Hello everyone and happy new year! I really hope that this 2018 will be awesome for you all. Like every new year, this is the time when we make two things:
- New Year’s resolution, when we promise ourselves that we’ll become thinner, smarter, harder workers… and then, in the end, we continue being the same as always;
- Predictions about the trends of AR/VR, with lovely speculations that in the end will prove false.
But hey, we all love to speculate about the future of the technologies that we love the most, that’s why I’m writing this post with my predictions about AR and in the next days I’ll write another post with my predictions about VR (stay tuned by registering to my newsletter to read that as well).
Before starting… why I’m saying that in the end, all those predictions will prove false? Well, the reason is essentially that AR and VR are two technologies where things are moving pretty fast and every new year there is a company that comes with some disruptive innovation: regarding AR, in 2017, we had ARKit for instance: before ARKit we just thought that mobile AR was something mediocre and hardly usable, but Apple made it easy to be used and popular. So, we can make predictions using the data we currently have, but surely something will come and will shuffle the cards on the table.
Augmented Reality in 2017
Let’s give a brief look at what’s happened in 2017 in the AR ecosystem, so to give some context to my future predictions.
The biggest disruption of 2017 has been, as I’ve already said, the release of Apple ARKit, that has led to the fast announcement of ARCore, a similar technology offered by Google (and let’s not forget Facebook Camera and other similar AR functionalities offered by Snapchat). ARKit has been disruptive because we were all only concerned about AR glasses when Apple showed us that it is possible to offer a good augmented reality experience using the device we all have, that is the smartphone. This has led to a mega hype about mobile AR, with market analysts immediately predicting bombastic numbers for this market… but this hype has been a bit deflated when Apple, during the presentation of iPhone X, has given just a short talk about its ARKit technology. Anyway, ARKit has given a big shake to the AR ecosystem, leading to the release of great AR apps by IKEA, Amazon and many others, and to the death of Google Tango.
Regarding AR glasses, instead, we have seen the release of the Meta 2, a very interesting AR glass with a big field of view and natural hands interactions. It is very cool but also shows some problems, with the biggest of them being the fact that it should be tethered to a PC.
At the end of this year, Magic Leap has made a surprise announcement: it will release its first device in 2018. It has published some heavily photoshopped pictures of how the device can maybe be and showed the glass to a Rolling Stone’s journalist. Avegant, a company that is developing AR glasses with lightfield technology (so, similar to Magic Leap) has shown the world its prototype. Regarding other announcements, RED has teased its Hydrogen phone, that should have bombastic AR and VR features, but, even in this case, no one has been able to test and showcase it publicly.
Last, but not the least, in 2017 we’ve seen the rise of mobile AR headsets, that is AR headset that uses a smartphone to provide the AR experience to the user: they’re to AR what Cardboards are to VR. The Mira Prism and Aryzon are the two most famous examples of this new category.
Mobile AR in 2018
Mobile AR frameworks have been a revolution, but they still lack too many features that AR glasses have or will introduce in the upcoming times, that is:
- A proper environment reconstruction;
- The ability to remember the places where the device has been in;
- Objects and people detection;
- The ability to put a virtual object behind a real one, so that it gets occluded by it;
- The possibility to interact with the hands or the voice;
- Multiplayer features, to cooperate properly with other people in the room.
Furthermore, they have additional issues, like:
- Fast battery draining times;
- Stability of virtual objects to be improved;
- Necessity to install an application for every AR experience that the user wants to have;
- Compatibility with the various mobile devices.
I think that in 2018, Apple and Google will work hard on these points. And not only them but also Facebook, Snapchat and all other players that will want to enter this field (e.g. WeChat in China, for sure). We’ll need years to get to proper AR glasses that we can wear on the street, so in 2018 the only AR platform that we’ll be able to take with us will be mobile AR and I think that for this reason a lot of company will bet on it, creating a competition beneficial to all users.
So, in this year, the AR frameworks will become more and more and they’ll try to introduce more and more features to stay ahead of the competition. Facebook will deploy its AR Camera to everyone and WeChat will do the same in China, where it has almost no competition. The “holograms” will become more stable and more integrated with the real environment. The AR apps will start detecting some objects inside the scene (some prototypes using, for instance, ARCore+CoreML already do that). Furthermore, using AR will drain less the battery, thanks both to optimizations of the algorithms and to new chips that will be optimized for AR (like the just announced Snapdragon 845).
Most of the newly released phones will be ready for AR: if ARCore is currently compatible with only a few devices (and few other ones can use it thanks to the ARCoreForAll hack), Google has promised that soon 100 million phones will use it. So, a lot of phones will be AR-capable and this will increment the userbase of AR content and this will lead to an increasing number of AR apps. These apps will also be marketing ones: Snapchat is already getting a lot of money to offer AR experiences tailored to certain physical places.
