Apple and Facebook join race to build augmented reality glasses

Apple and Facebook are gearing up to challenge start-up Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens in the race to create a pair of augmented reality glasses that could one day replace the smartphone as consumers’ primary computing device.

Apple is stepping up its efforts in AR eyewear, according to people with knowledge of its efforts, while Facebook is also researching the technology that can make what chief executive Mark Zuckerberg calls “glasses small enough to take anywhere”.

Both companies, however, are set to be beaten to market by Magic Leap, the secretive Florida-based company that has raised $1.4bn from investors including Alphabet and Alibaba.

Magic Leap is currently preparing its long-awaited AR eyewear for release later this year, according to people familiar with its plans. The “light-field” eyewear is said to be smaller than Microsoft’s HoloLens, with a wider field of view, but larger than a regular pair of glasses. The headgear will be tethered to a small pack that provides battery and processing power, to put in a pocket or attach to a belt, and is likely to cost in excess of $1,000. Magic Leap declined to comment.

Magic Leap has suffered from a spate of executive departures in recent months, raising concerns about whether its product would ever emerge from its secretive development process. It is now more than a year since chief executive Rony Abovitz said that the product would launch “very soon”.

Questions remain about whether Magic Leap can develop the software experiences that will entice people to buy and wear its hardware — a common challenge across the industry.

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