Report: Google Is Developing an AR Headset

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According to two people familiar with the project who requested anonymity in order to speak without the company’s permission, Google is ramping up work on an augmented reality headset, internally codenamed Iris, that it plans to release in 2024. Aside from its outward-facing cameras, Google’s device will also use a video feed of the real world to blend computer graphics with an actual picture of the real world, creating a more immersive blend of mixed reality than existing AR glasses like those from Magic Leap and Snap. An organization in the San Francisco Bay Area is developing prototypes shaped like ski goggles. Their power source does not need to be tethered to an external source.

Although Google’s headset has not yet been developed, it does not yet have a clear go-to-market strategy, which implies that 2024 is more of an aspirational date than a hard deadline. A Google-designed processor powers the hardware, similar to the newest Google Pixel smartphone. Currently, Android runs on it, but recent job listings indicate a new OS is in development. Considering power constraints, Google’s strategy is to use its data centers to run some graphics remotely and stream them into its headset via the internet. Some of the hardware pieces are being designed by the Pixel team, but it’s unclear if the headset will be branded as Pixel. Despite the early blowback, remember “Glasshole’‘ and the fact that the product technically still exists as an enterprise product, Google Glass is probably off the table.

Google has a long and checkered history in the hardware category, and Project Iris signals a return. With the ill-fated debut of Google Glass in 2012, the hype began.

Moreover, in 2019, sales of VR headsets were quietly discontinued after a multi-year campaign. Despite its hardware ambitions in space, Google has been noticeably silent since then. Rather than hardware, it has shifted its focus to software, including Lens, its visual search engine, and AR directions in Google Maps. At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg has rebranded from Facebook to Meta and invested in AR and VR. The term “metaverse” has become one of the hottest buzzwords in technology. On the other hand, Later this year, Apple plans on releasing its own mixed reality headset.

Google’s Project Iris is a closely guarded secret, tucked away in a building accessible only by keycard, with non-disclosure agreements. Google plans to hire hundreds more people to join the core team working on the headset. As part of this effort, Clay Bavor is in charge, reporting directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and he also manages Project Starline, a video chat booth with very high resolution that was demonstrated last year. 

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Project Iris may prove to be a technical marvel based on the experience of Starline. Google found that employees focused on who they were talking to roughly 15 percent more when using Starline than when using a traditional video call, with a memory recall nearly 30 percent superior to a video call. As of yet, Google has not announced whether it intends to invest in AR and VR similarly to Meta, which is spending billions on its AR project every year, or Apple, which is rumored to have two AR products in development.

There are rumors that Apple is planning to launch its AR headset this year, which is expected to have a premium price starting at $2000. In addition, it could be equipped with more advanced sensors for tracking facial expressions, eye movements, etc. Currently, Meta is working on Project Cambria, a cutting-edge device that will be able to combine AR and VR.

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