Augmented Reality is at an inflection point.
Researchers are predicting it will be a 150 billion dollar industry by 2020. Publications are calling the phone dead. Even Apple is starting to move on.
AR is poised to disrupt both desktop & mobile computing — and when it does the world will look like a very different place.
This article will get you prepared for that world.
2d to 3d Computing
Between Microsoft’s updates on Hololens, and the announcements of Facebook Camera Effects, Google Lens, and Apple’s ARKit, this past two months represents an extremely important shift in the history of human computer interaction.
Recent advancements in virtual reality have begun the transition of entertainment (film & video games) to three dimensions, and soon AR will begin influencing every other way we interact with computers.
The key takeaway for understanding the shift towards VR & AR is their collective push towards enabling people to engage more naturally with computers — by simply looking, gesturing, conversing, and being — as opposed to dealing with interfering and unnatural interfaces like mice, keyboards, and flat screens.
Less interference means more immersion. And more immersion means more humanity, empathy, and potential for transformation in our experience — both relating to computers, and to each-other.
A Brief and Recent History of AR
Ivan Sutherland developed the first head-mounted display system in 1968 to show users simple wireframes.
More innovation followed, but it wasn’t until 45 years later, in 2013 that the world would get its first big look at AR: Google Glass.
Glass failed miserably as a consumer product, due to its hefty price-tag, lack of functionality, and ability to make even the world’s most beautiful people look like otherworldly beings .
In September 2015, Snapchat quietly launched Lenses, bringing AR to the mainstream by making us barf rainbows and turn into puppies — and we’ve been delightfully augmented out faces ever since.
Despite the broad adoption and appeal of Lenses, many people did not pickup on Snapchat being an AR product. It wasn’t until the launch of Pokemon Go in 2016 that AR became front and centre in a consumer app. Pokemon Go became the most downloaded app ever in its first week, topping 10 million users, and in less than a month had been downloaded more than 100 million times worldwide.
Mobile isn’t the optimal platform for AR. It remains to be seen how many useful applications emerge on it, but it’s important because it represents a commitment by the world’s largest companies in the world to the technology, and the building of a foundational OS / developer ecosystem that can naturally transfer to a glasses based solution in the future.
Apple’s ARKit is the most recent and most important announcement, equipping developers with the tools to seamlessly build AR apps for the iPhone, and its over 700 million consumers. It also adds an integral piece required for Apple to release lightweight AR glasses, piggybacking on the compute power of a connected iPhone, and the interfacing of the Apple Watch & Airpods (read more here).
Facebook Camera Effects aims to do something similar for the Facebook ecosystem (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram) by turning the camera into a platform for developers to create experiences for the over two billion people now consistently using its products.
Google Lens sets up Android developers to soon do the same, and more importantly, explicitly highlights another interesting piece of AR’s innovation — it’s not just what we see and interpret through AR that makes it so promising, it’s that cameras are now becoming extremely intelligent themselves, capable of analyzing what they see, and relaying that information to each-other and to us (read more here).
AR Through Glasses (HUD / Heads up Display)
AR’s natural evolution leads us towards a contact lens, and prior to that, a normal looking (magically powered) pair of eyeglasses.
In the mean time, we have Hololens from Microsoft — a $3000 developer kit currently targeted towards enterprise solutions like teaching engineers about jet engines and designing Cirque de Soleil stage sets.
And the (hopefully) soon to be launched, and much-hyped, Magic Leap — a company that’s raised 1.4 billion dollars prior to releasing a consumer product.
Other AR Companies
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you feel like any important resources are missing, please put them in the comments, and I’ll update with your suggestions.
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An interactive essay I wrote exploring the past, present, and future of anthropomorphic design. Also available as a talk for conferences, events, etc.