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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Magic Leap of faith

I’ve covered some news regarding Magic Leap a few times here on the blog. You can skim the posts here. I’ll pull a quote from something I wrote in the summer of 2018:

But I do think Magic Leap is playing a dangerous game with the hype machine. They should try to lower expectations before their consumer or business devices hit the market. This way when the press covers them the reviews will be glowing rather than lukewarm.

Rather than try to lower expectations they went nearly completely silent. And everything they’ve uploaded to YouTube was confusing, boring, and showed almost nothing. So odd.

Well, now they are trying to sell after trying to have a big exit to Facebook.

Just a quick rant regarding valuations, raising a bunch of money, and hype… if I may.

Magic Leap played this wrong from the jump. Yes, VR is an issue that has taken, and will take a lot more, money to solve. There is no way around it. However, you don’t need to blow the money into the wind either. You can get a core team, even a well paid team, and iterate. Oculus seems to have done that to some degree – even though they were able to secure a large exit to Facebook.

Second, if you raise a huge amount of money you very quickly eliminate the possible acquisition targets for your company (if you want to exit in that way). There are a lot of companies in the world that can afford to acquire a company for $10M-$100M. There are relatively few that can for $10B+.

Third, if you hype up your technology as much as Magic Leap has, almost any demonstration they were able to do would lead to a “this is what you’ve spent billions on?” type of reaction.

If Magic Leap has solved any big technical hurdles for VR I sincerely hope those solutions make it into the market in some way – either through a fire sale, open source, whatever. But I do hope the company itself goes belly up to show others this isn’t how you do this.

VR-OS

VR-OS:

A new operating system beyond the limits of your monitor

Impressive concept. But far from being a reality.

I would like something like this but in AR, so I can still see the world around me. I’d rather the “windows” of the OS to be able to be anywhere “in the room” such as the wall, floor, ceiling, floating in mid-air etc.

I want any size screen, any time, any where

Andy Baio in an interview on Uses This:

I’ve worn glasses for my entire life, so my personal dream setup would be replacing my laptop, monitor, and phone all at once by replacing my prescription lenses with augmented-reality glasses that annotate the world around me without blocking it out entirely.

I do not wear glasses but long-time readers of my blog may remember that I too would like to replace all of the screens in my life for an augmented reality experience. I’d want them to provide me any screen size I need at any time any where.

When I personally look at how I use my full monitor desk set up, my laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone; I am generally just changing the size of the screen between contexts. Mixed reality (MR) could provide me a way to have any screen I need at any time and thus only have a single device. We’re likely a long way off on this – mostly because all of the companies seem to be focused on the lucrative gaming market.

I haven’t written about mixed reality on my blog in a while. I believe my timeline for such things still stands. As does my observations on the industry as a whole. But it may be time to revisit MR and see what the latest is.

Palmer Lucky on Magic Leap

Palmer Lucky, co-founder of Oculus (no longer with the company):

The product they put out is reasonably solid, but is nowhere close to what they had hyped up, and has several flaws that prevent it from becoming a broadly useful tool for development of AR applications. That is not good for the XR industry. It is slightly better than Hololens in some ways, slightly worse in others, and generally a small step past what was state of the art three years ago – this is more Hololens 1.1 than Consumer AR 1.0.

He didn’t hold back. But, then again, I wouldn’t expect him to.

Magic Leap hype

First line in this Wired piece about the Magic Leap One:

In retrospect, Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz realizes that all the hype was a big mistake. “I think we were arrogant,” he says.

Umm, yeah.

/via Daring Fireball.

Magic Leap One Creator Edition

Adi Robertson for The Verge:

But the Magic Leap One’s 50-degree diagonal field of view, while larger than the competing Microsoft HoloLens, is still extremely limited. And the image quality feels roughly on par with the two-year-old HoloLens. It’s generally good, but with some tracking and transparency issues. Given how much effort Magic Leap has apparently put into cultivating internal creative teams and outside partners, we were also disappointed at the lack of substantial experiences from them. But that last thing, at least, isn’t a major issue for developers right now — since they can now buy Magic Leap’s hardware and start testing their own stuff.

Overall she gives the hardware a very positive review, the software a very lukewarm review, and the “experience” a “meh”. While this release is for developers to get their hands on the devices, I believe the hype this company has built around itself has hurt them. No matter what they showed in this first version it would have been disappointing to many.

