The Samsung XR headset and Meta Quest Pro 2 might skip a generation of Qualcomm chipsets to beat the Apple Vision Pro

While next-gen VR devices like the Samsung XR headset still haven’t yet launched, Qualcomm is reportedly already preparing for the next-next-gen models – which could include the Meta Quest Pro 2 and Meta Quest 4.

That’s according to rumors that it's testing new Snapdragon XR2 Gen 3 and XR2+ Gen 3 chipsets, as well as loaning them to headset makers. The XR2 Gen 3 would be an upgrade on the chip that powers the Meta Quest 3, but the XR2+ Gen 3 rumor is perhaps more interesting because we haven’t yet seen any XR2+ Gen 2 models in action. Maybe we never will.

Okay, okay, so we probably will see some XR2+ Gen 2-powered models launch later this year. But some of the big hitters like the aforementioned Samsung XR headset, a Sony headset (that’s not PSVR-related) and an HTC device might see their launch held back if a Gen 3 is around the corner so they can be upgraded; especially because we haven’t heard much about many of these XR2+ Gen 2 headsets since their brief announcement.

Admittedly, upgraded tech is always on the horizon and headset makers can’t forever wait for innovation to stop so they can release their gadgets. But one reason why holding off until the Gen 3 is ready is that it’s apparently a much more significant step up than the XR2+ Gen 2 was compared to the Gen 1 – with the Gen 3 reportedly offering support for up to 16GB of LPDDR5X RAM and Oryon CPU Cores (found in the impressive Snapdragon X Elite) according to XR expert Brad Lynch, and supported by WinFuture's Roland Quandt (via Android Central).

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A necessary upgrade

That 16GB RAM figure is of note because it would seemingly bring XR2+ Gen 3 headsets more in line with the processing power of the Apple Vision Pro – which also has 16GB of RAM – which is currently the one to beat in terms of performance. As such, headset manufacturers may have been candid with Qualcomm by letting it know the XR2+ Gen 2 just isn’t the powerhouse they need it to be, and a new model is needed ASAP.

Lance Ulanoff wearing Apple Vision Pro

The Apple Vision Pro is a powerhouse (Image credit: Future)

As with all leaks we have to take these XR2+ Gen 3 details with a pinch of salt. Until we see the Gen 3 officially who knows when or if it’s on its way anytime soon. Plus, even if the Gen 3 is being tested right now there are many reasons why we won’t see it for several years – such as manufacturing difficulties that need to be overcome.

But with a few leakers teasing that something is on its way, we wouldn’t be shocked if this Gen 3 XR2+ chipset arrives a lot sooner than we expected. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Qualcomm exec says next-gen Windows coming mid-2024 – but will it be Windows 12?

Microsoft’s next-gen version of Windows, whatever that might be called, is set to pitch up in the middle of 2024.

The Register reports that Qualcomm’s CEO, Cristiano Amon, made the revelation in an earnings call for the company. On the call, Amon mentioned the next incarnation of Windows when talking about the incoming Snapdragon X Elite chip, which is going to be the engine of some of the AI-powered laptops Microsoft keeps banging on about (this is the year of AI PCs, remember?).

Amon said: “We’re tracking to the launch of products with this chipset [Snapdragon X Elite] tied with the next version of Microsoft Windows that has a lot of the Windows AI capabilities … We’re still maintaining the same date, which is driven by Windows, which is mid-2024, getting ready for back-to-school.”

So, the release date of the middle of 2024 for the laptops driven by Qualcomm’s chip is pitched there because that’s when next-gen Windows will come out.

This echoes previous chatter from the grapevine that the middle of 2024 should be the release date for the next iteration of Windows, including a specific mention of June from one source (add salt, naturally, as even if this is Microsoft’s plan right now, it may not pan out).


Analysis: Navigating the nuances

There’s a lot of nuances to all these rumors and official declarations about the launch of next-gen Windows (we’ve also heard from Intel, as well as Qualcomm). Firstly, let’s clarify: will the next desktop OS from Microsoft be Windows 12, or Windows 11 24H2?

The simple answer to this is we don’t know, but all the current evidence is stacking up to indicate that the next release will be Windows 11 24H2 – although that doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of Windows 12. On balance, Windows 12 is probably more likely to arrive in 2025 though (if that’s what it ends up being called – the point is, this will be an all-new Windows, not just an update to Windows 11).

However, there will be a different kind of all-new Windows arriving in 2024, even if we get Windows 11 24H2 this year, and not Windows 12, as seems likely. Confused? Well, don’t be: what Microsoft is ushering in – for the middle of this year – is a new platform Windows is built on. This new take on the underpinnings of the desktop OS is called Germanium and it brings a whole lot of work under the hood for better performance and security. The kind of things you won’t see, but will still benefit from.

Germanium is the platform that AI PCs will be built on, and when Qualcomm’s CEO mentions Snapdragon X Elite-powered laptops arriving in the middle of 2024 with the next version of Windows, that’s what Amon is really talking about: Germanium.

In short, this doesn’t mean we’ll get next-gen Windows 12 in mid-2024, but that if it’s the Windows 11 24H2 update – which as mentioned is most likely the case, going by the rumors flying around – it’ll still be a new Windows (the underlying platform, not the actual OS you interact with).

The other twist is that Windows 11 24H2 (or indeed Windows 12, if that slim chance pans out) won’t be coming to everyone in the middle of the year. The plan is to bring out the new Germanium-powered Windows, whatever it’s called, on new laptops (AI PCs) first – perhaps in July, going by previous buzz from the grapevine – but it’ll be a while before existing Windows 11 PCs get the upgrade. That rollout to all users is rumored to be happening in September, but whatever the case, it’ll be later in the year before everyone using Windows 11 gets the upgrade.

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Think Google and Samsung are sleeping on Apple Vision Pro? Qualcomm has news for you

Among the new chips I saw from Qualcomm last year, the most impactful may have been the Snapdragon AR1 Gen 1 and Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chipsets, found in the Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses and the Meta Quest 3 mixed reality (MR) headset, respectively. With Apple Vision Pro promising a new concept of spatial computing sometime this year, of course, Qualcomm is getting ready for the competition. Today it announced a new Snapdragon XR2 Plus Gen 2 chipset that will power new products from Google, Samsung, and others. 

Qualcomm did not name any headsets specifically, only those important partners, with more on the way soon. It said that products with the new XR2 Plus Gen 2 chipset, which is clearly aimed at taking on Apple Vision Pro, could hit the market as soon as 2024, but we will definitely see new devices in 2025. 

Unlike Apple’s super-expensive Vision Pro, which costs close to $ 3,500 in the US, Qualcomm says devices that use its new chipset will be priced closer to today’s XR2 offerings. The Meta Quest 3 starts at $ 500.

The Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 2 has more graphics power

Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Plus Gen 2 reference design headset and logo

The reference design for a Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 2 headset (Image credit: Qualcomm)

What can the improved Snapdragon XR2 Plus Gen 2 offer that today’s chipset can’t handle? It’s all about the graphics performance. Qualcomm says its new platform can drive two displays at 4.3K resolution up to 90FPS. It's so advanced that Qualcomm admits the display technology doesn’t even exist today to support the chipset’s maximum capability, but they expect more advanced displays will hit the market soon. 

Improving the graphics performance on mixed reality displays is important because it makes the experience more comfortable in so many ways. Whether that is reducing motion dizziness, improving the clarity of details in the digital image, or even producing more natural colors and color gradations, every bit of performance improvement is necessary to create a world that not only looks real but also feels real and comfortable when you interact with digital objects. 

Qualcomm goes on to tout the advanced capabilities of the Snapdragon XR2 platform, like its ability to manage up to 12 or more separate camera input channels. Of course, until Samsung or Google (or maybe both working together?!) create a headset with 12 cameras on board, those capabilities are just for white papers and prototypes. It will take a manufacturer to bring this to market. 

Analysis: Qualcomm wants to be the 200lb gorilla

While folks with little mixed reality experience were totally blown away by the Apple Vision Pro headset, the MR industry was much more skeptical. If you’ve had a chance to try the Meta Quest 3, a product that costs less than 15% of what Apple’s headset will cost, you can understand why. 

The Meta Quest 3 isn’t as magical as Apple’s offering, but it’s much closer to achieving real magic than you’d expect, and we’re still very early in that headset’s lifespan. 

While all of the attention will certainly be focused on Apple Vision Pro this year, it’s unlikely you’ll actually be able to buy one (you might be able to test-drive it in an Apple Store, though). Most of us don’t have that kind of cash for a secondary device, especially one that runs an unproven computing concept.

Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Plus Gen 2 reference design headset and logo

Qualcomm’s announcement dropped big hints (Image credit: Qualcomm)

However, when the next holiday season rolls around, Qualcomm might be the brains behind a new Google or Samsung headset that gives you 80% of the Vision Pro experience, for 20% of the price.

Qualcomm was champing at the bit to tell us more about new products on the way and dropped a lot of “sooner rather than later” hints, so we might see more product news as early as CES. We’ve had our eyes on Google and Samsung, both of whom offered VR headsets in the past but no longer, to re-enter the market and take on Vision Pro and Meta Quest.

If you’re saving up for a cool mixed reality headset this year, keep saving, but don’t skip meals and sell your kidneys just to afford the Apple Vision Pro, not yet. Qualcomm has started 2024 with a promise that MR is going to get more interesting, and more affordable, all at once.

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Qualcomm and Microsoft’s game-changing chip could supercharge Windows 12

We’re approaching ever closer to the next generation of Windows, which most people expect will be Windows 12, and at Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite event, which took place this week, we got a peek at some potential Windows 12 features. 

