Xioami's New AR Glasses Highlight the Design Challenges Apple Faces

It’s not easy to make tech small and lightweight

  • Xiaomi showed off its AR glasses concept at Barcelona’s MWC.
  • They’re cool but still too big and bulky for the mainstream.
  • Apple’s miniaturization skills are going to be pushed to the limit.
Xiaomi Wireless AR Glasses Discovery Edition.


Chinese phone maker Xiaomi has shown its take on AR glasses, and it doesn’t look good.

One of the hottest rumor topics right now is Apple’s VR/AR headset, which is expected to show up at Apple’s WWDC conference this summer. Apple’s end-game is almost certainly a pair of regular-looking glasses that packs in both visual and audio augmented reality. But as Xiaomi’s effort shows, that end game might be a lot further away than we think.

“To become more mainstream, AR glasses will need to be comfortable to wear for extended periods, which means they need to be lightweight and well-balanced. In addition to weight, other factors such as durability, battery life, and ease of use are also critical,” Software engineer and 3D games graphics specialist Dmitrii Ivashchenko told Lifewire via email. 

Xiaomi AR Glasses Specs

Xiaomi’s Wireless AR Glass Discovery Edition is impressive and actually looks pretty cool, in a kind of dorky sci-fi ski-trip kind of way. They pack powerful snapdragon processors and twin microOLED displays with a 1,200 nits brightness, which is more than double that of many laptops. 

The company has also worked hard to reduce the weight of these concept glasses, using exotic materials to lighten the load: carbon fiber and magnesium-titanium alloy. 

And the demo video is actually pretty exciting. It’s a bit too Matrix for the mainstream, but it shows off some of the possibilities of augmented reality. The ability to look at a lamp, and use a gesture to switch it on or off, is pretty cool. Then again, I can already do that with the light switches on my walls. 

But what the video does not address, but the advanced, ultra-lightweight materials make obvious, is that it's still impossible to make the kind of AR glasses that people will actually buy. 

"One of the biggest challenges is the need for compact and powerful components, such as high-resolution displays and advanced sensors, which can be difficult to fit into a small form factor. Additionally, the software required to run AR glasses must be capable of handling complex spatial mapping and real-time data processing," says Ivashchenko.

"Another challenge is the need for a robust and reliable wireless connection to the internet and other devices, which can be difficult to achieve in real-world environments."

The Complexity of AR Glasses

Apple has already shrunk its computers to wearable sizes. The Apple Watch and the AirPods are powerful enough to do an impressive job, small and light enough to wear without fatigue, and with enough battery life to get by. 

Someone sitting in a living space, wearing Xiaomi AR glasses.


But glasses are a whole other level of problem. They need dual displays which are bright and hi-resolution enough to blend in with the daylight behind them. The hand-gesture interface needs to be as good as a mouse or touch-screen to be acceptable, and therefore requires highly-accurate sensors and computing power to separate your hands from the background and understand their movements. 

And that’s just the start.

"I don’t think the problem with AR in glasses can be boiled down to a single problem, but rather it’s a mix of several issues that must be fixed before AR glasses can become mainstream,” tech enthusiast and video game researcher Jan Sørup told Lifewire via email. "Besides the obvious ethical problems, you also have issues such as field-of-view blocking from the on-screen graphics (a safety issue). Technical challenges include processing power, visual artifacts (fx chromatic aberrations), distortion from the glass curvature, battery power, portability, as well as color, contrast, and brightness issues.”

You can get away with weight and bulk with a VR gaming headset, the same way people will wear specialized gear to play sports. But for everyday use, glasses need to be comfortable. I wear glasses, and I’m quite used to the weight on my nose and ears. But even a slight added weight, like clip-on sunglasses, makes the whole setup too annoying to put up with for extended periods. And that’s just a couple of thin plastic lenses and a clip. 

Still, if there’s one thing Apple is good at, it’s surprising us with extremely impressive tech and making very complex devices seem not only simple, but obvious and necessary. Maybe it will do that one day with glasses, but as Xiaomi’s effort shows, it’s not going to be easy.

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