Downloading an app to try every AR experience is so inconvenient, so WebAR will start becoming a thing. Google and Mozilla have already started working on it and probably WebVR and WebAR will join to become a common API called WebXR. This way, just by typing a website address inside an AR-enabled browser, we will be able to access a mobile AR experience without cluttering our smartphone storage space. This will make the enjoyment of AR experience easier.
This rise of mobile AR apps will also introduce some concerns: for instance, who owns the virtual world correlated to a certain physical world? If a user wants to insert a virtual element inside my garden so that every one of his friends can see it… should he be allowed to do that? Because the garden is mine, I pay for it… and maybe I don’t want to see a lot of kids wandering around to see the AR content that is there. Snapchat has shown some art sculpture inside Central Park… but is it allowed to use such a public place for its marketing operations? These things should be clarified because they will become even worse with the rise of AR.
A last mention to the ARCloud: I think that in 2018 we won’t reach it, but people will start feeling more and more the urge of having a common AR ecosystem. Currently, everyone running an AR app has a personal experience or an experience regarding him and his friends. But we need a common framework, a common AR world, so that I can, for instance, add an AR label to a place and everyone in the world can see it, even if I don’t know them. A mapping of the virtual world that is shared between us all. (If you need a deeper dissertation on the ARCloud, read on Medium this article and this other one).
So, mobile AR in 2018 will reach more users, will offer more apps and a better experience. But in my opinion, it will not become disruptive, yet. It will start becoming mainstream, but not in an explosive sense like with Pokémon Go.
Glass AR in 2018
I think that 2018 will be just a year of transition for AR glasses: the most awaited products, the Hololens v2 and the Apple AR glass will most probably come out in 2019. The reason is: the technology is still not ready and neither is the market. This means that in 2018 will just assist to some teasers of these upcoming glasses, some revelations, some leaks, etc… and nothing more. Furthermore, Microsoft and Meta will find new partners for employment of their current devices. The big players won’t disrupt the market this new year.
Some smaller players can exploit this leap year of the bigger ones to point the spotlight towards their products: Avegant could announce its lightfield-based AR glass, that offers a more realistic augmented reality than HoloLens.
ODG may increment its products offering. And Magic Leap will probably ship its announced One glass. Because yes, I think that in the end, Magic Leap will ship something because at the beginning of 2017 we all read the news of investors being angry with them because they weren’t shipping anything. So I think we’ll see this device, that will be like an improved version of HoloLens and will be sold at a slightly lower price, like $1500-2000. This price and the featured offered will make sure that only some people will use ML glass, exactly as few people use HoloLens.
The new AR glasses will be better than current ones and will try different form factors to try to keep the design of the headset sleek and comfortable (think about how Magic Leap is split between a glass + a belt computer).
2018 won’t be the year of AR glasses. We’ll need far more years for the technology to be ready.
Hybrid AR in 2018
I admit I didn’t know where to put these statements, so I created the name “hybrid AR” (if you want to use it yourself, be sure to pay me some royalties 😀 😀 😀 ). The reasoning is: the line between mobile AR and glass AR is becoming blurred and will become more and more blurred during these years. This has a lot of sense since current technology is smartphone while the technology in the faraway future is AR glasses and we need to transition between these two technologies. Hybrid devices make this transition smoother.
2018 will see the release of more hybrid devices. The Red Hydrogen, a smartphone with AR/VR capabilities and especially a holographic display that makes you see images in 3D by just looking at the device screen is an example of such devices. It is a smartphone, but with enhanced XR capabilities. Microsoft could reveal its Andromeda tablet, another device featuring a holographic display.
More AR glasses based on mobile phones will be revealed: Aryzon, Lenovo, and Mira have already some solutions on the market, but surely more are to come. These headsets offer a decent AR experience for very little money (Aryzon costs around $30, Mira Prism around $100), using the device we all already own. They’re the link connecting mobile AR to glass AR. And if Aryzon’s experiment will prove successful, we’ll start seeing companies offering branded AR cardboards for free for marketing purposes, as it happens for VR Cardboards. This could lead to the development of a big segment of branded AR cardboards market.
A last line regarding hybrid AR/VR devices: I forecast that some hardware manufacturer will announce a glass with both (AR and VR) capabilities.
These are my predictions for 2018. What are your opinions about them? Do you agree? What do you think can be the disruptions that are going to change everything in this market? Let me know in the comments section here or on my social media channels! (And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to show appreciation for this first post of the year)
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