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.

"The Future of Mobile" at eDay

I’m flying to the Netherlands tomorrow for the eDay conference this week. I am giving a keynote on Thursday.

The Future of Mobile: Ubiquitous Computing and Augmented Reality

We are in the midst of a rapid convergence of trends and technologies that will result in a cataclysmic shift in business, industry, education, entertainment, media, and communications. To survive this dramatic change, leaders must be thinking ahead and preparing to leverage new business models, social shifts, emerging markets, and new technologies. Robert will discuss the augmented reality roadmap, describing what the technology is, how it works, and what potential it bears. Further, he will address how the shift from mobile phones to mobile internet devices, the coming “internet of things”, and other trends combined with these new technologies will affect culture, commerce, and communication, as well as how to prepare for it.

It should be fun, I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone there. The conference organizers so far have been awesome, organized, and really on top of things.

See you in Rotterdam!


Inside Mobile

Hey folks! I’ll be speaking at Inside Mobile July 26th and 27th. If you are in the area, you should come check out the conference and say hi.

The topic: Right Idea, Wrong Implementation?

Augmented Reality is quickly becoming the buzzword of 2009 and Ad agencies are quickly jumping on the technology as a shiny new way to do marketing campaigns and engage users. This session discusses several of these campaigns, how they were implemented, the response from consumers, and whether or not they took full advantage of what the technology offers. There is much agreement that Augmented Reality is evolving mobile and will have a dramatic impact on many industries, but what are we doing right or wrong right now in the early stage?

See you there!


The InsideMobile conference is coming to San Jose on July 26 & 27. Here are some highlights from this O’Reilly/360Conferences event:
* Palm Pre SDK training - 2 4-hour sessions, one session gets you up to speed by building your first app and the second one takes you to the next level deep-diving into webOS specifics (Must register by 7/15 to qualify for this)
* Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, talking about how apps have transformed mobile devices into invaluable tools for person and professional productivity, as well as entertainment.
* Keynote featuring VP from Samsung Korea, and eBay Mobile’s VP. * PhoneGap hands-on, learn to build for iPhone, Android and Blackberry all at once * Mobile Design hands-on and talk by Brian Fling, author of “Mobile Design & Development” * Sunday evening reception sponsored by Medialests * Panel: Evolution of Mobile: Beyond the Phone
This 2 days of lunch and a total of roughly 20 sessions for only $250!
Visit or for more information and to register!

Back from Mobile Monday...

Amsterdam. Ahhhh, Amsterdam! After more than 30 years, I returned to the Netherlands. I was a guest speaker at Mobile Monday Amsterdam (#momoams), which was one of the best conferences I have been to in a very long time.

Photo Jöran Maaswinkel (@JeeeM)

Before I start blogging too much about my trip, there are a few things I want to say, clarify, restate, or answer that I didn’t have a good opportunity to do while I was there. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) “The cloud is a lie, the cake is real.” Some people misheard me and thought I said “the cloud is alive”. Well, that may be true after some singularity event (doubtful), but that isn’t what I said or meant to say. I was making a reference to Valve’s Portal game. Blame it on my “Oracle of Delphi” sense of humor.

2) I came down pretty hard on Venture Capitalists during the presentation (for good reason), and I want to make it clear that I was speaking in general terms. There are a number of venture capitalists out there that are really smart, know what they are doing, and aren’t out to screw over entrepreneurs. Of course, the vast majority of VCs ARE like this, but not all of them.

It is up to you to be discerning and figure this out early on in the pitch game. There are some new funds out there trying to rethink the model (I know of one in particular based out of Luxemburg that has an awesome bunch of guys that know what they are talking about). Research and do your homework…you will find the VC diamonds in the rough.

3) I can’t begin to say enough about the organizers and hosts for MoMo. They were wonderful and I felt that they were sincerely dedicated to making sure I had what I needed and I felt welcome. They were amazing. If I had time, I would have stayed a few extra days if only to repeatedly say thank you for the opportunity to speak at a wonderful venue to an interesting crowd of attendees hosted by stellar organizers featuring amazing speakers.

4) If you met me after the presentation and I told you to make sure you added me on linkedin, followed me on twitter, and emailed me, I wasn’t kidding. I’m not good with names and faces after a conference and it is hard for me to remember who is who if I follow up. Better if YOU contact me (soon) and remind me who you are. I am more than happy to chat, give advice, talk about the industry and the tech, or just hang out.

