(TechNews) Google confirmed on May 4th that it has acquired Raxium, a start-up company with Micro LED display technology, which is expected to become key in Google’s mission to create a new generation of AR displays.
Google senior vice president of devices and services, Rick Osterloh, who leads the development of Google’s hardware products, stated that Raxium has spent five years creating a small, cost-effective, and energy-efficient high-resolution display that lays the foundation for future display technologies, adding, this company’s technology in this field could play a key role in Google’s hardware investments. Raxium, headquartered in Fremont, California, will be merged into Google’s devices and services group in the future but he did not disclose the purchase price or other details.
According to Raxium’s official website, the pixel pitch of s Super AMOLED screen on a mobile phone is approximately 50 microns but the company’s Micro LED technology can achieve approximately 3.5 microns and it claims to be able to create unprecedented display efficiency.
When foreign media, The Information, reported last month and first exposed Google’s plan to acquire Raxium, it pointed out that Micro LED technology can create AR displays that are more energy-efficient than other solutions while retaining vivid colors. In addition, Raxium is working on the monolithic integration of Micro LEDs, which is expected to significantly reduce costs.
This move makes Google’s plans for subsequent AR hardware products increasingly clear. Google acquired glasses startup North in 2020 and is reportedly recruiting engineers to develop an operating system for AR displays. It was revealed by foreign media in January this year that Google’s laboratory is developing a head-mounted AR device code-named “Project Iris” which is under the same management as “Project Starline” shown at the Google I/O 2021 developer conference last year.
AR/VR device shipments revised up to 14.19 million units in 2022, with an annual growth rate of 43.9%, according to TrendForce research. Growth momentum will come from increased demand for remote interactivity stemming from the pandemic, as well as Oculus Quest 2’s price reduction strategy. Microsoft HoloLens 2 and Oculus Quest 2 are first in market share for AR and VR, respectively.
According to TrendForce, the topic of the Metaverse has driven brands to actively plan for and stimulate product shipment performance. However, the AR/VR device market has yet to experienced explosive growth due to two factors: component shortages and the difficulty of developing new technologies. In addition, cosmetic and size considerations have made the more optically and technically difficult Pancake design the first choice for new high-end products. Furthermore, various embedded tracking feedback technologies key to enhancing the user’s immersive experience such as eye tracking and 6DoF further affect the development progress of a new product as a whole. Since there are no new foreboding products on the horizon, TrendForce believes, no other branded products have a chance at supplanting the current mainstream status of Oculus or Microsoft until at least 2023.
The Oculus Quest 2, which costs between US$200 and US$400, is currently the most popular AR/VR device in the consumer market. TrendForce expects Oculus to launch an advanced version of the Quest product within two years, reaching a hardware performance equivalent of US$700 or down to a retail price of US$500 with discounts. This product is expected to expand the size of the high-end consumer AR/VR market. The commercial market is dominated by the HoloLens 2 which costs more than US$1,000 and upwards of US$3,500. Since the commercial market places more emphasis on the benefits of hardware and software integration, manufacturers that dominate commercial systems, software, and platforms have the advantage. Thus, Apple has become another focus in the AR/VR device market.
Strong shipments of Oculus and Microsoft products will likely force Apple to release relevant products to join the competition this year. However, TrendForce states, considering hardware performance requirements and gross profit margins, Apple will likely target the commercial market and adopt the same pricing strategy as HoloLens, hardware priced in the thousands of dollars and a monthly subscription-based software solution. Overall, TrendForce believes that the launch of new products this year by Apple, Meta, and Sony may be delayed and will not add significant growth to the overall AR/VR market for the time being.
Sales of gaming consoles underwent palpable growth in 1H21 thanks to the release of new consoles as well as demand that had previously been deferred in 2020 due to material shortages. Moving into 2H21, however, disruptions in logistics/transportation and the further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic led to less-than-expected sales volumes during the holiday season, estimated in total annual sales of 51.257 million consoles for the whole 2021. While the Nintendo Switch remained the market leader with sales of 26.19 million units, about 14.31 million units of the Sony PS5 were sold, compared to 8.14 million units of the Microsoft Xbox Series X|S.
