SHANGHAI — Nreal, a Chinese company making glasses for so-called augmented reality experiences, is looking to go public within five years, its CEO told CNBC.

“We’re thinking this is really a major tech market and really looking forward to what’s going to happen in the next 10 to 15 years. Very exciting – I think its more like ’06, ’07 of the smartphone business,” Chi Xu, CEO of Nreal said.

“We see a lot of good opportunities and, definitely, we’re thinking the market size is going to be massive. And we have this opportunity and we want to take this to the final end.”

He said an initial public offering could come in “less than 5 years.”

The company’s flagship product is a pair of lightweight glasses called Nreal Light, which has been released in a handful of markets including South Korea and Japan. Nreal says its glasses allow users to experience “mixed reality” where digital images are superimposed over the real world.

The Nreal Light connects to a smartphone. One of the immediate uses frees people from being tied to their small smartphone screens.

“Whatever you’re displaying in the cellphone screen in front of you, you put that in front of your face, into a massive screen, and that can be 3D, that can be ultra-high definition,” Xu said.

An attendee tries a pair of Nreal mixed-reality glasses at the MWC Shanghai exhibition in Shanghai, China, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Nreal’s ambitions pit it against technology giants that see a bright future in augmented reality. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called AR the “next big thing” and the iPhone giant is reportedly working on a headset. Facebook, Microsoft, Google and other technology companies are all investing in AR.

But current headsets on the market are expensive and often bulky. Nreal is hoping its portable nature will appeal to consumers. The price varies by market depending on how it is distributed. For example, in Japan the headset costs around $700. But in South Korea, the device can be purchased through a telecom operator’s plan which subsidizes the headset to around $300.

Business model

Nreal has a platform for developers to create apps for the headset’s operating system called Nebula.

“It’s very similar to what Apple has been doing for smartphone,” Xu said. “We offer a platform where people use that for different kinds of experiences and developers — they can deploy, they can develop different content onto the field.”

Apple not only makes money from sales of its iPhones and other hardware but it also gets revenue from commissions off its App Store.

Nreal has some notable backers. Kuaishou, the short-video platform in China and iQiyi, a video streaming service, are among the company’s investors. Xu said Nreal would be working with both Kuaishou and iQiyi.

“As we mentioned, not only are we going to provide the hardware. We want to bundle different services with the glasses. So take video for example, whether it’s a long video or short video. We’re thinking glasses are a much better terminal to experience the video in,” the CEO said.

“So that’s why we’ll be working with those giants, really working on the new interface.”

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