I’ve personally never used a HoloLens nor a Magic Leap so I’ll still hold out judgement until I do. But I do think Magic Leap is playing a dangerous game with the hype machine. They should try to lower expectations before their consumer or business devices hit the market. This way when the press covers them the reviews will be glowing rather than lukewarm.

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.

Oculus Go mini review: Impressive spacial feeling and controls. Mostly built for passive consumption, not for input. Wish the UI was more fluid and less “windowy” and also wish there was an email / calendar app.

Hubs by Mozilla

Mozilla:

We are excited about the future of Hubs and the potential for social VR experiences, but we need your help to test this and make it better. Check out the link below to try it out. Play with it. Share it. Break it. Contribute to it.

Well, break it we did. The team at Jujama put this thing through its paces and we broke it. But, I will say that the experience is nothing short of amazing considering that there is nothing to download or install and it works on every device we own.

The future of AR/VR on the web is very bright. In part because Mozilla is investing heavily in it.

Firefox Reality

Mozilla:

Mozilla has always been on the frontlines of virtual and augmented reality (see our work with WebVRWebAR and A-Frame), and this is a mixed reality browser that is specifically built to tackle the new opportunities and challenges of browsing the immersive web.

Me, in April 2017:

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.

Mozilla sees this and they are skating to where the puck will be.

Noah Read’s tech predictions

Prompted somewhat by my technology prediction time capsule, Noah Read takes a stab at what he thinks we’ll see (or, won’t see) in 2018.

He has some interesting takes. Most of which I agree with.

I do not think I agree with this take, though:

AR will be a passing craze, while at the same time making certain niche use cases much better than they’ve ever been. I just hope those use cases are more useful than funny animated masks on social networks.

AR may indeed be a passing craze but I don’t think that will be determined within 2018. It will take much longer to know that. And I don’t think the use cases for AR will be niche. For instance, I do believe my future workspace will be “in AR” rather than VR. (Or, perhaps this is my own wishful thinking). And I think there are enough people like me that would want this to say it is larger than just a niche use.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong and Ready Player One will be the reality.

Regarding self-driving technology, though, Read says:

Problems of infrastructure, distance, regulation, public opinion, and human nature will infuriate utopians who would like a Jetson’s future today, but these are real issues that will slow adoption in the real world. It’s coming, but current estimates seem optimistic.

This I agree with. Obviously.

Many of us underestimate how long change happens. The change we want we want immediately.  Personally, I want self-driving to become mainstream yesterday. But I feel we’ve still got nearly a decade of manual cars and drivers to deal with before things take off.

More people should write down their predictions. And not just for 2018 but for the next 20 years. It is a fun mental exercise and I’m certain it will be fun to look back upon every few years.

To that end I randomly challenge Colin Walker, Matt MullenwegManton Reece, and Mike Haynes to jot down at least 5 predictions for the next 20 years.

A technology predication time capsule

Readers of my blog will know that I occasionally attempt to predict when certain technologies that I write about will hit the mainstream. While I’m very passionate about a few technologies, I try to temper that excitement with the experiences I’ve had, the wisdom that comes with age, and other factors. Usually, things take a little longer to happen than we’d like for the things we want to see most. And sometimes, sometimes, the things we want most never materialize at all.

For the purposes of this post, mainstream doesn’t mean critical mass but rather mass market adoption. With 7B+ people on the planet reaching critical mass is far easier than reaching mass market saturation. In other words, a company, product, or technology can reach sustainability and never truly hit the mass market. Examples: Tesla can succeed, be profitable, and have happy customers without the world moving on from fossil fuels. A company focusing on AI can make great livings, do compelling and challenging work, without every family having their own personal C-3PO.

Here are some stake-in-the-ground predictions on some of the most talked about technologies of our day. We’ll see in the next few decades if I was even close.

