As Re/code’s Ina Fried wrote yesterday, Qualcomm is thinking about spinning off or selling its augmented reality platform, Vuforia.
That would be a big deal for the nascent community of software developers making applications for AR, which is expected to grow to a $120 billion market by 2020. In May, Apple bought Vuforia’s biggest competition, Metaio, shutting down the public face of the company and bringing its team in-house. Vuforia now claims to have more than 175,000 developers registered on its platform.
Those developers make apps for mobile devices, such as tablets and phones, that let virtual objects and real ones share space. While augmented reality is still a niche technology, Vuforia has made some inroads, mainly in interactive advertising.
McDonald’s, for example, used the technology to turn its french fry boxes into soccer goals at the last World Cup.
According to several executives working in augmented reality, if Qualcomm is going to sell Vuforia to another company (and not spin it out into an independent entity as it did with Gimbal), the best home for Vuforia would be Google.
Other possible acquirers active in the AR space include Intel, which has a computer vision platform called RealSense; HP, which runs an AR platform slightly smaller than Vuforia called Aurasma; or Microsoft, which is exploring how Windows 10 might support augmented reality — and its close cousin, mixed reality — via the upcoming HoloLens glasses.
But advancing augmented reality to capture that $120 billion forecast will require a company that knows how to manage and monetize an increasingly complex mobile app ecosystem, and the hardware needed to support those apps.
That might be Apple, but it’s something Google has proven it can do. In addition, Google has the market clout of Android and the technical expertise of initiatives like Project Tango and Google Glass, the latter of which is said to be getting an overhaul behind closed doors under the leadership of Nest CEO Tony Fadell.
Microsoft might also fall into that pack, but it seems focused specifically on the HoloLens smart glasses, rather than more general use cases of AR running from a tablet or phone. Intel and HP’s AR initiatives, meanwhile, have been driven by partnerships (including, in Intel’s case, with companies like Google), so it might be tough for them to pick up the Vuforia ball and run it much farther than Qualcomm was able to.
In addition, Vuforia might benefit from being part of Google or another company that supports Android and iOS, as its technology works with both.
That’s what we know right now. What we don’t know is how far along Qualcomm’s Vuforia talks are, or whether Google necessarily wants to be on the front lines of an unproven technology like AR, rather than waiting to let someone else find the pitfalls first.
A Qualcomm representative declined to comment. A Google representative did not respond to a request for comment.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.