When Apple announced its obviously expensive Vision Pro AR headset, its biggest promise had little to do with hardware. The company says “hundreds of thousands of iPhone and iPad apps” work well on Vision OS, and they’ll be ready to go on Vision Pro on launch day.
Apple made an ever-increasing promise to developers. “By default, your iPad and/or iPhone apps will be automatically published to the App Store on Apple Vision Pro,” the company said. It is similar to solving the biggest problem for an experimental hardware.
Apple won’t be the first to try AR/VR hardware. Far from it, actually. The likes of Google have failed, while Meta still continues with its Quest range. Then we have XR glasses from the likes of Xreal and TCL. I recently tested the Xreal Air 2 with my iPad Pro and was impressed.
Unfortunately, the experience of using AR glasses on tablets is not uniform across the Apple and Android ecosystems. The Golf is a bit too wide in some scenarios.
A playoff right outside the door
I’ll start with compatibility and ease of access. I tested the Xreal Air 2 and RayNeo Air 2 and paired them with the iPad Pro and OnePlus Pad. To clarify. AR glasses are essentially glorified secondary screens that sit on your nose.
The key to making AR glasses work with a tablet is a USB-C port that supports DisplayPort output. All iPads with a USB-C port support DisplayPort. Some even throw in Thunderbolt support, allowing the tablet to drive high-resolution displays.
But when it comes to AR glasses, most of which limit themselves to Full HD per eye resolution, the standard DisplayPort Alt Mode function is enough. But the situation is a bit complex. Only a handful of Android tablets, like the latest additions to the high-end Samsung Galaxy Tab S series, support DisplayPort output.
When I plugged the Xreal Air 2 into the OnePlus Pad’s USB-C port, I encountered an incompatible hardware error. A quick look at Xreal’s website doesn’t show a single tablet in the list of compatible hardware. Using an adapter didn’t help.
As for the RayNeo Air 2 glasses, the OnePlus Pad simply didn’t read them. As I mentioned above, only high-end Samsung tablets support DisplayPort over USB-C output. A few other brands make Android tablets, but none of them are available in the US
On the iPad Pro, as soon as I plugged in the Xreal and RayNeo AR glasses, the display unit automatically entered extended screen mode with Stage Manager enabled. With the push of a button, you can switch to screen mirroring format. However, if you hold the iPad vertically, it automatically signals the AR glasses to trigger screen mirroring mode. These neat little amenities are actually important and encourage you to dive into new experiences.
On the one hand, you have the Apple tablets – across the main line, the Air and Pro range – ready for AR glasses and starting at $449. If you can find refurbished units, even better. On the other hand, Android tablets are limited in availability, offering extremely limited compatibility and a shorter lifespan in terms of software update support.
The basic firepower issue
Before I get into the details of AR experiences, let’s first address the hardware situation. The likes of the RayNeo Air 2 or Xreal Air 2 don’t come with their own computing or graphics processing kit; your phone or tablet provides all the juice.
When it comes to basic tasks like web browsing and streaming, any tablet out there, iPad or Android, is up to the job. But the moment you get into the game, you start to see the difference. And if you use a compatibility hack, that experience is even more obvious.
Let’s start with the hack, which is essentially a remote screen mirroring hub. For Xreal Air 2 you get Beam. With the RayNeo Air 2, the company sells you a MiraScreen pocket device. Both are standalone purchases and cost over $100 each.
If your incompatible tablet doesn’t support direct screencasting via a USB-C port, which is most likely the case for an Android tablet, you’ll need to plug the glasses into this hub. Then, using Bluetooth/Wi-Fi, you need to connect this hub wirelessly to the Android tablet in your hand.
Once pairing is complete, you’re ready to go. Your Android phone’s interface will now be mirrored on the display unit of the AR glasses. It’s an expensive hassle, but the only way forward. If you like to play games, you will encounter another problem.
That problem is the processor’s firepower. The OnePlus Pad has the MediaTek Dimensity 9000 chip. It can’t quite compete with the entry-level iPad (and its A13 chip) for a couple of reasons when it comes to gaming — and certainly not with any M-series processor inside the iPad Air or Pro.
