Kicking off this year’s Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, SoC giant Qualcomm revealed a major new addition to its product line. Dubbed the XR1, the new chipset has been purpose-built to power XR applications, foregoing cellular antenna components to make room for graphics rendering, spatial audio, and  IMU processing. Alongside leadership from Qualcomm, various OEMs such as HTC, Vuzix, and Pico announced their intent to build for the XR1 platform, promising both revamped hardware and ecosystems that would leverage the power of the new SoC.

In the years since mobile VR began its steady growth, Qualcomm has enabled countless hardware manufacturers to deploy XR experiences without a PC. The XR1 represents a bold implementation of all the knowledge the company has accrued in the interim, having helped build both mobile and standalone HMDs. Meanwhile, the expansion of their product line also is also indicative of a stated goal of the company to improve penetration of the Snapdragon platform in adjacent markets, such as IoT hardware.

The firm further positioned the chipset as being crucial to the future of mobile computing. Qualcomm’s product management head asserted that augmented reality in particular represented the next generation of mobile computing, superseding smartphones and other similar form factors.

The following hardware partners made explicit references to future hardware offerings powered by the XR1 SoC, with some targeting releases as early as 2019:

  • Pico: Debut AR HMD
  • Meta: Meta 3 headset
  • Vuzix: M-Series refresh
  • ODG: Unnamed XR1 concept design

 

XR1 and The Future of Mobile Computing

The XR1 fulfills all the traditional use cases within the growing XR environment, including but not limited to high-definition media consumption, immersive gaming and remote collaboration / streaming. However, the platform also represents a significant shift in Qualcomm’s practice areas. Greenlight Insights analyst Alexis Macklin remarked on this part of an AWE panel:

“[The XR1] is Qualcomm staking its claim in XR, providing a commitment to the field, in contrast to other companies and providers that tend to have one foot in and one foot out.

As Qualcomm ramps up production of the XR1 and more HMDs begin to adopt it, the fate of the original Snapdragon line is less certain. Demand for powerful chipsets will continue in lockstep with normal smartphone refresh rates, but future advancements in components important to XR may receive less attention in the future. For instance, successors to the venerable all-rounder, the 845, might forgo spatial audio codecs, or feature a revamped visual subsystem with less focus on SLAM or foveated rendering. However, future designs and featuresets will also be strongly influenced by competition from other chipsets, such as the successor to Apple’s A11 Bionic chip.