Tech giants are racing to create the next big computing device after the smartphone. Qualcomm's president says it may be just two years away.

Tech giants are racing to create the next big computing device after the smartphone. Qualcomm's president says it may be just two years away.

apple smart AR glasses concept


Some of the world's biggest players in the tech industry - including Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft -are betting big on augmented and virtual reality. Although VR and AR headsets are far from being as ubiquitous as the smartphone, Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon believes sophisticated smart glasses that look and feel similar to everyday eyewear may only be two years away.

"It's not going to replace your phone, but you're going to have a different type of device," Amon, president of the world's largest mobile chipmaker, said to Business Insider. "Think of the evolution of eyeglasses."

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Silicon Valley giants have spent the last several years trying to crack the next major evolution in computing. Facebook purchased virtual reality headset startup Oculus VR in 2014 for $2 billion, and has since launched a range of VR headsets in different price ranges.

Microsoft recently started shipping the second generation of its $3,500 HoloLens augmented reality goggles, while Apple is said to be working on an augmented and virtual reality headset of its own that could launch by 2022, according to Bloomberg. Apple already offers tools for developers to build AR apps for the iPhone and iPad, and CEO Tim Cook has talked up the potential of AR on multiple occasions. Amazon too, recently announced its first pair of smart glasses, the Echo Frames, which let you communicate with Alexa through the eyewear.


But despite its hype and promise, virtual and augmented reality headsets like Facebook's Oculus have yet to break into the mainstream. Shipments of virtual and augmented reality devices returned to growth in the first quarter of 2019 after a year of decline, according to the International Data Corporation.

Shipments of AR and VR headsets are expected to continue growing throughout 2019, although the IDC notes that most of that growth is expected to come from the commercial enterprise segment - not consumer sales.

But Amon believes that a whole new wave of smart glasses could be on the horizon that look and feel much more natural than the current crop of VR helmets. He suggests they'll play an important role in the way we communicate, access the internet, and use social media - critical use cases for smartphones today.

"There are going to be future devices that are going to change the social experience," Amon said. "Because you just have the technology to do that, which is like [a] virtual presence."

In a hypothetical scenario, smart glasses could be used to identify people in a meeting, connect to the cloud, and find those attendees on social networks, Amon says. Teleconferencing is another area that's likely to benefit from devices like smart glasses, says Amon, who offered another example in which an avatar for an incoming caller could be projected in augmented reality in front of the wearer.


The proliferation of smart glasses like those described by Amon would be possible thanks to the launch of 5G networks, which are expected to provide the high performance, low latency connections necessary for devices like AR and VR glasses. Since 5G networks will make it possible for gadgets to maintain fast, reliable internet connections, most of the processing will be done in the cloud -enabling companies to create devices that are thinner and lighter than today's wearables.

The Qualcomm president predicts that early versions of smart glasses that support these capabilities and more closely resemble eyeglasses rather than VR headsets could start arriving in 2021.

"This is not just aspirational, there are people working on it," Amon said. "I've seen some incredible prototyping."

Of course, smart glasses with cameras and cloud connectivity are likely to spark backlash among privacy advocates, especially as tech firms are under increased scrutiny regarding how they gather and manage consumer data. Google Glass, an experimental augmented reality headset from 2013, quickly came under fire over concerns that its camera could be used to discretely record video and photos in a way that violates privacy.

The emergence of such devices would also come as the smartphone industry has been suffering in recent years as consumers have held onto their devices for longer periods of time. The industry only just began to recover in 2019 after enduring two years of declining shipments. But Amon believes this too will change with the advent of 5G.


"It's a big transformational technology," Amon said. "It's going to happen in large scale; it's going to be faster, the migration, than 4G."

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