First, despite its top-tier credentials, the Dimensity 9000 can’t quite hold its own against Apple’s A14—both in real-world gaming and synthetic benchmarks. It won’t be a limiting factor in casual gaming, but the moment you jump into something like this Genshin Impactyou’ll find it stutters and downgrades the experience to lower graphics settings.
Then, once you’ve paired the AR glasses with an incompatible Android tablet via a mirror hub, remember that it’s a wireless lane. Random errors and delays are evident. And if you are someone who likes to spend time with friends in competitive high-stakes shooting games, this solution is not for you.
For my gaming comparison, I picked up the best controller I could find to be on the safe side. I paired my tablets with the GameSir Cyclone T4 Pro. This one offers Hall Effect sticks and triggers with extremely high accuracy along with tactile buttons.
Before delving into gaming on AR glasses, you also need to consider that, in addition to the wireless mirroring of a demanding game’s user interface on an external display, there is the problem of input when paired with a Bluetooth controller.
On the iPad, the AR glasses rely on a direct wired connection. This means there are little to no visual hiccups or stutters. The Apple silicon shows its true colors and easily handles graphics-intensive games – especially those in the Apple Arcade library.
It is also worth noting that in wired connection mode with the iPad, the Bluetooth path is free. This means you can connect a wireless headset and a game controller at the same time.
The computer divide
One of the biggest promises that every XR brand sells is the idea of more immersive computing. Imagine seeing floating desks around your head, kind of like in a sci-fi movie. Xreal offers Nebula, a software that surrounds you with three floating desktops. RayNeo also offers the facility, but allows you to run up to six virtual windows.
On the mobile side, you don’t get that pizzazz. One could argue that tablets are not real computers, so they don’t need such demanding tools. But that is only true to a certain extent. If you ask me, I’d say “disagree”.
For the past two years, the iPad Pro and Samsung Galaxy Tab S devices have served as my primary computing workhorse. Yes, there are limitations, but it never hurts to have a hidden PC-like system on a tablet.
Apple offers just that with Stage Manager. Samsung serves you DeX. I have used both extensively. In fact, DeX on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 drove a full 144Hz display for two weeks of full-fledged work.
But DeX is more baked into the mobile experience, while Stage Manager on the iPad feels more mature and much closer to macOS than DeX is to Windows. Then there’s the matter of ecosystem advantages, with Apple ahead of the Samsung-Windows tie-up.
Aside from Samsung tablets, you don’t get a DeX-like computing benefit on any Android tablet out there. And the situation will not change anytime soon for several reasons. Can a mid-range Qualcomm or MediaTek processor handle something like Stage Manager, but built on top of Android foundations?
Probably not. Just look at Apple. The company limited Stage Manager to iPads with desktop-class M processors inside, not those with mobile-tier Bionic A-series processors. On the software front, Apple continues to make slow but steady progress with iPadOS toward a more PC-friendly future by bringing pro-grade apps to iPads.
The good, bad and ugly of AR and ecosystems
You might think that AR glasses aren’t just here to mirror the screen of your phone or tablet close to your eyes – and I absolutely agree with that argument. In fact, the lack of direct support for iPadOS seriously puts Apple on the back foot when it comes to AR hardware. But even with full-fledged compatibility in tow, Android doesn’t fare much better.
On the RayNeo Air 2, AR experiences are mostly limited to pre-recorded surround videos, immersive versions of famous paintings, 3D artwork, and a dozen or so extremely basic games that are completely hit-or-miss. The situation on the Xreal Air 2 is worse.
There simply aren’t many mobile-focused apps out there that can deliver a one-of-a-kind augmented reality experience on the mobile ecosystem, be it Android or iOS/iPadOS. That leaves these glasses as nothing more than portable secondary monitors.
But by 2024, with the arrival of Vision Pro, developers will pour tons of apps into Apple’s ecosystem. And with the kind of integrations that Apple has already started building the foundation for, it won’t be surprising to see more AR apps coming to the App Store.
Overall, from a purely tablet perspective, Apple is in a much better position than Android to handle AR glasses. Moreover, with a long-awaited entry into the world of AR and VR planned for 2024, the industry will only shift more in the direction of Apple’s hardware.
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