Qualcomm, a company that specialises in wireless-related semiconductors, software, and services, unveiled a flashy new processor chip, the Snapdragon X Elite and it’s made some bold claims. It’s been said that this chip will boost Windows on ARM devices in a big way, and will play a crucial role in the next generation of Windows devices’ functionality. 

At the event, Qualcomm shared the stage with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and CVP (Corporate Vice President) Pavan Davuluri, to discuss the Snapdragon X Elite processor and the topic of NPUs (Neural Processing Units) in the context of future Windows machines. 

The discussion was more about broad strokes and less to do with specifics, as there were no demonstrations of the new hardware or even explicit mentions of “Windows 12”, but we did learn about some features that are in the pipeline, which many people felt were hints at what the next version of Windows could be like. 

A leaked screenshot of a possible Windows 12 OS mockup.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

What AI will look like in future Windows versions

As Windows Central reports, Nadella first described his (and Microsoft’s) vision for how AI is shaping computing. Nadella thinks that generative AI (gen AI, as he called it) can be as major as smartphones and mobile computing (something he’s previously declared at the Envision event we attended last week), the emergence of cloud computing, the internet, and the personal computer have been in the recent past. He thinks gen AI will impact human-computer interaction, potentially making it more intuitive and friendly to us and make it easier to change human behavior.

According to Nadella, gen AI will transform what operating systems (OSs) are as we know them, how a user interface (UI) looks like, how we engage with applications on devices, and more. UI changes are signifiers of bigger more fundamental change overall, and Nadella calls this “a big UI change.” 

Nadella then went on to discuss Microsoft’s new reasoning engine, a system that “reasons” and mimics our own thought process. He cited the example of Microsoft’s Github Copilot, an AI coding assistant, which helps you brainstorm ideas and create. The overhaul of UIs and a modern reasoning engine will mean that, as Nadella puts it, “all software categories can be changed.”

GitHub Copilot AI

(Image credit: GitHub)

Microsoft's big hybrid computing wager

After that, Nadella highlighted hybrid computing, which Windows Central points out has been a continued topic of discussion in what next generations of OSs like Window 12s might look like, and is another major area of development for Microsoft. According to Nadella, Microsoft’s vision includes hybrid computing being crucial to improving computing capability for low-powered or older devices by processing some things locally on the device and making use of the cloud for others. 

This is apparently a critical area of innovation which makes use of the new generation of powerful NPUs to maximize the potential of local and cloud computing simultaneously. A hybrid approach to computing is also important because the scale of some AI processes and features require more processing power than a standard PC can handle. Hybrid computing basically expands the scale of what’s possible from your PC, particularly to do with AI, though it does mean you need an internet connection.

This is how Microsoft’s new brainchild, the AI assistant Windows Copilot, functions. Many of the functions it carries out happen in the cloud, and its functionality is a mix of on-device and in the cloud. Microsoft is also developing a new system architecture to make all of this happen that will allow developers to realize what Microsoft calls ‘hybrid apps’. Microsoft is looking to components like the Snapdragon X Elite chip to make this a reality.

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(Image credit: Pexels)

High stakes and possible high rewards for Windows Copilot

Nadella calls Windows Copilot a “marquee experience,” so Microsoft is clearly placing big bets on it. It wants it to become the next Start button, which is certainly bold – that iconic element of Windows made a huge and lasting impact when it debuted in Windows 95. Nadella claims that you won’t even need to give it a direction or instruction – you can describe your intent and Copilot will pull up what you need. It could assist our workflows and activities like learning, creating, queries, and more.

Right now, you have to go to Start, find the application you want or navigate your File Explorer to find a specific file, and then get on with your work. With generative AI, the idea is that you state your intent (your wish, if you will) and your wish becomes reality with Copilot bringing you everything you need. 

We’ve already seen that Microsoft is putting a great deal of effort into Copilot, and showed us previews of the sorts of things it’ll be able to do. If you try Copilot for yourself, you’ll see that it’s not quite there yet, but the vision is intriguing. Rumor has it that Microsoft is developing natural language models (a type of logical and systematic model that props up what we currently call AI) that will improve file searches and better restore previous activity. Davuluri spoke at length about other platform-related developments to help facilitate app-emulation and how generative AI will help shape each user’s individual experience.

So, it’s a long discussion that gives an interesting look into Microsoft’s future, but keeps it nebulous enough to not spoil too many surprises. For example, we still don’t know what “Windows 12” will be named officially. What we do know is Microsoft’s clear intent with an AI-centric UI that could radically change how we use PCs and devices, context-aware AI functionality that will personalize user experiences, and a focus on incorporating hybrid computing. It all sounds very exciting and it’s great for buzz-word bingo, but I think users are eager to see some solid details about what they can expect in the next version of Windows OS.

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