Nreal is one of the most exciting names in consumer AR hardware. The flagship model that we’ve seen the most of so far is Nreal Light.
Many in the space were admittedly underwhelmed by an enterprise model that the otherwise consumer-focused company rolled out more recently, but the company has our attention once again with a lighter-weight, lower-cost model for media and gaming.
The Last We Heard From Nreal
Nreal Light debuted in 2019 with an estimated $500 price tag. Since then, the company has announced a major update or partnership every few months or so. Unfortunately, the company is based in China and the actual availability of the glasses has been limited to foreign markets. Still, we’ve been watching and waiting for the lightweight consumer model AR glasses.
This winter at the Mobile World Congress, the company made a slew of new announcements with the big attractions being an enterprise model and the expansion to the US and European markets. While we have yet to see headsets in the US, they are available in Germany and Spain through partnerships with Vodafone and T-Mobile.
The Enterprise Model Announcement
An enterprise model is arguably more interesting as a way of showing off higher-end tech capabilities that might not fit into a consumer model.
This is largely because AR is much more available in the enterprise category and Nreal has drawn so much attention specifically because they’re in the consumer space. Not only does the enterprise model enter a more populated arena, but early views of the headset also don’t impress much compared to established forces in the market like ThinkReality and others.
The US Market Expansion
Yes, the big news of the day was decidedly market expansion, which would apparently happen through carriers. Though this too was shrouded in mystery as no carriers were announced. At the time, we predicted LG and T-Mobile, based on Nreal’s existing overseas partnerships. However, even this is less than certain.
A few months after Nreal announced their market expansion LG announced the end of their mobile device products and sales. While Nreal products aren’t mobile phones, the standard model connects to a mobile phone to enable most functions – this compared to the developer version that connects to a mobile compute box.
However, the main reasons LG gave for ending their mobile support were so that the company could focus on other products and services including the Internet of Things and Business-to-Business. Both models certainly count as IoT and the enterprise model fits the B2B column, so LG could still be in the picture – if not in exactly the same way we anticipated.
In any case, the glasses were expected to hit the shelves in the spring, which came and went without any waves of red goggles. It’s true that supply chains have been complicated by the pandemic, however, the announcement of the market expansion was also made during the pandemic. Further, more recent announcements may add to the carrier mystery.
Nreal has now announced a new model, “Nreal Air.” The glasses are even lighter-weight than Nreal Light glasses, weighing in at just 77 grams – some eight grams under Nreal Light.
The release shared with ARPost also claims a 49 pixels-per-degree micro-OLED display and a 90Hz refresh rate. More than that, a streamlined outward-facing camera makes for a larger display, a more casual look, and adjustable viewing angles for optimizing user comfort. The release still mentions gaming but emphasizes streaming media like YouTube.
“Nreal Air builds on our Nreal Light offering and furthers our mission to spread AR globally,” company founder Chi Xu said in the release. “With Nreal Air, we’ve zeroed in on the perks of a portable movie theater and condensed this into lightweight AR sunglasses with a zero-footprint display, while making it affordable.”
The press release says that Nreal Air will be available for “a fraction of the price” of Nreal Light, but that price will ultimately be set by carriers. And speaking of carriers, just like last time, the real big news in this release might not be the new hardware offering.
Compatible With iOS
According to the release, Nreal Air will be “the first AR device in the world to offer compatibility with Apple iOS devices,” including iPhones and iPads, as well as with most Android devices. There are a number of interesting ways in which this announcement fits into the puzzle.
For one thing, it gives Apple something that its customers have been waiting for for ages – an XR offering finally coming from one of the biggest names in tech. Experts and analysts have been trying to figure out for ages when Apple would finally announce a headset and, while this isn’t that, it’s a step in that direction.
Further, it gives Nreal another potential distribution channel. As we mentioned, while the company says that they’re ready to expand into new markets, limited partnerships may be part of why we aren’t wearing their product yet. With one of their potential distributors potentially off the table (LG), Apple could fill that gap and then some.
On a related note, making Nreal Air available through Apple would make it more available to consumers. The move to make the glasses available through carriers is arguably limiting, and being able to pick up the glasses through an actual hardware retailer could give them a greater audience.
We Have to Ask
At some point, we have to ask Nreal the same question that we’ve asked manufacturers like Varjo: at what point are you just competing with yourself?
We’ve been looking forward to Nreal Light for the last two years because – again – if they ever actually made it to the US market, they’d be a market first. However, despite years of promises, they have yet to materialize. So, why is Nreal announcing new headsets like they have anything to prove that they couldn’t prove by releasing the first headset?
These aren’t rhetorical questions, we want to know. When we asked what Varjo was doing releasing new headsets when their headsets were already the best available, they showed us by rolling out the Varjo Reality Cloud. It could well be that Nreal is going to pull a rabbit out of its hat in the same way.
All Eyes on Nreal
According to the release, the Nreal Air will actually debut in the company’s home market this winter, rolling out to the rest of their active markets over the course of 2022. Maybe by then, we’ll all be able to get our hands on Nreal Light.