Are Glasses Needed for AR and Mixed Reality to take off?

Three very exciting new technologies on the horizon have much of the tech world buzzing about, and billions of dollars are being invested into this new area of tech.

The first technology that hit the scene about two years ago was VR or Virtual Reality when Oculus Rift introduced their VR Glasses at CES in 2015. This product was the big hit of that CES, and shortly after, Facebook bought Oculus For $2 Billion.

Shortly after, after that Microsoft introduced their HoloLen’s project. It was entirely different from Oculus Rift’s VR version in which you are enclosed in virtual worlds; whereas Microsoft’s glasses or goggles allowed you to see through the lenses and superimpose virtual images and objects onto any scene and called it Augmented Reality or AR.
Since then another termor third technology has come into the tech lexicon called Mixed-Reality that tries to bridge the gap between VR and AR and tie the VR and AR worlds together.

Most people got a glimpse of AR, with its virtual objects displayed on a smartphone, when Niantic introduced their Pokemon Go game to the world. This game allowed people to place virtual objects on any object or scene they are viewing as part of the game and made AR a household name.

Since then Apple has created a robust AR platform through its AR kit, and hundreds of AR apps are already available on iPhones and iPads. Google has also jumped into the AR game with ARCore, their AR developer tools for Android that lets Android developers create AR apps for the Android smartphone platform. But in both of their cases, these AR apps are all delivered to a smartphone or tablet. The big question in Silicon Valley these days is whether AR will ever gain a broad audience if it is only used on a smartphone, or will select AR or mixed reality glasses be a more natural way for people to view and interact with AR and mixed reality applications in the future?

At the recent Wall Street Journal Conference, John Hanke, chief executive of Niantic Inc. discussed the success of their Pokemon Go AR app and made a crucial prediction.

Speaking about glasses:

“He said he thought it would take “probably in the order of five years” before the technology is mainstream. Augmented reality technology debuted on the smartphone, Mr. Hanke said, “because you build it for the platform that exists.” AR will reach “full fruition when we get to the glasses,” Mr. Hanke said. With glasses, the potential for AR “is immense because it can be woven into your daily life.”

Over my 35 years in Silicon Valley I have learned that when pioneers of a technology weigh in on a subject, they are involved with, it is best to listen to what they say. Mr. Hanke is a pioneer in AR, and since millions of people have played Pokemon Go, he has the kind of knowledge and experience to predict where AR is headed. As he states in the WSJ article, he created Pokemon Go for the platform that was already there, in this case, the smartphone. But he does not believe AR or mixed reality will reach its real potential without some AR or mixed reality glasses or goggles.

On the other hand, Apple’s Tim Cook is over the moon with AR for the iPhone. In multiple interviews, he has stated his excitement for AR and believes AR is a game changer for the iPhone and has committed to working closely with developers to create the most innovative AR apps possible using AR Kit for IOS.

Google seems to be equally excited about AR on Android smartphones although they have not been as vocal as Tim Cook has been about AR on the iPhone. The good news is that AR on a smartphone or tablet will become an essential step in getting people very familiar with the concept of AR and mixed reality and I believe it will play a prominent role in making AR glasses or goggles more acceptable once they do hit the market.

If Apple or Google had tried to push AR or mixed reality into the mainstream via glasses today, they would be a flop. Just look at the disaster Google had with their Google Glasses project a few years back, and you can see why glasses even today would be a hard sell. Getting people used to AR apps on smartphones and tablets will start the ball rolling. Once the technology is ready to create AR glasses that would work and be stylish and easily integrated into our daily lifestyles in 4 or 5 years as Mr. Hanke predicts, then glasses become the preferred way to work with and interact with AR or mixed reality apps in the future.

For their part, Apple, Google, Microsoft and many others are doing much R &D around AR, and mixed reality glasses that would be acceptable to mainstream users and all have filed multiple patents on various glasses designs already. But as Mr. Hanke of Niantic says, it could be at least another five years before the technology is here to make the kind of glasses that will bring AR to the masses in a more personal and interactive way.

I am excited about AR on smartphones but agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Hanke of Niantic that it will take some AR glasses or goggles to fulfill the promise of AR and mixed reality for the mass market. In the meantime, we should get some stunning AR apps for use on smartphones and tablets, but keep in mind that these are essential stepping stones that will eventually need AR glasses for AR and mixed reality to ever reach its full potential.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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