Spatial raises $14M more for a holographic 3D workspace app, a VR/AR version of Zoom or Hangouts

The worlds of virtual and augmented reality have yet to land on the applications and hardware to truly spark mass-market, consumer interest in the space, but in the meantime, a startup building mixed reality services for business users has raised a round of funding, underscoring the opportunity in enterprise.

Spatial, which has developed a “holographic” collaboration platform that people use to speak and work together in virtual rooms through the use of strikingly effective avatars — think of a supercharged, virtual reality version of Zoom or a Google Hangout — is today announcing that it has raised $14 million, a Series A that it will be using to continue building out the functionality of its application and its interoperability with a wider range of hardware, as well as to start looking at how it can turn its tech into a platform that could be used by others, for example by way of an SDK.

The funding is being led by White Star Capital, iNovia and Kakao Ventures, with participation from Baidu and individual investors, Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger and Zynga’s Mark Pincus, also participating. Together with Spatial’s last round, $8 million in October 2018, the company has now raised $22 million. It’s not disclosing valuation at this stage, Anand Agarawala, the CEO who co-founded the company with Jinha Lee (CPO), said in an interview.

Other investors include Expa, Lerer Hippeau, Leaders Fund, Samsung NEXT and Andy Hertzfeld (of Macintosh fame).

Spatial’s funding comes at a time when VR and AR startups have certainly seen their share of funding (Magic Leap alone has raised over $3 billion), high valuations, some extremely notable exits, and definitely the release of a number of head sets and apps — but at the end of the day, it’s estimated that there were only 6 million VR headsets sold last year, speaking to how the space has remained niche at best.

Niche in consumer, however, can speak to major opportunity in enterprise, and that is where Spatial is operating, with technology that it has built to be interoperable with any headset or AR glasses — currently including Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus Quest, Magic Leap One, Qualcomm XR2 or an Android/iPhone mobile device — or even a basic PC, if that’s all a person has to use, to let companies build out what might best be described as videoconferencing on steroids: placing people into virtual rooms where they can speak to each other, or look at and manipulate holographic models together, and more.

Spatial itself has seen its business take off in the last year, Agarawala said, with inbound interest from 25% of the Fortune 1,000 bracket of businesses, and its first publicly-named customers, which include very non-tech names like Mattel, Purina/Nestle and BNP Paribas. That in itself is also a sign of how immersive, three-dimensional media is possibly, finally approaching a breakout moment.

That will also be buffered by a raft of new hardware, Agarawala said. He declined to say which companies are likely to roll out new devices but as a developer of key services that spur purchasing, Spatial gets a heads-up (no pun intended) on what is coming around the corner, and Agarawala said the picture is bright and that we might finally be exiting what he described as a “VR winter”.

“It feels like the industry is accelerating this year,” he said. “The industry is firing up 5G and that will also be a big push.” He also pointed out the development over at Amazon, where last month the company announced AWS Wavelength for ultra-low latency 5G computing at the edge, something that will have a direct impact on using and building the next generation of AR and VR headgear.

Given its position with developers, if Amazon is getting into the mix, you know something is up, he added.

The idea of taking what Spatial has built to produce its own applications for customers, and turning that into a platform that others could use, too, is something that the company had always planned to do — platforms are front and centre in Agarawala’s mind, given his pedigree of years working at Google, which acquired his previous startup, BumpTop, in 2010. But that too appears to be getting bumped up, so to speak, because of the positive outlook. 

“We have always wanted to open up our platform to let others build applications on our framework, using our avatars, leveraging our cross-platform nature, finding new applications for our hand gestures,” Agarawala said. “We wanted to open that up, but we thought that it would be years out before we did, since it doesn’t make sense for an AR/VR platform to do something like that until there is actual market demand. But there has been so much heat that we might consider doing it this year.”

Krieger’s interest in Spatial comes in the context of him investing in a number of other work-focused collaboration platforms, including Loom, Figma, and Pitch, and that’s key to what makes Spatial interesting: it’s not just tapping the VR/AR space but another very interesting area that has seen a lot of growth with the rapid rise of products like Slack, and will continue to evolve.

“Spatial’s mixed-reality solution will be a key part of the future of work,” said Krieger in a statement. “They’re taking us beyond everyday tools like Zoom and Slack and pointing the way towards what conferencing and collaboration can be like if they were invented today and I’m excited to support the journey.”

To see more on how it works, here’s a little video I did with Spatial earlier this month during CES.

Chinese firms rush to bring 5G smartphones to India

India is unlikely to have any substantial coverage of 5G until at least the end of next year, with telecom operators in the country yet to participate in a spectrum auction. But that hasn’t stopped Chinese vendors Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi from bringing 5G-enabled smartphones to the world’s second largest handset market.

Xiaomi, Vivo’s sub-brand iQoo and Oppo’s sub-brand Realme have all moved in tandem to unveil their 5G smartphones in the last week. While Xiaomi, which has been the top handset vendor in India for more than two years, only showcased its recently unveiled 5G-enabled MiMix Alpha smartphone at several of its physical stores in the country, the other two companies have moved to launch new phones.

Vivo, India’s second largest phone vendor, launched the iQoo 3, which features a 6.44-inch display with screen resolution of 1080 x 2400 pixels, 4,440 mAh battery (with support for 55W fast charging ), and runs Android 10. It is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, coupled with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage. It sports four rear cameras — 48MP main shooter, 13MP telephoto, 13MP ultra-wide and 2MP depth-sensor — and a 16MP selfie sensor.

The phone’s prices start at 36,990 Indian rupees ($515), which goes up to 44,990 ($627) Indian rupees for variants with additional storage and memory.

Realme, which is giving the top phone makers a run for their money in India, launched the X50 Pro 5G that features a 6.44-inch display of screen resolution and 1080 x 2400 pixels with support for 90Hz refresh rate. It is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoC, coupled with 12GB of RAM and a 4,200 mAh battery with 65W Super Dart charging support.

On the photography front, it houses a 65MP primary shooter, 8MP ultra-wide sensor, 12MP telephoto shooter and a 2MP portrait sensor. On the front is a setup of duo-selfie sensors of 32MP and 8MP.

The Realme X50 Pro 5G is priced at 37,999 Indian rupees ($530), which goes as high as 44,999 Indian rupees ($627) for variants with additional storage and memory.

Executives at the companies said that the rationale behind launching a 5G phone so ahead of time was to offer future-proof devices. Additionally, Qualcomm also requires phone vendors to use X55 5G modem if they want to use its flagship Snapdragon 865 SoC.

An executive with Poco, which recently spun out of Xiaomi, also chimed in: