Vodafone Germany said it plans to introduce its Nreal Light glasses for augmented and mixed reality (AR/MR) experiences over 5G. Nreal Light will initially be launched in Germany and Spain in the spring of 2021. Nreal Light are lightweight mixed reality glasses with widescreen, similar to a portable IMAX screen. They are designed for everyday use, and customers can control them via Android phones and a wired USB-C connection.
Nreal Light is compatible with Android smartphone apps. Users with the Nreal Light glasses can surf the internet, shop, watch videos, TV and sports programs, play games or exchange information on social media on a virtual AR Screen using a compatible Android device. Up to three apps can be actively used at the same time.
Vodafone and China-based Nreal are cooperating to develop AR and MR applications for customers and companies, combining Nreal’s technology with Vodafone’s 5G network. The companies are currently working on MR applications including sports apps, multi-player games, navigation and travel guides, fitness training, interior design and education. In addition, Vodafone is developing a range of commercial AR and MR applications for businesses. The apps range from conference calls to remote collaboration on design, engineering, manufacturing and assembly processes. Mixed reality supports retail activities, virtual showrooms and remote technical support.
Augmented and mixed reality glasses are one of the bolder and more unusual partnership-driven technology ventures to emanate from a mobile operator lately. By collaborating with the Chinese company Nreal, Vodafone is positioning itself to gain distinction by attaching its brand to a cutting-edge, almost science-fiction-like mobile device with potential in both the consumer and business spheres. However, as with Google Glass several years ago, questions inevitably arise as to whether the device is practical enough and whether it is too expensive to gain traction in the marketplace.
Generally speaking, it is a good move, in terms of brand-building strategy, for a major operator such as Vodafone to put its name on such innovative mobile-enabled gadgetry, and in this case it could also be to Vodafone Germany’s advantage in that the Nreal glasses could showcase the power of the operator’s 5G network to run multiple complex apps simultaneously with AR/MR effects.
As far as the glasses themselves go, we feel that their strength is most likely in the business applications rather than in the consumer applications. As Google Glass showed, consuming internet and especially entertainment content through this kind of interface seems too distracting and possibly even dangerous to many consumers, not to mention that wearing glasses or goggles could even make the wearer appear risible. On the other hand, mixed reality (in which virtual reality inputs mix more or less seamlessly with the observed physical reality around the user) could be quite useful for specialized industrial tasks including instruction, for military training and in certain retail environments. The remote collaboration aspect is particularly promising. It is also to be expected that the price of the AR/MR glasses would be more bearable to enterprises than to consumers.