Mobile Computing

Future Vision 2012: Augmented Reality Predictions

Within three years (in time for ISMAR 2012), which is either a very short period of time or an eternity, depending on your point of view, I predict the following:

* 1 Million wearable displays, with transparent lenses, reasonable field of view, integrated accelerometers, and possibly a high-bandwidth short distance wireless connection, sold on the commercial market.

* Market generating more than $1B in revenues

* Vuzix currently the best positioned to deliver technology and products to the commercial market.

* Vuzix, Microvision, and Lumus Optical the current leaders in wearable display technology

* Companies like Sony, Apple, and others will have branded versions of their own. Probably with licensed display tech, or the fruit (ha! apples) of their own R&D.

* There will be at least one terrorist attack that has used mobile augmented reality for planning, practice, and execution.

* Marketing, Advertising, and Entertainment will be the early industry leaders to adopt and monetize augmented reality. More practical uses in visualization, training, education, medical, manufacturing, etc. will follow closely, but take longer for adoption as some technology requirements will be more stringent.

* The problem with visual tracking, registration, and orthorectification will be solved within the next 18 months, if not sooner.

* North America will continue to lag behind Asia and Europe. Early market dominance (in terms of mindshare and branding/exposure) will be led by Europe. Asia (particularly South Korea, Japan, and China) will be the quickest markets to adopt and monetize AR. North America will continue to be insular, inward looking, and still lagging behind.

* In general it will take North American venture capitalists and institutional investors at least another 18 months to wake up and engage fully. In the meantime…

* within the next 12 months, a flurry of augmented reality startups will come out of the woodwork in Silicon Valley, and will likely be overfunded startups looking to make a quick dollar and a fast exit. The majority of these will not have a clear strategy, vision, or technology, and will ultimately die a slow death. The early attempts will be on trying to leverage Web 2.0 and Social Networking into Augmented Reality, but this is backwards. Anyone trying to augment web sites or facebook is missing the point entirely.

* The first major VC funding of a augmented reality startup, of at least $5M USD will occur in the next 6 to 9 months.

* The “big boys” will continue pouring more money into internal projects and R&D, focusing on key technology areas, preferring to acquire companies with a broader focus, market share, and applications.

* By 2011, augmented reality will be a target rich environment for acquisitions, and some of the valuations will be staggering.

* Mobile devices combined with wearable displays will prove to be the ultimate combination for the full potential of augmented reality.

* A huge shift in advertising dollars will have a measurable impact on traditional channels, such as print, broadcast, and web. The mobile device already has broader and deeper market penetration, with more information about the user possible. AR will be the method to leverage this the most.

* In 12-18 months, Governments will begin to wake up to the real benefits, implications, and risks of mass-market mobile augmented reality in terms of national security, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, privacy, intellectual property, and so forth. Questions and concerns we have now with the internet, virtual worlds, and social networking will pale in comparison and are merely foreshadowing the future.

* The IPhone will not be the king of the hill. However, Apple will eventually open up their API and quit stalling AR innovation. I also predict their attempt to patent a grossly broad invention of augmented reality on a mobile device will be rejected, or at least suffer significant paring down.

* Mobile Augmented Reality will likely be a contributing factor to economic recovery with the creation of wealth (revenues), new industries, many new companies and jobs, as well as entirely new professions. Artists, designers, developers, educators, trainers, interior decorators, architects, and others will all find new opportunities and job titles.

* Augmented Reality will possibly be rebranded as something else, likely based on the product name of something. This sort of thing has happened in the past where a product has become synonymous with a brand (Xerox, Kleenex, etc.)

* Augmented Reality content (virtual objects) will be referred to as Holograms by the general public, changing the definition of the word. [Personally, I’d prefer to call them holons]

* Early standards, protocols, and methods of ineroperablity will emerge in the next 12 months, but will be radically different in 36. The “best practice” now is to use off the shelf where possible for speed of development, followed by new ones that are designed from scratch for AR and context, relevance, time, and space (location).

* Also within 36 months, early “holographic” interfaces will be experimented with, the industry will finally develop its own lexicon, and there will be much discussion and prototypes for a system of 3D icons (iconographs?) that will eventually become a visual standard for representing different types of data and information in augmented space.

* Tight registration and body tracking from any angle will also be accomplished, enabling users to anchor 3D objects such as clothing, armor, rabbit ears, masks, and animated textures/tattoos to themselves. The Cosplay, Furry, Trek, D&D, and SCA nerds will spend more money on this than the height of the Magic the Gathering industry.

*Virtual pets will be phenemonally successful and will likely be THE christmas gift in 2012. Due to the glasses, and full visual tracking, users will have a Denno Coil type of experience, where the pets can follow them around, interact with other pets, and do all sorts of fun things. Next-generations of this will evolve into “best friends” which will effectively be intelligent agents with limited voice recognition and a host of functionality. Yes, the porn industry will be all over this. As will the Otaku nerds wanting an anime girlfriend.

* Destination experiences, such as Las Vegas hotels, concert halls, sports stadiums, museums, and so forth will all be highly augmented to some degree or another, starting from content and services tied to the location with useful visualizations, to full-on 3D stuff all over the place. It is questionable at this time whether this will be an amazing experience, or if another few years are needed for better implementation, higher standards and interactivity, and adoption.

* Telcos will be at risk of being marginalized.

* AR in the medical field, both practice and research, will establish itself as useful. It will take more time to become necessary.

* A whole subculture of artists, both traditional and urban (grafitti) will begin to assert itself within 18 to 24 months, experimenting and provoking with hidden AR art.

* Branding wars, over what is linked to the brands of major companies, will begin. Overlays based on image (logo) recognition have the potential to be greatly misused.