5) Someone asked me why I didn’t talk more about Neogence during my presentation. Usually, when you speak at a conference like this, it is bad form to talk about your own company. It is too easy to go from a presentation that has value to it and change into a slick advertising pitch. Unless I am specifically asked by a conference to talk about the company, I will usually avoid it. If you want to know more about what my startup, Neogence, is doing, feel free to ask (or send vast quantities of money haha).

6) If you had a question that didn’t get asked or answered because of time constraints, EMAIL ME. I’m happy to answer now.

7) I’m very interested in hearing feedback from you about my presentation. What did you like, what did you not like, where did you agree, where did you think I was a nutcase, did anything inspire you or “turn on a light” in a moment of inspiration, or did my dry jokes put you to sleep? Anything you can give me will help me in future presentations and conferences.

I had a lot of time to think on Tuesday morning while driving to Luxembourg (other business), on the train back to Amsterdam that night, and the whole flight back to Raleigh on Wednesday. The other presentations at the conference gave me a lot to think about, and the conversations I had with various people over the duration of the week (I arrived in Amsterdam last Friday) were very mind opening and enlightening. I’m still mulling this over and letting some ideas gestate, but I will be blogging on a number of topics in the near future here. I’m not a very frequent blogger, but expect some new stuff, probably this weekend or early in the week.

All in all, the conference was definitely a highlight of the year for me, and it was an honor meeting the other speakers and meeting everyone that I did. Thank you for a wonderful week and conference. I promise better jokes next time : )

If you want to see my slides and the video of the presentation, you can go here. I highly recommend watching the other presentations as well. Lots of great information, insight, and thinking.

Oh, special thanks to the photographers that made me look good. I don’t have a lot of photos of myself, and the ones that I do have are generally self-portraits. I’m MUCH better taking photos of other people haha.

One last note: Martijin Pannevis rocks for taking the time to find and buy some Kinder Eggs for me. I absolutely loved those things when I was a kid growing up in Germany and I have been craving them for YEARS.

Ahhh, Amsterdam. You guys are all amazing. Thank you for everything.


Praevisio: Future Vision

I just put up a massive post on its own section called Augmented Vision and the Decade of Ubiquity.

Here is an excerpt:

2010 to 2020 will become The Decade of Ubiquity. Not only will Level 3 become a reality, but the advent of this will spawn entirely new industries, professions, and hundreds of thousands of jobs. The impact of L3 will be equal to or greater than the effect of the Internet and the Web combined. Nearly every industry will change in some way, and L3 technologies will have a dramatic effect on our day to day lives, jobs, education, entertainment, culture, politics, society, and so on. Even newspapers will evolve and reinvent themselves. Today’s web designers and artists will become holoscape designers…

I wanted this to stand alone as it is a bit too long for a regular blog post (yes, I know I’m normally long-winded anyway), and to make it a bit easier to find (click on the nav bar up top where it says “Future Vision”).

I didn’t edit it much, so it might read like a stream of consciousness. That is ok, as it is meant as a way for me to share what I am thinking and give you a forum for your own replies and thoughts.

I might extend this later with specific examples of augmented reality in the future as it has the potential to be in various industries and fields, but for now, it is what it is.



If you follow my rambling thoughts on this blog, you know that I am very critical and ranty about some things. This is mostly because I expect more, and I’ve been greatly annoyed by what seems to be industry wide apathy, lack of innovation, and very little ambition. I’m tired of old tech being heralded as new and innovative, or something generic and simple paraded around as noble prize worthy. And I really don’t want to hear about how another Facebook widget will change the world or fix the so-called global warming.

Having said that, there are occasions where someone surprises me with an interesting idea, a well-designed product, or something really forward looking. This hasn’t happened for me in a very long time in tech, virtual worlds, or even MMORPGs. But this week, I heard about Kweekies.

Check that out. This, even in it’s early development stage, looks fantastic, slick, original, and fun. I’m not a big fan of markers, but these guys really put some effort and thought into it. And, instead of just looking pretty (I’m sure you have seen dozens of augmented reality demos on youtube with some goofy looking animated creature waving or whatever), Kweekies looks like it has some decent story and gameplay in it. I am actually looking forward to seeing this first hand, and I’d like to send a shout out to the developers. This is arguably one of the best AR demos I’ve seen in a while.

Kudos guys.

[Edit: hat tip to Games Alfresco where I heard about Kweekies]