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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Observations on Oculus Go

At work we picked up an Oculus Go for research and development purposes. But of course I commandeered the device first to put it through its paces and I think I have a good enough feel for it to write up a few observations.

These are, as always, in no particular order.

  • Let’s get a few things out of the way immediately: it is lightweight (I’m an adult 6′ male, I don’t know how children would feel), the controller is remarkably accurate and fun to use, battery life is fair, the sound without headphones is better than you can imagine, and the simple fact that this is a standalone device is awesome.
  • The Go is meant to be a consumption device. While the controller is very easy to “type” with, you won’t be doing much writing within this context. That said, I can see where art apps or perhaps audio editing apps may be really interesting. Oddly though, there aren’t any.
  • Facebook touts 1,000 apps but that isn’t true (at least to my eye). Unless they count movies or video-like experiences I do not see 1,000 apps. And the vast majority of the apps that are available are not optimized for Go.
  • Finding high-resolution 360-video isn’t easy. Most video you stumble across within the apps is not nearly the resolution I would expect to see. Even from National Geographic. Even if I had to allow the Go to download a buffer, I would prefer the 360 video content to be much higher resolution. At this point, I prefer 2D video. I love that it appears to be a 40′ screen.
  • Playing games is pretty fun. But I’m not much of a gamer these days (in my early 20s I wasted way too many hours playing games so I simply don’t do it anymore). So if you’re looking for a gaming review you’ll want to ask someone else.
  • AltSpaceVR has huge potential. I’m watching that closely.
  • This version of the Go reminds me of the original iPhone. Playing with the original iPhone in June 2007 felt like the beginning of something big. It was. This does too. Standalone VR devices should be a big hit. Esp. at this price point.
  • App updates are rolling in daily, sometimes multiple times per day and most of the bug fixes seem to be for the Go.
  • The Go needs a camera on the front with a quick way to turn it on/off. I should be able to pick up my phone, coffee, or move in the space I’m in without needing to remove the goggles. I’m sure the Oculus team tried this but I can’t imagine them not adding one in the near future.
  • As I said, this is a consumption device, but I found myself wanting to use this environment for work. I want to email, write documents, chat, etc.
  • There is no concept of multitasking within the Go. You can’t even play music anywhere in the background. I hope this changes even with a software update. I’d like to have multiple browser tabs and have sound coming from Spotify.
  • I’ve written about how I think VR is going to change software UIs. I believe that even more now. The “window-like” environment in most of these apps seems out of place. The skeuomorphic living rooms and theaters also feel weird. I’ve had the Go for a week and the Netflix “house” already feels old. The innovation in this area is going to be very, very fast as we collectively figure this out. But my bet is that we ditch the 3D house renderings pretty quickly. I also think we’d pick up resources by eliminating that fluff.
  • Web sites also need to be rethought for this. Just as we rethought them for mobile devices, tablets, etc. we will need to rethink web site layout, controls, navigation, etc. for VR. I’ve been giving this some thought and I have a few ideas.
  • Mobile web sites run pretty well on Go. I use YouTube (since there is no app), Instagram, Twitter, and others this way.
  • YouTube videos on Go are amazing. Completely immersive (even if not 360). It is my preferred way to watch YouTube. Navigating YouTube’s site isn’t great though since YouTube handles this device like a tablet.
  • Only once or twice have I felt a little sick from using Go. Once on the rollercoaster ride the first time and once when a YouTube video was super super sporadic and shaky.
  • My Google Pixel 2 XL comes with several panoramic and 3D photo taking options. I use them occasionally, but if I had an Oculus-like device around I’d use those features a lot more. It really feels like you’re in the photo. Some of my “Photo Sphere” shots from Longwood Gardens last weekend are just awesome in Go.
  • You can make your “home screen” be just one of a small set of photos. Oculus calls this your “environment”. The environment options are really lacking. There should be hundreds or thousands of ways to customize your home environment. Backgrounds, animations, colors, sound, etc. I hope they update this soon with tons of options.
  • Being in VR is not like using your phone or tablet in front of your friends or family. You are far less present. So I would expect to use a device like this when A) I’m alone or, B) when the others around me also have them. In fact, I really want to try watching movies or playing games with others in the same room.
  • Getting oil from your skin onto the lenses happens a lot. Keep the cloth they give you handy. I’m not a particularly oily person and I probably wipe the lenses 3 or 4 times each use.
  • The resolution of the display is fair but I can see this getting much, much better very quickly. It will have to.
  • It would be nice if Go could connect to my Beats via Bluetooth.
  • I think Go would be perfect for a plane ride if the flight has free Wifi, or if you already had the content you need downloaded to the device or your phone.

Many of my observations sound like complaints or feature requests. But I think that is normal when something is so new. The Oculus Go has left me wanting more. Much more. Better quality, more capability, more options, and to be able to use it for more tasks. I could see myself spending hours in VR doing the same things I do on my phone, iPad, or computer throughout the day. And I think this is evidence of how good Oculus Go already is.

If you are interested in VR and are looking for a completely standalone affordable solution; Oculus Go is your best buy right now.

Is VR overrated?

Kristopher B. Jones, an entrepreneur from near my neck of the woods, weighs in on VR in a recent Forbes piece debating the applicability of the technology:

I’m a strong believer that virtual reality is overrated, as it has limited applications outside of very specific industries. Industries like gaming and medical training are likely to see a boom from VR, while other industries such as food service, retail and finance with have limited to no applicability of VR. Much like Google Glass and 3-D television, the buzz will eventually die down.

In November of 2016 I said VR wasn’t ready. But that I thought it wasn’t far away. I was wrong because I was lumping VR in with a much larger mixed reality landscape. It wasn’t until I dug deep into mixed reality that I understood the subtle nuances between VR, AR, and the various other degrees of mixed reality experiences.

Kris likely understands this landscape even better than I do. He’s is right. VR will never be as big as the hype. In fact, I’d bank on it. However, “mixed reality experiences” (such as augmented reality) are popping up in every single app we currently have and will continue to do so. You already see it in Facebook, Instagram, Apple’s Clips app, even within the Uber app and Google Maps app. Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are already shipping platforms, frameworks, and APIs to help developers bring MR into their apps and services. And Google recently demonstrated an amazing technology called Lens that will be inside of Google Assistant and Google Photos soon. I also think the automobile dashboard and windshield is a huge future play for AR.

I don’t think Forbes or Kris lumps VR together with AR. But I do think that many consumers do. They think mixed reality is all about wearing huge goggles. It isn’t until you dig a little deeper that you see that mixed reality is all around us already. It’s already a hit. And it is just going to keep growing.

VR as a subset of MR is overrated. But, MR is far from overrated.

Observations on the computer-mediated reality landscape

Me wearing stupid looking VR goggles

The future won’t look this stupid. I promise.

For the past several months I’ve been doing research on computer-mediated reality (CMR) – that is, when what’s real is somehow changed, interrupted, distorted, or otherwise effected by a wearable computer.

This “ability” isn’t new and it is a nuanced superset of many different types including mixed reality (MR) (which I’m most interested in currently), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and diminished reality (VR). These subsets, in turn, include many more subsets such as transreality (TRG), simulated reality (SR), and many more.

The more I have dug into this industry the more I’ve found how incredibly far reaching it is already and how much further it has to grow. Many of the applications in current use haven’t even hit the consumer market and others are hiding in plain sight – such as Pokemon Go, Foursquare, or even Google Maps. I’m willing to bet if you line 10 people up on the street and ask them if they use AR on a daily basis they’d say they didn’t think so. But if you inspect further I’m willing to bet they are and don’t even know it.

Here are some rather random observations I’ve made. Note that I’m mostly using the word “application” to mean how the technology is applied to a problem or situation rather than the typical use today as an “app” on your phone.

  • The common refrain today is VR vs. AR but upon inspection the industry is far, far more nuanced than that
  • MR is a hybrid of reality and VR which, to me, seems to have the largest number of applications for both businesses and consumers that has me interested the most
  • Pure VR applications will big a huge, huge market (esp in entertainment or recreational uses) but, to me, doesn’t have the broader applications that MR does
  • The industry supports a huge array of hardware and software to create the products that we see today and will see in the future. This means huge amounts of jobs. Think: Caves, HUDs (such as your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator,  your car’s windshield), head-mounted displays (such as glasses, goggles, phone holders, etc), tablets, phones, computers and hardware we haven’t even seen yet.
  • The way information is displayed is going to dramatically change within MR applications. How should a Wikipedia page on the honey bee be shown to a child wearing MR glasses while they are touring an apiary? Certainly this new wave of information layout should not be constrained to the resizable “windows” that we see in current demos but that we will see a rich set of layout and display tools that will make mundane information that the web currently hosts to come alive.
  • The pushback that Google Glass saw due to the possible “creepy” ways in which the technology could be used will disappear very quickly. Yes, I could have glasses on that could search for your LinkedIn profile while I’m looking at you. But, I could have done that later with an image on my phone too.
  • Speaking of which, facial recognition (and other machine learning algorithms that can find patterns and objects) are going to play an enormous role in the MR space. Expect many acquisitions in this space in the next 24 months.
  • As with any new platform the only way it will ever reach critical mass is if the applications (meaning, the apps, integrations, services that are supported) are plentiful. iOS’s biggest tentpole is the App Store. Mixed Reality applications for any platform (such as Hololens) need to be myriad before a business or consumer can truly invest in the platform. Microsoft claims, just one year in, that they have 150 apps. Depending on how they count the internal apps that companies like Japan Airlines have built exclusively for themselves, this could be an excellent day one offering.
  • MR could kill the computer display industry for businesses. (Though, this will take a very long time.)
  • Untethered devices, such as Hololens, will need to be affordable and have great battery life before the consumer market explodes. Likely something that will happen in 2018 or 2019.
  • Tethered devices, such as Oculus (though, this is VR not MR), will be valuable in gaming and enterprise contexts because it can rely on much more computing power coming from the connected hardware.
  • Think of tethered as “Pro” and untethered as “consumer” or “lite” for the most part.
  • The same way that tablet and mobile computers have revolutionized mobile computing (think: professionals on-the-go like visiting nurses, gas pipeline inspectors) and information transfer (think: pilots that used to have 100 books in the cockpit and now just have an iPad), MR will revolutionize contextual search and on-the-job training.
  • One of the complaints of MR is that you need to have a controller or move your hands all over the place to interact with the objects in your view. However, if you combine MR with what Elon Musk’s Neuralink (more here) will be making we’ll leapfrog how Tom Cruise used MR in Minority Report and move swiftly into the incredible territory of controlling virtual objects with our minds. Too future thinking? We’ll see.

This isn’t all that I’ve learned but are just some of the things I’m currently thinking about in this space. I’ll try to collect more tidbits under the CMR tag here on my blog.

I’m looking forward to following this industry as it matures and also supporting some at Condron Media. If you’re working on anything in this space please reach out to me.