* Government use of augmented reality will call many things into question. Of particular concern are submlinal messages or other methods of influencing people based on biometric sensors, and other feedback data, combined with visual and auditory cues and triggers.

* The mobile device will have completely replaced the wallet in some countries, and will begin to make inroads in western countries.

* The vision of Dream Park (albeit in a slightly different manner) will begin to be realized as the technology matures and the game industry embraces the cutting edge of mobile AR.

* Telepresence, using life sized avatars in remote locations, will become useful, and not be a gimmick.

* The mass media will completely FAIL when describing augmented reality.

* Some venture capitalists still won’t get it and will wonder why it takes more than $50k to build a company when you could just create a facebook widget or a basic iphone app for the same amount. Further, they will still think this is all a game because it has 3D in it.

* User generated content will dominate.

* No, still no AR contact lenses. Maybe 2018-2020. No mind reading devices either.

* The first major mass market augmented reality April Fools joke will occur on April 1st, 2012

* It will take longer than 3 years for AR to become ubiquitous in education, medicine, and therapy, although early experimental applications and research will gain a lot of ground.

* There will still be no singularity, neither will the internet become self-aware, although a famous celebrity or politician will take credit for inventing augmented reality.

* Bruce Sterling will likely comment on his blog about what I have written here.

My name will still be Robert Rice, and construction on my evil overlord lair will be nearing completion. All your augmented reality will belong to me. Or google.

 

[* Seriously. You MUST watch Denno Coil. The whole thing. In Japanese with Subtitles. Right now. If you haven’t seen this, you shouldn’t even be in this industry.]

Bad Apple May Sour Early Augmented Reality...

Earlier this year, a group of developers, startups, academics, and others published an open letter to Apple about opening up the IPhone SDK and releasing public APIs to access the live video stream from the camera to enable augmented reality applications. Ironically, Apple filed for a patent the next day for mobile augmented reality which is rather broad and all-encompassing. Apple later announced that it would indeed release new functions in the next version of the SDK, which spurred a flurry of press excitement about hordes of new AR applications that would suddenly appear in September.

The reality though, was that while some functionality was opened, which has made it easy to create “distance” or “directory” AR applications (requiring GPS, accelerometer, compass, and a screen overlay), it did not address the needs outlined in the open letter. Rather, it ignored them completely.

Augmented reality applications that require live video from the camera, like marker based AR that was popular through the first half of 2009 (and still a very viable method), as well as most of the super cool conceptual videos and demos out there (head over to Games Alfresco for examples), are completely locked out. Not only would these applications be immediately banned and not approved for distribution in the app store, the functions and APIs necessary to access the camera are hidden, undocumented, private, and a real pain in the ass to try to work around…even if just to create a working proof of concept for one developer in a garage somewhere.

If this was a matter on the global scale, it wouldn’t be a big deal. The IPhone has barely made a dent in the worldwide market. However, because it is a media darling here in North America, ensorcelling venture capitalists, and resonating amongst the faithful Apple drones, it is nearly impossible for a young augmented reality developer or small startup to get any significant traction trying to raise funds if they are not focusing on the IPhone. This is causing a problem.

Not only has Apple become the very thing they railed against in 1984…a controlling and domineering “big brother” who will not tolerate dissent, true creativity, or openness, but they have a constricting snake’s chokehold on the market. Not only do the execs live in an Ivory Tower, but they are forcing the rest of us to do the same, surrounded by very high walled gardens and orchards with the prettiest apples you have ever seen. However, we are forbidden from tasting that fruit, or making apple pie, or even trying to make some apple cider. If we get too close, the snakes appear with all of their rules and requirements, effectively trapping us. And then we notice how shiny the apples are again, and forget what we were complaining about.

One of two things needs to happen. Either Apple needs to quit screwing us around and make the APIs public so we can get back to the business of innovating and building a new industry, or the respective communities of developers and venture capitalists need to abandon Apple entirely. There are good alternatives out there that may not be as shiny, but are certainly as powerful and definitely more open for us to work with.

I hate to say it, but the only reason my team is bothering to waste time with the IPhone right now is because that is what people think is the validating platform for the whole AR industry. We would be much farther along and creating some mind-blowing AR if we weren’t fending off sour apples, bad worms, and rotten smiles.

You know, there is an opportunity here for someone to create a better hardware platform and completely leapfrog Apple. Mobile AR has a lot of potential and while the IPhone is shiny now, it is certainly not the ultimate mobile device, it is a shadow of what is to come. If Apple stays dominant and keeps things closed, all the cool stuff will be delayed…maybe for years. But if they open things up, or someone puts out a more robust hardware platform (that is competitive on the sexy level) and combines that with something more open and developer friendly, then you will see the industry catch on fire, accelerate, and create some wild experiences and applications. The future doesn’t need to be science fiction any more.

Android is a good candidate here to take the lead and cut Apple off at the knees, but I also wonder what the hell Nokia is doing right now. Their conceptual AR videos are kinda cool, but not always well received? Personally, I think Nokia could be a dark horse that comes out of the gate with something unexpected (they certainly have a large warchest of cash to work with) but they may be hampered by their own internal culture and politics to do something radical (and risky) to knock Apple off the cart.

I dunno. Something needs to change. As consumers we are being cheated out of really cool stuff that many of us want. As developers we are being denied the chance to be creative and innovate in a market that is sadly lacking in fresh ideas. I don’t want more widgets or beer farting apps…I want the next evolution of mobile, media, and ubiquitous computing. And that my friends, is Augmented Reality.

So, in summary, as long as Apple remains greedy and closed off, and the media/money sources out there only have eyes for the IPhone market, innovation and advancement in commercial Augmented Reality will be slowed, handicapped, and stilted as it is forced to restrict itself to the common elements of GPS, compass, and accelerometer.

This isn’t good enough. Open up the SDK Apple.