One of the most painful efforts I’ve ever seen was Google’s roll out of Google Glass. Some Nimrod there thought it would be a good idea to roll out what was an Alpha product, make people testing it pay for the thing, and then sit back and watch the bodies drop. We did get the new word Glasshole, but it wasn’t a compliment and in one ill-conceived effort Google set back augmented reality (AR) development by years. Well, Qualcomm has stepped up to the plate at Mobile World Congress with their extended reality effort and showcased interesting new devices from Acer and Nreal. These are each very different efforts and let’s look at each in turn. We’ll call it the approach occluded and non-occluded.
The Acer OJO line was initially created as a detachable Windows headset, and it is a fully occluded design. This means that rendered images appear more solid and the resulting combination is far more realistic than non-occluded technology. But this requires more processing power, often leads to a result that is more cartoon like for everything, and there is no way you’d wear the headset while you were out and about.
Target use cases would be full simulation, gaming, training, and certain types of design work where image integration is more critical than your appearance or mobility. This is more virtual reality (VR) than AR in use and it would also function as a decent movie watching solution for travel. The product would be tethered to your smartphone and likely stream 5G services to get a decent experience. The phone would likely just be for transport suggesting future members of the line might have 5G built in and lose the phone tether (particularly problematic with occluded designs because you can’t see it).
Think of this as low cost, high-performance VR and—while it is less interesting—the related AR solution should be far more disruptive and useful.
Nreal Light is far more interesting because these glasses could potentially change your life. Looking far more like regular glasses these are a non-occluded design which can place images with real objects, but they’ll likely look ghost like and undoubtedly look less real while also (because they don’t use as much processing power) being far better to have when you are out and about.
These things, much like Google Glass was, are designed to be additive to the real world—so more AR than VR—and the glasses themselves look far more like glasses you or I would wear. Still tethered, but you can see the wire and are far less likely to be tangled by it as a result.
You might wear something like this all the time—seeing the names of people you meet in the glasses, seeing visible arrows when you are using them to navigate, and even able to better play distributed AR games like Pokémon Go with less risk of walking into something or off a cliff (not to mention an impressive number of road accidents). Just keeping people focused on where they are going and providing them with a heads-up display could do wonders for all our safety as more and more AR apps come to market. We really shouldn’t be moving while looking at our phones.
Wrapping Up: The Powerful Road To Extended Reality
Ever since I saw the Holodeck in Star Trek Next Generation, I’ve wanted the ability to do what they do by experiencing magical worlds and seeing magic seemingly work. Back in 2007, HP showcased a concept game called Roku’s Reward using a small tablet with the limitation being that tablet. Change that to glasses and maybe a haptic face mask so you could feel the kiss and that game would be amazing. (HP is still doing mixed reality work and some of what they are rumored to have coming is equally amazing). As a side note I might need more than a haptic facemask to experience “level 2” of Roku’s Reward though I’m pretty sure my wife will say not to this unless there is a Cabana Boy variant she can play.
We are getting closer to being able to have experiences that approach magic and Qualcomm’s efforts at Mobile World Congress are a huge step towards that magical future. We finally can put those Glassholes behind us and look ahead to what should be an amazing future.