VR, AR and Mixed Reality will work because of magic. True Story.
In recent years, since the rise of Oculus Rift, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality were full of promises. Many devices were unveiled in 2016, among them the Hololens, or Sony PlayStation Headset. There was a lot of talk about exciting new content providing unique immersive experiences to a public expecting a revolution.
But then reality stroke …
And 2017 starts with a bit of deception. Even if Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality do exist, glasses sales are underperforming. It’s neither a matter of technology with the accessibility of powerful components. Nor a matter of content with the increasing number of applications. This content creations is led by the video game industry and movies. It is all about user experience.
Both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality head-mounted devices are often bulky, heavy and not comfortable. Especially if you need to carry a battery on your back. The whole user experience is not perfect yet. It’s kind of like Smartphones pre-2007 and pre-iPhone. The tactile still suck, if you know what I mean.
But more than anything, glasses isolate yourself and all those experiences are personal. They don’t allow you to really share with colleagues at work or family members at home. Only specific and expensive professional systems do. Finally the experience is truly immersive but rarely favor collaboration or exchanges. You have to stay in your own (often buggy) bubble.
Going back to the roots of why we want Mixed Reality to happen
To get a better understanding of the hype around AR, VR and Mixed Reality, we need to look at the origin of the “need”. It is not just about 3D, immersion, hyped experiences, etc. It is about something much deeper. The hype comes from the fact that we all want to believe in Magic.
Who has never dreamt of entering a magic world, a virtual world, a different space and time? Who has never dreamt to live the story from a book, a movie or a game? Virtual Reality answers this inner wish that we all share of projecting ourselves inside a different reality where rules can be different. You can access a Magic World. Yes of course, that means attending Hogwarts, but the magic doesn’t stop there. Magic means that you don’t have to answer to the laws of physics. You can actually see XVIII Century Paris, walk in your undies on top of Mount Everest, or casually take a walk on Pluto. You can be where you can’t be, in real life. The only limit is the content accessible. Who would say no to that?
On the other hand, Augmented Reality answers another dream of us. During your childhood, while you were playing you were inventing a world bigger than your toys. Your were changing your own reality. Your teddy bear was actually alive. There were something in that tiny plastic plate. And this RC car was actually chased by the cops or in a race. Kids see more than the objects they have in their hands. They augment them with the power of imagination. That is exactly the promise of AR. Adding a layer of digital content on top of Reality allowing you to expect more from day to day objects. What if your kitchen counter was actually showing you the recipe, what if your mug was displaying the weather, what if your furniture or your walls were able to give you the information you want and what if you could see the missing part in that plane model you are building?
AR is a different kind of Magic, it is the day to day magic we want in anyplace at anytime. AR is our front door reminding us to take an umbrella. It is useful magic we want when we need it, and that we almost forget when we don’t.
This inner desire to experience magic is why VR, AR and Mixed Reality went through so much hype recently. Of course, today, we see the ropes and tricks behind the magic, because the experience is not perfect yet. And we are a bit disappointed. This is the biggest barrier to consumer adoption. It’s like seeing the rabbit at the beginning of the show.
But wait until it flies…
What’s next ?
Now that we have establish why we want these new experiences, the big question is : “how do we get to what we want in terms of magic?”
Glasses and VR Headset are the big trend, and the main direction today. But they are not yet the seamless devices we hope them to be at some point. They are also individualistic. How do we share the magical experience with other? And will that mean we must all have the same brand of glasses?
There are alternatives. And as always, Sci-Fi is a great source of inspiration. Recent Marvel movies have been prolific on the UX / crazy display side. And most of them envision a world where digital content exist outside of the screen barrier.
Using projections and existing screens may be a right path through Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality. Just look at the success of the interactive boards or Pokemon Go last summer. The promise may not be as « Wow effect » as Hololens but it works and at a reasonable price. Applications already exist and many more are coming. Soon, it will not just be about touching a surface with your finger or a stylus. You will be able to interact anywhere and digitalized objects. Or write with a real pen. All this while being able to keep sharing with people. A foot in reality and the other in digital life getting the best of the two worlds.
The global enthusiasm around VR, AR and Mixed Reality might be on the down path after 3 years of absolute craziness, but it will happen one way or another. It will happen because it is not about the technology. It is about our wish to believe in Magic. When we won’t be able to see the wires and the illusion behind the experience, then only, we will enjoy a world where the law of physics are a boring old limitation for people lacking imagination. Again, it is all about Magic.