As the aforementioned issues related to the pandemic, logistics, and shortages gradually become resolved, TrendForce expects gaming console sales for 2022 to reach 57.94 million units, a 13% YoY increase. Although the Switch will likely retain its market leadership, sales will hold flat and begin to show signs of decline, as the console enters its fifth year. TrendForce expects Nintendo to release a refreshed version of the Switch console in early 2023 in response to gradually declining sales.
After expanding the PS5 user base, Sony is expected to make a heavy push for its next-gen VR products, the PS VR 2, which will likely be released at the end of 2022. At the same time, Sony will continue to strengthen the development of both games with VR content and VR-related accessories, which can further improve the gaming experience of PS VR users. Microsoft, on the other hand, has placed an emphasis on not only its Xbox Cloud Gaming streaming service, but also the acquisition of game development studios to increase its exclusive game titles, attract consumers, and weaken its competitors. Hence, Microsoft may potentially release its own affordably priced game streaming boxes this year to be used in conjunction with cloud-based game streaming services. However, due to the nature of Xbox Cloud Gaming as a cross-platform service compatible with, among other devices, the previous-gen Xbox One, consumers may in turn be less willing to purchase the Xbox Series X|S, thereby lowering annual sales of these consoles and widening the sales gap between the Series X|S and their competitors.
Switch-like handheld gaming consoles will continue to appear
Rising sales of the Nintendo Switch consoles have led other brands to release similar products in response. In addition, the barrier to entry in the handheld gaming console market has been significantly lowered now that Qualcomm is able to supply chips, reference designs, and dev tools. With brands now willing to cross over to this space, the market may see the emergence of multiple Switch-like handheld gaming consoles in 2022.
Unlike prevailing gaming consoles which have closed ecosystems, products such as the Steam Deck are based on open platforms that are compatible with gaming contents and streaming services available on PCs and mobile devices. As such, these handheld gaming consoles are not an absolute requirement for consuming game content, and consumers may still prefer using their existing PCs or mobile devices for such content.
As well, brands that look to release their own handheld gaming consoles will not look to compensate for reduced hardware profitability through software sales. As a result, these consoles will be priced relatively high, at an expected US$399 and up, which may negatively affect consumers’ willingness to purchase them. Even if certain brands make an attempt at handheld gaming console production, sales of these consoles are expected to remain mediocre, without making much of an impact on the current gaming console market.
Factors such as the rising popularity of topics related to the metaverse and UGC (user-generated content), as well as the rapid increase in AR/VR device shipment, will likely result in the creation of a growing body of virtual reality content in the market, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. TrendForce expects annual global virtual reality content revenue to grow at a 40% CAGR from US$2.16 billion in 2021 to US$8.31 billion in 2025.
TrendForce further indicates that gaming/entertainment, videos, and social interactions comprise the primary categories of virtual reality content. Incidentally, as the construction of the virtual world and the development of virtual reality content are unlikely to be accomplished by only a handful of companies alone, companies in this space will therefore place an increasing emphasis on UGC instead. Leading companies will likely leverage the build-out of virtual reality platforms/environments and the provisioning of developmental tools/interfaces in order to not only lower the barrier to entry for content creation, but also raise user participation, thereby driving up the content market for virtual reality applications.
In consideration of profitability, most companies still adopt a wait-and-see approach towards the virtual reality market because content development for the virtual world entails substantial time and expenses. The vast majority of UGC, however, is not profit-driven. Hence, TrendForce believes that UGC is likely a more suitable point of entry into the virtual reality market for most companies that wish to do so. Furthermore, companies that specialize in metaverse applications will place increasing emphasis on developing platforms, building comprehensive ecosystems, and lowering the barrier to entry for content creation through the appropriate development tools and interfaces.
On the whole, factors that affect the development of the global virtual reality content market include not only the availability of platforms and their respective contents, but also the build-out of hardware equipment and infrastructures, such as high-speed computing chip adoption as well as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 deployment. On the other hand, as the virtual world places a high demand on instant, lifelike, and stable interactions, the ability to resolve signal disruptions has in turn become a topic that demands attention. With regards to end devices, the penetration rate of AR/VR devices going forward will primarily be determined by suppliers’ pricing strategies. In light of the growth of virtual reality application content, companies will look to expand their user base via low-priced hardware devices and compensate for their reduced hardware profitability through software sales. Finally, in response to the demand for more immersive and interactive user experiences, the integration of more sensors and better feedback design is set to become the next major trend of AR/VR device development.