  • Legal, fully autonomous driving with no human assistance: Mid-summer 2026 – Even 9 years out there will still only be a few select vehicles that will fit into this category. There will still be humans driving on the road. And, only the most expensive cars will have all of these features. But, it will exist, be available to anyone, and be legal in the US. And I also believe there will be small fleets running in select cities for Lyft, Uber, and I believe Tesla will have a ride-share platform by this point. Also, don’t be surprised if Apple does too.
  • Bitcoin, or some crypto-currency, being widely transacted at small retail stores in the US: 2027 – If Square, or some other platform with high market saturation, turns on crypto for retail SMBs then we can say they accept this form of tender. But, I believe it will be 10 years before we see a decent number of daily transactions by consumers. I know, “decent” is relative so I’ll give it a number: $100,000,000 US dollar equivalent in a single month. This is roughly 25% of US monthly retail revenue as of September 2017. Side note: By this time we’ll see talk of the US dollar being converted to an all digital currency and, perhaps, transacted on its own blockchain.
  • Mixed Reality experiences used in everyday work environments: 2027 – Today we share links to web sites, documents on Google Drive, and flat or animated graphics to design and develop both soft and physical products. By 2025 many of these every day things will be accessible and even better experience within MR. I believe most businesses with digital assets will have multiple pairs of “glasses” or “goggles” that will allow team members to view or collaborate on these types of data. In other words, by 2030 rather than sending a child a link to Wikipedia to learn about our Solar System I believe we’ll be sending them MR experiences that they will consume using an augmented reality experience on a device other than a flat panel display. This happens today. But no where near mass market. And this industry has a long way to go. Even further than I previously thought.
  • Wireless internet takes over all cable based internet: 2029 – Most people in the US will connect to the Internet via wireless across all devices. And there will be no limitation on bandwidth usage.
  • Fully autonomous fleets replace individual car ownership: 2037 – Today US cities are plagued by traffic jams comprised of single occupant vehicles. Mass transit softens this but doesn’t solve the issue due to the convenience of a car. Ride sharing services have softened this even more and car ownership in urban areas is on the decline. By 2037 we’ll see massive reduction in individual car ownership in cities but also in the hinterlands as fleets of fully autonomous vehicles, combined with better mass transit, can care for the majority of transportation needs. I believe, however, families with at least 2 children will still have a single family-owned vehicle of some sort. Again, I’d like to put a number on this. So I’d say 15-25% less car ownership/use for individuals and commuters nationwide.
  • Mixed Reality replacing many conventional meat space locations/activities: 2050 – By 2050 the majority of children in the US will have the option to attend school in VR ala Ready Player One. Virtual classrooms will no longer be limited by federal budgets but will be designed to appear like cathedrals of learning.
  • (Because, why not?) An off-planet human civilization: 2175 – Humans will walk on Mars in the 2020s. And, perhaps, a small moon or Mars base will exist in similar fashion to today’s ISS in the 2030s. But a civilization, where people live, work, play, have children, and die peacefully etc. won’t exist on any other planet or moon (likely the Moon will have an established civilization prior to Mars). The reason I put this far-reaching prediction on this list is because I believe the excitement around a human footprint on Mars will lead to speculation about off-planet civilizations. But, we must all remember, we put a footprint on the Moon many, many decades ago and then just never went back. I do think that we’ll be mining objects near Earth much, much sooner. Even the Moon. But we’ll do that with robots and minimal human intervention.
  • Tweet editing – Never.

Check back in a few decades to see if I was even close.

Oculus announcements galore

Be sure to check out the Oculus blog as they’ve announced a slew of new things. I’m still going through them all and will be sifting through it over the coming days. But, at first glance, I’m really excited to see this category of product move forward.

Here are the highlights for me (though there is a lot more)

 

Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality

In this video Tom Warren of The Verge uses some mixed reality headsets for Windows. Watching them I’m reminded just how far this industry has to go. I’d call much of what I see in this video very much beta-level hardware and software.

It has only been 5 months since I wrote the aforelinked piece and we’ve seen some major, major movement in this space during that time. Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all thrown massive amounts of resources into mixed reality. I feel the pace of updates will only quicken over the next 24 months. By 2020 everything we see in this video will look ancient.

/via Dan Kimbrough on Twitter.

Tim Cook on ARKit

Tim Cook, in a recent quarterly earnings call for Apple, on ARKit:

One of the most exciting and most promising announcements from WWDC was ARKit, a new set of tools for developers to create augmented reality apps. It’s still early in the beta period, but it’s clear that ARKit has captured the imagination of our developer community. We think ARKit will help the most creative minds in the industry tap into the latest computer vision technologies to build engaging content. We believe AR has broad mainstream applicability, across education, entertainment, interactive gaming, enterprise, and categories we probably haven’t even thought of. With hundreds of millions of people actively using iPhone and iPad today, iOS will become the world’s biggest augmented reality platform as soon as iOS 11 ships.

