Creative Developers Will Determine the Winners of the AR Wearable War.
The recent explosion in Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality glasses (which to spare my RSI I’ll from now on refer to as altered reality) has seen almost a device a week appearing. The speed of development and announcements will no doubt see the next wave of patent disputes in a few months time, potentially dwarfing the traditional mobile technology spats.
For now the focus is on the potential of the hardware and which of the competing devices is going to emerge as the market leader.
We will quickly see that the true battleground for the future of altered reality is software and content. The Google Glass hardware was impressive at what it did but most developers, us included, struggled to think of a true killer app.
The hardware just wasn’t built with the software developer in mind and those that did exploit it to the full found themselves with some substantial hurdles to overcome.
Just as we saw in the 32 and 64 bit console generations, uptake of the hardware is going to be driven by the available software. This in turn will be driven by installed user base and ease of development for each platform.
At this point we split into 2 market segments. Fixed (i.e. tied to a PC or Mac) and mobile – typically Android although you can strap an Unofficial Cardboard to your face if you want VR on iOS. The content and development process for each segment is going to be quite different.
Mobile Altered Reality
At present mobile wearables face three large problems: battery life, device fragmentation and relevance.
This is pretty self explanatory – you can currently run Sony’s Augmented Reality glasses for 80 – 150 minutes between charges. They are working on improved battery technology and a solution may come from a different source entirely but for now it’s a concerning limitation. Epson’s Moverio BT-200 for example is a standalone unit and can run for 6 hours between charges.
Depending on the Android device you’ll be using the capabilities of the device can vary hugely. Developers and publishers will have a real testing headache if they’re going to support multiple Android powered AR glasses.
In the comfort of our own homes we don’t worry so much about new tech robbing us of a little dignity. The Wii balance board and Kinect proved that pretty conclusively.
While you might don the Meta glasses, Oculus Rift or Microsoft’s Hololens to experience an altered reality game or experience while attached to your PC you’re not going to be leaving the house with them on. Especially Oculus. Even if the front mounted camera arrives as standard you’ll have the peripheral vision of a Dalek.
It’s going to take the deadliest of killer apps to convince people to wear the current or even the next generation of mobile Augmented Reality glasses on a daily basis. Currently it’s simply not on the horizon, especially when you can have a virtually identical experience using your smartphone.
Altered Reality in Computing
For content creators like ourselves this is where glasses are going to find their niche at least initially. With the raw power of even a moderate specification of PC we can achieve things far in advance of what’s possible with their mobile equivalents. Add to this the availability of powerful and flexible game engines like UE4 & Unity along with various third party peripherals and controllers and suddenly the sky is the limit.
It may be on a home PC or as part of a curated experience such as training or an experiential. In a more controlled environment, with more processing power and a stable internet connection, the examples shown by Microsoft for their Hololens are just the beginning. As the burst of creativity following the release of the Oculus dev kit has shown, when you give developers access to the hardware they will take it in exciting and unexpected directions.