Augmented Reality Will Change Your Life
Augmented Reality (AR) has the potential to change our lives as dramatically as the smart phone, and because of this, every major consumer technology company is developing AR tech and vying for the AR crown.
AR is often Misunderstood
There has been a great deal of confusion between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
- Virtual Reality shuts out the physical world. It tricks your senses into believing you are somewhere else. VR received a lot of attention in 2016 with several major product releases. It is being used primarily for gaming and niche corporate needs.
- Augmented Reality overlays digital information on top of the physical world, allowing you to seamlessly interact with what's around you. Because augmented reality doesn't shut out the world around you, it has the potential to be used all day, every day for work and play.
The term "Augmented Reality" is used to describe two separate things that have widely different implications, and this leads to misunderstandings about its potential value.
- Phone-based augmented reality is already available. It's when an app leverages the phone camera and screen to display digital objects over what's physically in front of you. Pokémon Go is the most widely used example of this. It's interesting technology and useful in certain circumstances, but it's probably not going to be life changing.
- Glasses-based augmented reality on the other hand may launch a massive shift in personal computing. Benedict Evans put it this way, "AR-as-glasses is potentially the next multitouch."
How AR will Change Your Life
This is a lot like the early days of the smart phone. There are a handful of useful application of AR tech that can be easily imagined, but once AR wearables are being sold at scale, new tools will be created that aren't obvious now.
Seamless Contextual Information
- Never forget a name again. Once you've met a person, their contact info will be available right by their head. I'm sure this will tie into social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn as well as your personal contact list.
- Is it cheaper on Amazon? I'll be incredibly surprised if Amazon doesn't apply visual search tech (that's already available in the Pinterest app) to AR glasses. As you walk through a store, Amazon (or Google or some other company) will be able to show you the same or similar items for sale elsewhere, making it a breeze to compare prices.
- What you need to know, when you need to know it. As artificial intelligence tools like Google Now improve and are applied to AR glasses, relevant information will be displayed as you need it—when to leave for your next meeting, traffic and weather info as you get ready for the day, nearby restaurants at lunch time and more.
Real Time Translation
When visiting another country or just walking through Chinatown, AR glasses will be able to translate signs in real time. This is already available in the Google Translate app, but imagine how much more useful this would be if you don't have to pull out your phone and open an app. Constant realtime translation will seriously simplify international travel, and this will only get better with time.
Fun and Games
Games will come to AR in droves. A developer recently ported part of the popular game, Portal, to Microsoft's HoloLens. You'll notice the box follows the laws of physics. The HoloLens knows the stairs are there, so the box bounces down them as if it were in the real world.
Five Requirements for Successful Consumer AR Glasses
I believe there are five requirements for AR Glasses to be successfully sold at scale to everyday consumers (not just geeks).
- Clear Use Cases. Successful AR glasses will need to launch with clear, valuable use cases. Much like Steve Jobs did when announcing the first iPhone—"a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device."
- Smaller Size. The HoloLens is way too big to be worn by normal people. AR-glasses will need to shrink to the approximate size and weight of a pair of regular glasses before they gain mainstream appeal.
- Variety. For consumers to wear this type of tech on their faces, there will need to be great variety in available styles. I wouldn't be surprised if companies partner up with manufacturers of traditional glasses, like Luxottica, to make this possible. AR glasses will also need to account for corrective lenses needed by so many. This is another reason partnerships with traditional glasses companies are quite likely to take place.
- Developer Community. Apart from the handful of features that successful AR glasses ship with, they'll need a thriving developer community to create a wide variety of software and meet the needs of countless market segments.
- Cultural Acceptance. For AR glasses to truly take off, they'll need to be seen as cool. Geeks will wear them whether or not they're culturally accepted, but the vast majority of consumers will not buy a product and wear it on their face if it is not.
Who will be Major Players in AR?
Our phones have already begun to be used for AR, but the real magic of AR seems to be its wedding with wearable tech. Glasses-based AR isn't available in any major consumer products at the moment, but we do have an idea of who the major players will probably be.
Microsoft already has the HoloLens (a pair of AR goggles) for sale on their website, but the HoloLens is not a consumer product at this point. The device is branded as the "Development Edition" and starts at $3,000. Microsoft hopes that having the technology available for developers now will lead to a better software ecosystem when the consumer version becomes available.
Magic Leap is by far the most-hyped AR startup. They've raised $1.39 billion in funding, and for a few years they were the darling of the tech press. But in recent months, with no product announcement in site, the company's supposedly bright prospects have come under much scrutiny.
Tim cook said of AR in a recent interview with The Independent:
"I regard it as a big idea, like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don't have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives. And be entertaining."
With a quote like that, Apple must have some sort of AR product in the pipeline. It may not be this year or next, but something is on its way.
Google's Project Tango is a platform for developing AR software for Android phones, but AR-software built with Tango could be used by AR glasses as well. This is Google's attempt to do what Microsoft is doing with HoloLens Development Edition—nurture a development community to prepare for when devices are available.
Facebook owns one of the leading virtual reality companies, Oculus, but Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that they hope to enter the AR-market as well.
In an interview with the Verge about the future of Facebook, Zuckerberg said, "[With] AR, there’s still more science questions that need to be worked out, and I’m optimistic that we’ll have the answers to that pretty soon."
Many believe Snap has the best chance of creating some sort of wearable AR device that millennials will be willing to wear. Snap has taken a step in that direction with Spectacles. Although Spectacles have no AR functionality, they show Snap's ability to think outside the box, excite millennials and produce a pair of "smart glasses" that consumers want to buy and wear.
There is incredible potential in AR. I expect it to be part of my everyday life very soon, and I'm excited to see how quickly it will become commonplace for the average consumer.
Header image from Unsplash.