Choosing your AR wearable — do’s and don’ts

More and more tech companies are joining the race to develop a pair of AR glasses. With every newly announced device, there are new overview lists trying to point out “the best” device on the market, based on a comparison of the hardware features like the pixel resolution, the Field of View (FOV), the battery life and last but not least the form factor.

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But as an end user or potential buyer, you just want to know the answer to the question: what’s the right device for me? To help provide that insight, this list of do’s and don’ts focusses on the hardware specs in relation to actual use-cases.

As the graphic below shows there are several different trade-offs along various axis, and these become relevant depending on the context the AR wearable is going to be used. Is budget a relevant factor? Or is the comfort or the way it looks the highest priority? The latter might be irrelevant when your employer decides for you what you’ll wear.

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Below are the most relevant types of devices currently on the market. Not described in minutious detail, but with a focus on some of their characteristics that will make them useful or not useful for a specific purpose.

North Focals smartglasses

DON’T expect the usual AR functionality on a device like this, smartglasses do not have a camera. The HUD (heads up display) shows notifications from you phone and information based on your location and context.

DO wear these when you don’t want to offend people pointing an AR camera at them at all times.

Google Glass 2.0

DO wear this when you can do with just a tiny screen of information and don’t need 3D augmented reality. Look for the old Google Glass if you don’t want to experience the world through the frame of a pair of (protective) lenses.

DON’T buy these when you’re a “consumer” except when you want to have a productive life. The software for this 2.0 device is fore mostly enterprise focussed, helping workers to be more efficient.

Apple AR glasses

DON’T expect a miracle. Beware that the rumors about ‘the’ Apple AR wearable are actually about two seperate devices. There is not going to be one device that will solve all of the challenges with AR glasses. Expect a clustering of features and characteristics across two different devices. A high performance device with stable 3D tracking and a light weight model that will excell in being light weight.

DO expect Apple to be the company that will succeed in creating an AR wearable that does look good enough to wear it throughout the day. But will they also succeed in convincing the general public that the camera in the device can be trusted?

Nreal

DO order these if you don’t have the patience to wait for Apple. These are presented as the first pair that actually looks like “glasses”. Unfortunately, the stability of the holograms does not compare to the hi-end models on the market. But neither does the price.

DON’T buy these when you’re already wearing prescription glasses, they don’t fit. You’ll have to put away your own pair of glasses and attach some additional lenses from a box with a variety of plus and minus insets.

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Magic Leap

DO buy the Magic Leap if you want the best device to experience immersive mixed reality. Experts say it’s better than the Hololens 2, even though they both have exactly the same FOV now. Ironically, the thick frame of the Magic Leap device limits your pheriperal vision, so that means that a bigger percentage of the view that’s left is covered with pixels.

DON’T choose this device if you want to keep your hands free to do other things. It needs to be operated with a controller because the gesture tracking isn’t as good as the hand and finger tracking of the Hololens.

Hololens

DO choose the Hololens if you intend to use the device extensively during work. The flippable visor is great, it is a hassle free way to switch between using AR and looking around in the physical space with your own eyes.

DON’T expect an immersive experience. The screenrecordings on youtube depict a world that’s fully augmented, so when first using the Hololens the small FOV feels like a deception.

Inferior Hololens clones

DON’T try to save some money (and still spend a lot) and end up with an inbetween device, of you are intending to use it for real. The tracking of these devices isn’t good enough, so trying to use them for sophisticated AR use-cases is going to be frustrating. Besides looking like a Hololens, a device like the Lenovo AR wearable is said to be a disaster to wear.

DO buy this when you’re not willing to spend the high price for hi-end equipment, but if you do want to experiment with a device that does some kind of 3D tracking of your physical space. If you’re planning to use it just for short demo sessions, it’ll be fine.

DIY / smartphone based AR glasses

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DON’T buy a smartphone powered AR unit and say that there’s no need to buy expensive AR wearables. And please don’t let other people judge the usefulness and value of augmented reality based on these gimmicky products.

DO try to create your own wearable if you want to go for the cheaptest option. But make a real DIY one youself! And feel as excited about it as the pioneers did back in 1990!

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Summary

To decide if there’s an AR wearable that suits your need, it’s important to find out if it does what it is expected to do, but also if it refrains from doing what we do not want the thing to do. A device can be equipped with a camera, but how does the device and the software handle the processing of what’s recorded? Is the hardware supplier clear about that, and in control of the software on the device? Upcoming models might have sophisticated hardware that will adjust the lens automatically, so holograms can even appear outdoors on a sunny day. But if the general public doesn’t trust these camera devices, then usage in public space will be limited.

The sophisticated tracking of both your hand gestures and the 3D environment requires hardware components that take up space in the device. So the bulkyness versus functionality trade off is only applicable when you actually need the 3D sensor feature. One single tiny camera can be sufficient to do vision based AR. And if you’re expecting that you won’t be using AR multiple times a day, why not choose camera-free smartglasses instead? (And don’t be bothered by people that will explain you you’re not wearing ‘real’ AR glasses but a ‘3DOF information device’ instead).

So to find “the best” device for you, start with think about your own intended use, then decide which are the features you actually need and then choose the device that suits you. (Or decide that the device you want/need does not exist yet)

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