Project Iris: The Rise and Fall of Google’s Augmented Reality Glasses

In the high-paced world of technology, giants like Google have often led the charge in innovation. Project Iris, Google’s ambitious augmented reality (AR) glasses prototype, was once a shining example of such innovation. Initially revealed at Google’s I/O event in 2022, Project Iris was touted as the next big thing in AR tech, aiming to rival competitors like Apple’s Vision Pro and the Meta Quest 3.

The glasses were designed to offer advanced features such as real-time translation and navigation capabilities. The translation feature, in particular, was set to revolutionise travel, allowing users to visually interpret foreign languages in real time.

Changing Focus: A Pivot to Software

According to recent reports, the Silicon Valley giant is now shifting its focus from hardware to software development. An undisclosed platform, known as the “micro XR,” is purportedly under construction, with Google aiming to license the software to other AR headset manufacturers. This mirrors Google’s successful strategy with its Android operating system, which is provided to a wide range of phone manufacturers.

A Collaborative Effort?

Despite the seemingly gloomy outlook for Google’s hardware endeavours, all hope may not be lost. A vague announcement made in February 2023 revealed a partnership between Google, Samsung, and Qualcomm. It now seems that this collaboration may produce a new mixed reality platform, with Google’s original Project Iris designs potentially forming the foundations for a new Samsung headset.

Historically, Google and Samsung have proven to be a successful team. Google famously modified its Android platform to support Samsung’s innovative Galaxy Fold line of phones, prior to launching its own Pixel Fold. This suggests that the upcoming AR headset could be the product of another successful collaboration.


Trials and Tribulations of Project Iris

Despite the promising outlook, the development of Project Iris was far from smooth sailing. Reports indicate that the project suffered from frequent layoffs and shifting strategies, with Google’s head of VR/AR, Clay Bavor, leaving the company amidst development. However, not all ties to the project have been severed, with several key members, including Mark Lucovsky, Google’s senior director of operating systems for AR, remaining on board.

Lessons from the Past

Google’s journey into the realm of AR is not a new venture. The tech giant had previously acquired North, a Canadian AR glasses company, in 2020 for an undisclosed sum thought to be around £145m. The North team, including co-founders Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant, are currently still employed by Google.

This isn’t the first time a Google AR project has faced challenges. Google Glass, a predecessor to Project Iris, was discontinued for consumer use in 2015 due to concerns over privacy and safety, in addition to its steep price point of £1,000. Google continued to sell the Glass Enterprise Edition for business use until March 2023, indicating a longstanding interest in AR technology.

The Future of Google’s AR Endeavours

Despite the reported discontinuation of Project Iris, Google’s journey into augmented reality is far from over. With the possibility of a new headset from the collaboration with Samsung and Qualcomm, the lessons learned from past ventures, and a shift in focus towards software, the future of Google’s AR endeavours remains a fascinating space to watch. The potential of AR technology, combined with Google’s penchant for innovation, ensures that whatever the future holds will undoubtedly be worth the wait.