At a recent event, Chinese silicon vendor MediaTek revealed that it will be partnering with Meta for the company’s upcoming smart glasses products. While details are still minimal, it is expected that Meta will continue to work with its existing Extended Reality (XR) silicon partner Qualcomm. Qualcomm has, so far, dominated the XR silicon market, but competition from MediaTek and Apple in 2024 may shake up the market.
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A Shakeup in the Silicon XR Space
At MediaTek’s Executive Summit in November, the company revealed that it will be powering Meta’s upcoming smart glasses product. The partnership is exclusive, meaning Meta will be the only Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) using the MediaTek chipsets, at least for now. After laying off a chunk of the company’s internal silicon team, Meta’s expansion with another Extended Reality (XR) silicon partner is not surprising, although questions remain around where Qualcomm’s Augmented Reality (AR) silicon efforts sit as the current silicon provider for Meta XR products. As product lines evolve, MediaTek and Qualcomm may coexist across separate products, or there may be competition between the two vendors.
The Meta and MediaTek partnership is not exactly new though, with MediaTek earlier in the year announcing its use of Meta’s Llama 2 Large Language Model (LLM), although this was not a silicon OEM partnership. Meta is also expanding its hardware footprint directly in China as well, with a recent deal with Tencent to sell a tailored, lower price version of the Quest 3 in China.
A Small but Growing Competitive Landscape
Competition is always a positive for the end user, and often for the competitors as well through an increased addressable market—especially in a totally nascent space like consumer smart glasses, where having any active competition raises buyer awareness. Partnership exclusivity is not surprising in this circumstance, especially for a first-generation product like these smart glasses will be. The exact reasoning behind the exclusivity is not known—it could be a strategy by MediaTek to fund a new product line with some guarantee of uptake, or Meta identifying a market advantage through MediaTek and maximizing that.
Qualcomm’s role with Meta after this announcement is interesting either way. Qualcomm has been the dominant silicon vendor for XR for years, with an overwhelming majority of devices using Snapdragon chipsets. While Virtual Reality (VR) is the more active market, nearly all AR devices, thus far, have been Qualcomm powered. Meta has not yet released a smart glasses product for comparison, but the company’s VR efforts leverage Qualcomm XR chipsets, including the latest Meta Quest 3. Qualcomm and MediaTek can certainly coexist within the Meta product range, especially across both AR and VR device types—with the MediaTek partnership targeting AR smart glasses, VR devices will remain Qualcomm’s purview for now.
Apple’s role in the silicon space is also important to understand, both in relation to MediaTek and more broadly. Apple is leveraging its in-house chipsets for the upcoming Vision Pro headset. Before MediaTek’s announcement, the XR market was shaping up to be just Apple versus Qualcomm, with two quite separate buyer bases (Apple silicon will, of course, only be available on Apple XR devices).
There is opportunity for other vendors to directly compete as well—namely Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD—although there is no evidence of these vendors launching XR silicon or using existing chipsets on XR devices. This is likely entirely due to the small scale of XR compared to other active markets. Even as XR device shipments grow, the rise of tethering and cloud/edge compute and streaming shifts compute needs dramatically, making novel chipset launches difficult. NVIDIA and AMD will pursue the XR opportunity through their data center strengths—as more content is made available to XR devices, there is more opportunity to host that content on the cloud, rather than process it locally.
Opportunities for Differentiation
Price and form factor are key differentiators for XR silicon, especially in smart glasses targeting mass market—the need for power efficiency paired with streamlined form factor is critical. Heat dissipation, battery life, device weight, and perhaps most importantly, design flexibility, can all differentiate in this space. While price was not cited specifically as a reason for the partnership, it is, of course, a factor with MediaTek costs per chip lower than Qualcomm. The announcement instead focused on process efficiency and form factor. Especially in the consumer space, price is the most important variable. For general use devices, which is likely the target for Meta’s upcoming glasses, a price point under US$500 is almost a requirement. The value proposition today looks very similar to smartwatches, so similar price points will be required to not price out the majority of the potential market. A lower-cost chipset that is still competitive in battery life and processing power is, of course, ideal.
Outside of full System-on-Chip (SoC) competition, dedicated chipsets for value-added technologies can also differentiate. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the hot topic currently, with applications like image and video processing already being used extensively. In the next few years, this expands with improved process efficiency and power thanks to AI-designed chipsets and dedicated, discrete AI silicon.
Looking forward, spatial compute is a major talking point for the market, with Apple expected to lean on its mixed reality capabilities in Vision Pro leveraging dedicated sensors, with additional support for spatial content capture on the company’s iPhone 15 Pro lineup. Enabling content capture on both XR devices and supporting devices like smartphones is a boon for the market, and can leverage shared silicon across these devices to build a cohesive XR platform. Look out for things like Three-Dimensional (3D) content capture and automatic content optimization for XR increasingly being added and supported at the silicon level as a result.
In the end, the small scale of the XR market makes any competition exciting and mutually beneficial for operators and customers. Even with more competition, 2024 is not likely to hold a major inflection point for XR just yet—growing pains are basically guaranteed for Apple Vision Pro, Meta’s smart glasses, and any competition for either of them. Second-generation follow-ups to these devices, and their respective processors, will have true mass-market potential.