Transformation Group


The TG Blog

The challenges to taking AR mainstream


This is an interesting article about challenges facing augmented reality. But these are really #5, #6, and #7 in my view.

First challenges?

#1 Weight and dorky factor (if we are talking about on the face wearables). The Microsoft HoloLens is 1.28 pounds. I can only wear it for half an hour before I get a headache. Meron Gribetz, founder of Meta says that's because it isn't well balanced, but I cry foul. Putting something heavy on my head just isn't what I want to do and I already wear glasses and I'm already into this stuff (convincing others is even harder). Yes, I can wear a motorcycle or ski helmet for a while, if you force me to, but I don't like it.

#2 Battery life and heat. As we try to do more with sensors, GPUs and all that, while getting lighter and lighter, we're gonna have problems with battery life and heat. In fact, I hear that even HoloLens had more stuff that they removed to keep the thing from melting down.

#3 is "you gotta scan first." It doesn't seem like much, but standard apps just startup and work. Not true with ARKit apps on iOS. You gotta scan. On HoloLens too, you gotta scan your room before aliens can blow holes in your walls. That extra step requires education and use cases/utility that gets us over the hump.

#4 is cost and manufacturability. Most people don't have an extra $1,000 burning a hole in their pocket. So to get them to buy you have to demonstrate huge utility over and above smartphones (again, if we are talking about getting people to wear glasses). We'll see if Magic Leap really has a product that gets people there and then we'll see the second half of the problem: can it manufacture them in large quantities?

But those are challenges for Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Snap, Huawei, Magic Leap, etc to solve.

The challenges I think we need to solve as a community are ones about use cases. When most of us think about augmented reality we are thinking about what Snap, Facebook, or Apple just shipped with ARKit on mobile phones. Those use cases are pretty simple and usually are focused around fun face masks or simple games you can play on a table or on a floor. Most people have no clue what makes a HoloLens any different than that, and can't conceive of buying a $3,000 device that looks like a helmet (or more).

Yeah, people like me or VCs are seeing stuff in R&D labs that is pretty mind blowing, but we're years away from those things being small enough, light enough, useful enough, and cheap enough for even an average iPhone user to consider.

That said, constrain the dream to simpler displays that aren't full-blown "mixed reality" like the HoloLens and we'll see some interesting products next year from Amazon and others.

For now augmented reality on mobile phones and social networks are giving lots of people a taste of what's possible. But there are a LOT of challenges to solve before we get to the place where smartphones are today. I now am back to agreeing with Shel Israel that it'll take a decade or more for that to play out. That said, I'm having fun playing games and things on my iPhone and can see how that kind of augmented reality will step us into the glasses of my dreams.

I also see that Fred Davis is right, for the next few years, that VR is going to deliver the magic of immersion in a way that AR won't be able to match for quite a while.

That said, I keep hearing Magic Leap is coming soon with a mind blowing product that gets us along the path to the glasses of my dreams but it'll be released in very limited quantities at first for developers only.

I wish we could bring the future here faster, but I learned my lesson. No shortcuts. 

Robert ScobleComment