A few years after being written off as dead, Alphabet's (GOOGL) Google Glass headset is getting a decent hardware upgrade.
The Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, which was unveiled on Monday, packs a Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon XR1 processor that should easily outperform the Texas Instruments (TXN) OMAP processor that went into the first-gen Glass model, which launched in 2013. It also has an improved camera and better battery life, and (since the headset runs on Android) features a developer environment that should be easier to write apps for. In addition, the headset will cost $999, $500 less than its predecessor.
As its name implies, the new Glass headset is (as the prior-gen model ultimately was) being aimed at businesses rather than consumers. Certainly, its modest display resolution of 640 by 360 per eye isn't good enough to deliver immersive media experiences for consumers. But Glass has begun seeing decent traction in business environments such as warehouses, factories and hospitals, and the launch of a cheaper and more powerful model should let it add to its momentum.
Microsoft (MSFT) , meanwhile, is just a few months removed from unveiling a second-gen HoloLens headset that's also aimed at businesses, and which costs $3,500. Compared with the original, the second-gen HoloLens has more processing power, a better display, a better camera and a revamper user interface. More recently, Microsoft unveiled Minecraft Earth, an augmented reality game for iOS and Android that will let users build structures that are superimposed upon their views of a real-world environment, and which other users can also see (initial reactions have been quite positive).
And though these products are unlikely to be mass-market hits, startups such as China's Nreal and Hong Kong's RealMax are pushing the envelope for what consumer-focused augmented reality headsets can deliver. Nreal's Light headset, which I demoed in January at the CES trade show, delivered visuals that easily surpassed what older AR headsets such as the original HoloLens and Google Glass could provide.
All of this is worth keeping in mind as Apple (AAPL) reportedly preps an AR headset that could arrive in 2020. Getting the finer details right for such a product -- from the form factor, to the processor and display, to the battery life, to the UI and smartphone integration -- is challenging from both a technical and a design standpoint. But given how the AR world's state of the art has been steadily improving, it wouldn't be shocking if Apple has something that meets its standards ready by next year.