Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

China’s Tencent, Lenovo Buy Into U.S. Augmented Reality Startup

  • They join Horizon, Comcast in Meta’s $50 million funding round
  • California startup will use the money to develop a new headset

Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Lenovo Group Ltd. have joined a $50 million round of funding for Silicon Valley augmented-reality startup Meta, as China’s largest technology corporations expand their investments into the burgeoning field.

The money will bankroll a more advanced version of Meta’s AR headset that won’t require a PC for use, Chief Executive Officer Meron Gribetz said. Other investors in the Series B round include Horizons Ventures Ltd., Banyan Capital, and Comcast Ventures, the venture arm of Comcast Corp. Backed by Hong Kong’s richest person, Horizons Ventures led the company’s $23 million Series A funding last year.

Founded in 2012, the startup is a bit player relative to the likes of Microsoft Corp. in the growing field of augmented reality, which superimposes digital images atop the physical world. Its device allows users to control 3D content with their hands. Its latest headset, the Meta 2, requires a PC for power so users are tethered to a computer.

“China’s going to be a very fast-growing market for augmented reality,” Gribetz said. “There’s a huge aptitude and appetite for our technologies in Asia, and we’re playing ahead, trying to make it a more central part of our strategy.”

As sales of desktops and smartphones slow, many of the tech industry’s biggest names are pouring resources into virtual reality, a market that’s projected to reach $80 billion within the next decade. Gribetz said he expects augmented reality headsets to begin replacing PCs and smartphones within the next five years.

China’s largest Internet companies are similarly jockeying for position. Baidu Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent are seeding dozens of startups and opening their platforms to developers, hoping to become hubs for future virtual and augmented reality software and content. 

And Lenovo, the world’s biggest personal computer maker, is turning toward new technologies to try and offset a struggling PC market. Last week, it unveiled a phone that uses Google Inc.’s Tango technology to host augmented reality applications.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.