It emerged in June that Google had killed its Iris smart glasses and was going all-in on the Android OEM model for XR. A new report today sheds light on the current state of projects, including how Google is looking to partner on smart glasses.
Iris was a result of the North acquisition. According to Insider, the goal was to build a sleeker version of Focals and add services like Google Maps or Lens. Like North’s previous attempt (seen above), you would only be able to see visuals out of one eye for a monocular design.
There was debate on whether it should be a color or monochrome display, but the screen would be powered by custom silicon codenamed “Alexandrite.” The main chip was called “Alius.”
The team first set out on “everyday glasses” before pivoting to sunglasses and then switching back to the original form factor. Employees were unhappy with the pivots:
“Every six months there was a major pivot in the program,” they said. “They would look at it and say, ‘We want a slightly different product.’”
Iris was canceled in January of this year and gave way to project Moohan, where Google partnered with Samsung to go after Apple’s rumored headset. Samsung mandated that it “didn’t want other hardware teams working on Google AR products to be privy to the project’s technology for fear they might build a competing product based on that information.”
That’s proving difficult, with Samsung apparently “calling the shots” on product features. Meanwhile, the extended reality (XR/MR) headset powered by Android has indeed been delayed, with some internally wondering whether that will be enough time to make it competitive with Vision Pro. In May at I/O 2023, Google said to expect more about the partnership later this year, and it’s unclear whether that’s still happening.
Google leadership still recognizes that smart glasses are the future and is continuing software work. Past development on Iris, including the monocular nature, is being used to create a “Micro XR” OS that will be pitched to OEMs. (There’s also work on a binocular version called “Barry.”) The goal is to find a partner by year’s end, likely Samsung, and release as soon as 2025.
Meanwhile, Google has another group working on microLED displays following the acquisition of Raxium in 2022. This constrained and firewalled team is targeting 3-4 years with hopes that the technology developed there will lead to Google-made glasses in the future.
Current and former employees that spoke to Insider ultimately question whether Google is ready to commit and how it “threw away its lead,” with the layoffs earlier this year and pivot to AI considered damaging.
“Google’s problem with hardware fundamentally is they have a hard time with that type of product consistency,” one former employee told Insider.
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