly everywhere, but neither is Voice over 5G, which is something he highlighted as a likely 2021 event. (To be fair, he predicted T-Mobile, which was first in the U.S. with a standalone 5G core, would lead the way in Voice over NR, not that it would be “everywhere.” We’re still waiting for VoNR, but who knows? 2021 isn’t over yet.)

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The vision remains. Today, T-Mobile announced that it’s the exclusive 5G launch partner in North America for Qualcomm Technologies’ new Snapdragon Spaces XR Developer Platform. In addition, through the T-Mobile Accelerator, the “un-carrier” will work directly with startups and developers using Snapdragon Spaces to build immersive 5G experiences for AR glasses across gaming, entertainment and other industries starting in spring 2022.

Qualcomm is working with T-Mobile U.S., Deutsche Telekom and others to help launch AR glasses as companions to smartphones. To help build out the ecosystem of applications, T-Mobile said its engineers and business leaders will work directly with T-Mobile Accelerator participants as they develop and bring to market new products and services built on the Snapdragon Spaces platform.

"5G is powering more immersive experiences that better connect us to people and things around the world, and glasses will be one of the first disruptive new product categories,” Ray said in a statement. “AR glasses will make a real impact for both businesses and consumers, but first we need to build the ecosystem of developers that will bring new applications to life, and Snapdragon Spaces is a critical step in making this happen.”

According to the companies, the Snapdragon platform enables developers to build 3D applications for AR glasses from scratch, or simply add head-worn AR features to existing Android smartphone applications for a multi-screen experience between the smartphone screen in 2D and the real world in 3D.

Indeed, while much of the world is deliberating the metaverse, Qualcomm’s head-worn AR developer kit is designed to enable creation of immersive experiences that “seamlessly blur the lines between our physical and digital realities.” The company posted this YouTube video to help explain what it’s up to.

Leading smartphone and AR hardware OEMs including Lenovo, Motorola, OPPO and Xiaomi are initial partners to support Snapdragon Spaces in 2022, with the Lenovo ThinkReality A3 smart glasses paired with a Motorola Smartphone as the first to commercialize Snapdragon Spaces.

Besides Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile U.S., Qualcomm is working with NTT DoCoMo, with more global operators to be announced later.