RealWear Updates Flagship AR Headset with the Wider Hardware Market Set to Heat Up in 2022

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 1Q 2022 | IN-6406

RealWear’s latest AR product is set to be a strong competitor in the overall AR market.

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New Hardware from a Market Leader


In early December 2021, RealWear unveiled their newest Assisted Reality (AR) headset, the Navigator 500. The RealWear Navigator 500 is a refresh of the company’s HMT-1 assisted reality product, ultimately replacing the HMT-1 as the flagship product, although support for the HMT-1 will continue. The Navigator brings modularity in the form of swappable camera, battery, and modem (with other modules to come), as well as improved 48 MP camera, form factor, and weight—ruggedness and noise cancelling/voice recognition strengths carry over from the HMT-1 as well.

The company had a strong 2020, with three times Year over Year (YoY) growth and currently has over 5,000 enterprise customers.

Well Timed and Well Targeted


RealWear has been a leader in the enterprise AR hardware space for a while. Specifically for assisted reality in the enterprise, the individual specification race has quieted in favor other value add options. Some pure component specs are still important—such as brightness, battery life, camera quality, and voice recognition—but things like field of view and resolution that are important in mixed reality and virtual reality are less impactful for assisted reality.

Modularity is perhaps the most interesting element of the Navigator, speaking to the idea of non-specification advantages and differentiators in the space. Modularity has been tried before in the smartphone market by players such as Motorola, LG, and Sony with little success—issues of convenience, practicality, and end user value held it back. However, smart glasses present a unique form factor and target use cases that make modularity a more impactful value add compared to a modular, mass market smartphone. A swappable camera element allows for not only future-proofing and improvement in capture capability, but also for expanding outside of regular RGB camera capture—e.g., thermal, infrared, etc. Swappable battery again future-proofs a device where the internals can be expected to outlast a battery, not to mention the value of hot swapping batteries in the field. Modem swapping also deserves attention—onboard cellular capability hasn’t really impacted the enterprise AR market yet, but the potential is certainly there. The uncertain timeline around 5G transition means baking in a 4G modem could be undershooting customer demand, as integrating 5G can be overshooting demand. A module eliminates the uncertainty there and adds flexibility upfront as well as going forward.

2022 Promising Competition and Excitement


Much focus is given to hardware differentiation, as expected for a new hardware offering, but it is only half the story. Platform capabilities and partnerships are hugely important for customers. RealWear has one of the most comprehensive partnership lists for AR platforms, systems integrators, and value add resellers in the space. The company’s efforts in cloud with their Foresight platform and enabling easier integrations with these partners, as well as customer’s existing infrastructure and platforms, also differentiates.

That being said, competition is certainly set to increase going forward. So far, Vuzix and Google Glass have been the most closely competitive in terms of hardware and target customers/use cases, while Microsoft’s HoloLens has been universally competitive thanks to brand strength and recognition despite higher price and usually different target use cases (favoring more immersive mixed reality). Vuzix’s primary hardware differentiation came down to price and weight. Price will remain lower with Vuzix compared to Navigator; however the weight difference is much closer—Vuzix still has an advantage in pure weight, but this may prove negligible for customers. Google has no confirmed plans for a Glass expansion or refresh, though the company’s broader AR efforts (and earlier acquisition of hardware vendor North) could lead to a new hardware offering.

Tethered devices present a very compelling case, one in which Qualcomm is investing heavily. “Viewers”, as Qualcomm has called them, are picking up steam, perhaps best represented on the enterprise side with Lenovo’s A3 product, and nReal on the “consumer” side. Greater support is coming for devices to tether to, as are the headsets themselves. Mobile tethered VR devices fell out of favor versus standalone devices though the intrinsic benefits remain—lower upfront cost plus a more easily understood and supported device and content ecosystem (a smartphone with an accessory versus a novel standalone Head-Mounted Display (HMD) product).

Consumer-targeted standalone and tethered device competition also must be considered. While some customers and use cases demand a product like RealWear for ruggedness and maturity in the space, price pressure can be severe. Many companies have product either announced or already in market, including Oppo, nReal, Meta, and Snap, with Apple expecting to have significant impact likely in 2023. While ABI Research does not include non-display glasses like RayBan Stories as an AR product, follow-ups to those types of “smart frame” devices are expected to expand into AR with displays in future updates, presenting further competition. Affordability, usability, and comfort are shared ideals for smart glasses between consumer and enterprise, so price conscious enterprise customers will especially look towards these consumer products despite potential enterprise targeted hardware advantages.



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