GETTING REAL ABOUT AUGMENTED
I’m always amazed at how people you’d naturally assume were reasonably intelligent, somewhat experienced, and fairly mature can talk themselves into believing that hope is an effective strategy and that wishes regularly do come true. The staggering advances we’ve seen in technology over the last two decades could make a believer out of almost anyone, but take it from me, the “field of dreams” is still a fantasy which makes for a mighty good movie, but a lousy and costly) business plan.
You can build it, but there’s no guarantee that anyone will come and, even if they do, that they’ll be willing and able to pay for more than the privilege of your presence. No one likes to end up alone, but, at the very least, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re with someone you dearly love. It’s lonely at the top (even if it’s a garbage heap), but at least it’s not crowded. Maybe that’s some small solace. The principal point is that patience these days is at a premium and investors are less and less willing to wait for miracles. (See .) Talking a good game isn’t going to get it done in an era where real results and solid tech are basically the starting points.
But when those far-out dreams do occasionally come true (or at least start to offer a real glimmer of hope for a future), it’s a thing of beauty to behold. Personally, I’ve been waiting for years for Magic Leap’s mixed reality technology to cross the chasm and get “real” (no pun intended) and in the latest demonstrations in my office where you can’t fake a video or gin up a prototype that will never make it into production, I have to report that I’m impressed and think things may be finally getting there.
For me, any kind of broad adoption and implementation of augmented reality and mixed reality tools (as opposed to virtual reality products which I think may never get there) has always been about three primary considerations.
First, the system must have a very modest learning curve, simple controls, and minimal requirements and expectations for any material changes in the day-to-day behavior of the prospective users. The closer the new solutions remain to the ways in which business has traditionally been conducted; the more likely that there will be a rapid adoption and, most importantly, this permits an ongoing peer-to-peer education and instruction process which is essential to broad exposure and success. It’s impossible to boil the ocean and train the whole world and so new systems need to promote, encourage and reward early adopters and influencers to spread the word. In a way, it’s actually in their own interest as well because, not only do they get serious bragging rights, but also – as with all new technologies – the more users, the more powerful the network and the greater the benefits for all. This is Metcalfe’s Law in practice. No one ever wanted to own the only telephone or fax machine in town. (See .) The Magic Leap system and the handheld controller it employs took just a couple of minutes to learn and then even novice users were set to go. Far easier to use than the controls on the entertainment systems of any plane these days. Setting up the operating environment by “painting” the space took another minute or two and was roughly as challenging as moving your head around to teach your iPhone to use facial recognition.
Second, the new equipment has to be lightweight, non-invasive, and, above all, connected to markers and reference points in the real world. This last recognition may be the genius of mixed reality. In business uses, we don’t have the slightest interest in being “taken away” or dropped in some new virtual world. Maybe it works for seated gamers, but for the rest of us looking for helpful tools; it’s disruptive, foreign, hard to navigate and usually a little nauseating as well. Strapping on heavy duty googles and stumbling around the room like an idiot isn’t fun or especially instructive and it’s likely that this is the primary reason that Facebook quickly closed hundreds of Oculus Rift demo booths in Best Buy stores when it became clear that virtually no one was interested in the virtual experience. The Magic Leap headset (which will undoubtedly get even lighter and smaller as time progresses) are roughly the same as typical swim googles and just about as light and you can see the room you’re in at all times so you’re never “lost” or uncomfortable. Starting from a solid ground, you can quickly enter the environment and build your new world.
Third, the metaphors within the application itself have to be common, readily understood, and consistent with typical behaviors so that new users are not challenged, confused or threatened. Too many systems today adopt a layering strategy which requires either prior knowledge or extensive exploration in order to find essential components and tools. The charm of the basic Magic Leap application was that there was a simple resource bookcase with shelves that you can simply scroll up and down and, on each shelf, were located various objects that you could select and drag into your room and then employ in different ways.
Whether you were constructing structures, empowering or activating objects, or performing other simple operations like moving around the 3-dimensional space, two things were readily apparent – it was impossible to get lost in the process and there were no unrecoverable errors. Both of these attributes are invaluable for beginners and created an overall context in which trial, exploration and experimentation were encouraged without any penalties associated with mistakes or inadequate preparation or training.
Bottom line: a stimulating and exciting step forward for explorers and learners of any and every age. A dream come true.