Opinion: We are thinking about AR/VR wrong

Ivan Franco

Posts: 281   +9
Staff member

Everyone likes to talk about Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) as some frontier technology that is going to 'disrupt' or even 'revolutionize' the technology landscape. Marketing teams invoke AR/VR in quasi-mystical ways – "the future," with lots of hand waving. And they almost always get linked together as AR/VR like they were one thing. In fact, this has become a tell. If we see a presentation lump the two together as some future use case, we tend to automatically discount the rest of the pitch.

Editor's Note:
Guest author Jonathan Goldberg is the founder of D2D Advisory, a multi-functional consulting firm. Jonathan has developed growth strategies and alliances for companies in the mobile, networking, gaming, and software industries.

In reality, AR and VR are very different. And their future is not tied together. This matters because for either to become commercially interesting they need to answer to some important questions. And those questions are similar but the answers will be very different.

Why do we say they are so different? Under the hood, the electronics are very similar. VR is a set of goggles which require very advanced, highly miniaturized, high-density displays. AR will likely be a set of goggles which require very advanced, highly miniaturized, high-density displays. But that is engineering-led thinking. And no offense to the engineers here, something that many believe will disrupt technology needs to be analyzed from the perspective of user-led thinking. And here AR and VR are totally unrelated.

VR is completely immersive, VR goggles block out all outside light sources. This means users cannot move, for risk of running into walls or coffee tables. VR is meant for consuming content – videos, games, training materials. True, users could get omnidirectional treadmills, but they will still remain in one room. VR does not need to be portable which greatly simplifies things like power requirements and network connections. For example, VR does not need 5G, home Wi-Fi, or even wired ethernet will work much better.

By contrast, AR is meant to be portable. The whole point is to layer AR data over the real world. This makes the electronics much more challenging. Power is going to be very challenging, imagine carrying a battery back on your belt, with a wired connection to the AR glasses. And here 5G becomes meaningful especially given the requirement for very low data latency (necessary to reduce image blur and nausea-inducing vertigo).

So the electronics are similar at a high level, but even at this engineering level there are already significant differences.

There are important differences in content. VR data can, and will likely be, provided by a single source – the video or game maker. By contrast, AR is going to require integration of massive data layers. The proverbial example of using AR goggles to find a nearby restaurant requires integration of local food guides, maps and current position of the user. True, this exists today online, but the move to something as personalized as AR will likely force a reorganization of those existing relationships. And that is to say nothing of a major new category of privacy concerns – AR will be able to tell the data lords much more about what we are doing and who we are doing it with.

Most importantly, the impact these devices will have on consumer behavior are going to be completely different. VR may change the way we consume content, and will require new ways to capture that content, but is not going to meaningfully change the way we interact as people. By contrast, AR has the potential to remake human interactions as much as smartphones have, which is to say by a very large degree. Done well, AR means immediate connection to all sorts of data – an unnoticed friend at the other side of the park, a restaurant you had not realized was so close, some event only a block away. We cannot really predict these, just like no one could have predicted Uber prior to the launch of the iPhone.

When it comes to basic notions of user interface and user experience AR and VR are completely unalike. To boil this down, we think it is important to look at all the devices and machines we regularly use, and compare them in two ways – how portable is the device and how personal is it to us.

Trains and taxis are not personal at all, shared by many, but they are mobile. Smartphones are extremely personal, you only share your passcode with people very close to you. Laptops are somewhere in the middle, somewhat portable and fairly personal to the owner, but easier to share. VR goggles sit towards the bottom, somewhat personal and not all that mobile. By contrast, AR goggles will likely be incredibly personal, but not quite as mobile as our phones.

Think about the diversity of user interface models for these devices, and we start to get to the heart of how different AR and VR will need to be.

When it comes down to it, the real question at the heart of VR and AR, the only question that really matters is who will control the software, the operating system (OS) that powers them. From this viewpoint, the answer for VR is likely straightforward – these will be tied to the game consoles and PCs that provide the content.

On the other hand, the answer for AR is still very much up in the air. Apple, Google and Meta would very much like it to be the OS provider, but that is by no means a foregone conclusion. Solving the many UI and OS problems for AR are going to be challenging, and areas that are still greatly open to competition.

Image credit: Barbara Zandoval

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MyIOnU

Posts: 99   +247
None of the tech right now is really the real Virtual Reality. Wake me up when they get to the VR tech like in SAO.
 

Faelan

Posts: 178   +220
While AR is definitely more of a challenge to get right, I also think it has the greatest potential of creating that iPhone moment that revolutionized smartphones.

VR is cool for certain things, but presently it’s really just gaming/chat rooms/content consumption dialed up a big notch. Cool, but nothing that changes my life on a fundamental level. AR has the potential to be so much more and could help me in everyday tasks while also doing the above listed VR activities.

Sadly, I fear that the big corporations see it more as a brilliant method of making sure that you’ll always see their message/products and collect your every move. Double edged sword for sure.
 

hahahanoobs

Posts: 4,601   +2,563
VR is the only mainstream tech that I feel hasn't evolved as fast as it should have this many years later. It gives me a headache just watching the video of someone looking around in VR, because of how choppy and jarring it can be. And people are still running into things? They still don't have arms? Still having to click to move? No.

No offense, but VR is still for nerds, because you'd have to be one to forgive all the shortcomings.
 
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TechZel

Posts: 27   +36
VR is the only mainstream tech that I feel hasn't evolved as fast as it should have this many years later. It gives me a headache just watching the video of someone looking around in VR, because of how choppy and jarring it can be. And people are still running into things? They still don't have arms? Still having to click to move? No.

No offense, but VR is still for nerds, because you'd have to be one to forgive all the shortcomings.

Choppy and jarring is either an issue with the recording or their system being underspecced. It's as smooth as butter as long as your hardware is up to snuff.

And I think it's a bit unfair to say it hasn't evolved quickly. It's only been 9 years since the Oculus DK1 which is the realistic kick-off point for the technology. And in 7 years to go from the DK1 to the Quest 2 I think is a very solid evolution of the tech.

Character modelling and collision is on the game developers. Half Life Alyx handles this well, so it's really a matter of resources and talent rather than the tech. The achilles heel is the controls as you mention. Joysticks and clicking leaves a lot to be desired. It's why apart from beat saber I only use my headset for simracing, because movement still isn't there yet. Yes I am a nerd, guilty as charged.
 
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hahahanoobs

Posts: 4,601   +2,563
Choppy and jarring is either an issue with the recording or their system being underspecced. It's as smooth as butter as long as your hardware is up to snuff.

And I think it's a bit unfair to say it hasn't evolved quickly. It's only been 9 years since the Oculus DK1 which is the realistic kick-off point for the technology. And in 7 years to go from the DK1 to the Quest 2 I think is a very solid evolution of the tech.

Character modelling and collision is on the game developers. Half Life Alyx handles this well, so it's really a matter of resources and talent rather than the tech. The achilles heel is the controls as you mention. Joysticks and clicking leaves a lot to be desired. It's why apart from beat saber I only use my headset for simracing, because movement still isn't there yet. Yes I am a nerd, guilty as charged.
Alyx impressed me, but I feel a title like that should have come out a lot earlier. 9 years is a lot of time, and the figures on Steam aren't telling me VR is about to break out again anytime soon.
 

Puiu

Posts: 5,746   +4,683
TechSpot Elite
No, we aren't thinking about AR/VR wrong, the tech just isn't there yet for huge mass adoption. It needs to become cheaper, easier to use and to start moving away from off the shelf phone components.