And, later:

I could not be more excited about AR, and what we’re seeing with ARKit in the early goings. To answer your question about what category it starts in, just take a look at what’s already on the web in terms of what people are doing — and it’s all over the place. From entertainment to gaming, I’ve seen what I would call more small business solutions, I’ve seen consumer solutions, I’ve seen enterprise solutions. I think AR is big and profound. This is one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel on the start of it. I think that customers are going to see it in a variety of ways. Enterprise takes a little longer sometimes to get going, but I can tell you there’s a lot of excitement already in there. I think we’ll start to see some applications there as well. It feels great to get this thing going at a level that can sort of get all the developers behind it. I couldn’t be more excited about it.

I feel the same way. ARKit is a foundational technology and the applications of it are going to be far reaching. And, no, my app isn’t based on ARKit.

See also.

VR180

Frank Rodriguez:

VR180 video focuses on what’s in front of you, are high resolution, and look great on desktop and on mobile.

I think this looks like an excellent format. As I’ve mentioned in the past, 360 video is very difficult to follow if there is a narrative. While 360 might be good to virtually put you somewhere, 180 will be better to help tell a story.

Rodriguez goes on to explain that VR180 is easier to create and can be much higher resolution. Me likey.

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.

Build day 1 was great. I’m looking forward to day 2 as there are promises of Windows 10 and MR/AR news. Which, as you know, I’m interested in.

Dan Kimbrough on several trends for 2017

Dan Kimbrough touches on several trends he thinks will continue in 2017 such as this bit on AR/VR:

2017 will see AR & VR make great strides to becoming how we experience and interact with the world around us.

I agree we’ll see great strides in this area. I’m especially bullish on AR. But I still believe we’re a long way from it being “great”.

On live streaming video he says:

2017 will be the year we see live streaming go from a novelty for the masses to a tool for the business savvy.

I’m 100% on board with Dan here. Live streaming video has seen steady growth in terms of viewership and capability for nearly a decade but we are just now seeing this as a ubiquitous feature in nearly every communication service. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Slack, Messenger, iMessage, Instagram, etc. all have a live streaming video feature now. With just a phone you can reach your audience. It is an extraordinary time for that medium.

Back to Dan on personal branding:

2017 will be the year that brands willing to showcase themselves, their voice and their personality, will dominate.

He references my friend Gary’s daily vlog. Gary isn’t the first to do this, not by a long shot, but he may be the first to do it with a camera man (the excellent DRock) and several editors – giving his vlog a very specific feel and an “ease” for him personally that makes it sustainable. One of the most popular vloggers on YouTube, Casey Neistat, recently hung up his hat. It wears you out.

I’m uncertain if we’ll see this segment of the market grow too much, however, I do think we’ll see entire company brands built on top of personalities more in 2017 than we did in 2016. Think Kim Kardashian, Jay Z, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson – each of these individuals have built companies worth hundreds of millions and billions of dollars on top of personal brands. We’ll see a lot more of this as social media gives people, as well as companies, enormous capability to tell their story.

And finally, Dan on video:

2017 will be one of the last years to adopt video as part of your marketing strategy if you want to survive.

His urgency isn’t unwarranted. Now is better than ever to jump into using video as a marketing tool. Both live and well-edited pieces. However, I think we’re going to see video grow, and not shrink, come the next decade. Video formats and Internet connectivity will both improve to a point where video will be as “expensive” to view as images are now. As it stands, some people are limited by their mobile carrier plan and their device’s capability to display rich video content on-the-go. These limitations will disappear over the next 5 years for most of the developed world which will only expand the video viewing market.

Great list of predictions from Dan. I’m glad he shared them on his blog.

 

VR is not ready in 2016

Danny Nicolas:

I hope someone is hard at work making an ubiquitous snow-crash-esq VR experience that compels everyone to rush to the stores to buy VR rigs, but 2016 was not the year where VR became the big thing. It might be the next big thing, but not this year.

I’ve tested a bunch of VR kits this year and I’m with Danny. There is a lot of people working really hard to bring some great VR experiences but there has not been a breakout title that is compelling enough for the masses to start purchasing them.

After playing with Oculus at the Microsoft Store I can see how this holiday season may give a boost in sales but we’re still a little progress away from people feeling like they need one. I don’t know what the breakout title will be. But for me it won’t be a game. And the industry shouldn’t be focusing on that. That is too narrow. For me it will be something akin to what Zuckerberg showed in this demo from early October. A way for me to have a “virtual office” anywhere in the world.

2016 isn’t the year of VR or AR. But it won’t be long.