Apple Applies for AR Glasses Patent

Jack Purcher, Patently Apple:

Apple acquired Metaio the creator of ‘Thermal Touch’ and a new Augmented Reality Interface for Wearables and beyond back in 2015. Their technology is thought to be behind Apple’s push into augmented reality and ARKit. This year a Metaio patent application surfaced under Apple for moving furniture in augmented reality. Apple was also granted a patent for indoor navigation that covered new capabilities for a future iDevice camera allowing it to recognize building names or paintings and then adding AR identifying markers on the user’s iDevice photos. Today another original Metaio patent application under Apple has surfaced relating augmented reality. More specifically it covers a method for representing points of interest in a view of a real environment on a screen of an iPhone with interaction functionality. The buzz is that the patent covers AR smartglasses as noted in our cover graphic, something that Apple has been adding to a series of new and updated trademarks of late ( onetwothree and four).

Worth noting that Apple applies for, and is granted, plenty of patents that never translate into shipping products.

AR & VR Breathe New Life into Books and Board Games

When the first iPad came out, people talked about how tablets would revolutionize old game formats. Families could sit around a table and play anything from Go Fish to Monopoly without needing to store shelves full of board games. iPad versions of the games could leverage players’ individual iPhones to digitally replicate game pieces: Tile racks in Scrabble, money and deeds in Monopoly, even hands in card games could all be managed via touchscreen. The possibilities were endless.

Digitized board games haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but they are still kicking around. In the build-up to the public release of Apple ARKit and other next-gen AR/VR platforms, developers have been showing glimpses of what board games, childrens’ books, and other family entertainment will look like in a mixed-reality world.

Twitter user  posted this video clip of Echelon, an AR strategy game being developed for Microsoft Hololens by Helios Interactive. The clip speaks for itself, showing the potential for immersion when a table full of players all strap into the same virtual world for a shared gaming session:

The Wrap‘s Sean Burch spent some time with Los Angeles-based VR studio Within, getting a glimpse of their vision for the future of childrens’ books. Burch came away impressed, to say the least:

[Within CEO Chris Milk’s] team has been working on an untitled Goldlilocks-themed experience that only needs an iPad and a flat surface to show AR’s potential. Milk — cutting a figure of a taller, more svelte Zach Galifianakis with his pulled-back hair and impressive brown beard — pointed his iPad at a table and started reading along to the story on the screen. Voice activation followed his words and a digital forest began popping up on the iPad, with Goldilocks wandering through trees before heading inside a two-story house.

Admittedly, I was caught off guard by how cool I found the experience — especially since I’m about 20 years older than the target demo. But Within tapped into how AR can create the 21st Century version of a pop-up book, with users able to turn their kitchen table into a fantasy world. “Goldilocks” was a hybrid production — part-book, part-cartoon, and part-video game.

Mixed-reality versions of board games and books will cost far more to produce than their ink and cardboard counterparts. It remains to be seen how the financials will play out for studios like Helios and Within, and if a balance can be struck between developing paradigm-shifting experiences and turning a profit.

Remember, iOS users are accustomed to paying a dollar or two for an app; something like Echelon or Within’s Goldilock’s experience almost certainly would have to cost ten times that (at least!) to make financial sense.

Still, the future of family fun will be interesting to watch as we move from board games and screens to headsets and mixed realities.

Mira Prism AR Headset is Exactly What Apple Glasses Won’t Be

Jonathan Nafarrete, writing about Mira’s just-launched Prism, a $99 Augmented Reality headset that works with iPhone:

The design of the headset is beautiful, something I would expect from a company like Apple when it comes to attention to detail. Prism’s clear lenses easily remove and reattach with the gratifying snap of a magnet hold. The cradle for the iPhone is just as simple, allowing for varying device sizes to fit with an expanding spandex fabric.

Judging only from the press photos in Nafarrete’s post, the headset is neither beautiful nor anything like an Apple product. It more resembles science lab safety glasses than something from Jony Ive’s lab.

This is a simple headset powered by one of the most popular devices, all for the price of $99. But there’s only one thing missing from this equation to make Prism a hit with mass consumers—content. Mira shared that they’ve partnered with select immersive content studios to create an initial suite of interactive AR experiences for developers to learn from and consumers to play, all included when the Prism headset ships. Experiences range from solo challenges to multiplayer games, including mind-bending mixed-reality puzzles, holographic chess and digital warship battles, which make gaming in AR as dynamic as it is social.

“Only one thing missing”: The most important thing of all. Content is still king.

Prism won’t be the only iPhone-compatible AR headset to pop up between now and (if) when Apple’s own glasses drop. It’ll be interesting to see how third-party hardware makers attempt to leverage ARKit-powered experiences made to be viewed on iPhone screens. And, also, if any hardware makers get enough stuff right to pique Apple’s interest on the acquihire front.

I can’t imagine Apple buying another company’s hardware design (let alone one this ugly). But Apple does have a history of acquiring smaller companies and integrating their tech into future products of their own. If Mira – or some other company – finds a great way to leverage ARKit for a headset experience, don’t be surprised to see it incorporated into Apple’s own AR glasses.

You know, if Apple’s actually making its own AR glasses.

Very Few VR Rigs Have Been Sold. So What?

Justin Williams, The Economist:

Yet despite many pronouncements that 2016 was the year of VR, a more apt word for virtual reality might be absence. Of the 6.3m headsets that were shipped last year, most were cheaper, less sophisticated devices, such as the Samsung Gear VR, that rely on smartphones to act as their screens, according to SuperData, a games-market research firm. Only 200,000 high-end Oculus Rift headsets were sold globally (see chart). In the end, SuperData revised its first forecast, made in January last year, that total revenue from VR software and hardware would reach $5.1bn in 2016, down to $3.6bn. The actual figure for total worldwide revenue was a meagre $1.8bn.

Here’s the aforementioned chart:

Chart by Superdata Research, via The Economist

I’d never heard of SuperData before reading this Economist post. That doesn’t mean anything — I’m not particularly up on who’s who in the world of gaming business analysis. A quick visit to SuperData’s website was notable for several prominent grammatical errors amidst the copy marketing their consulting services. Again, may not mean anything. Just passing along the very little I know about them before saying the following:

When an analyst says their own forecast was off by 275% — especially when that margin represents $3.1 Billion — I’m not sure that’s an indictment of the industry they’re trying to analyze. Seems like it’s at least worth considering whether the industry underperformed or the analyst did.

I agree with Williams in that there was a lot of VR-related noise last year. I started getting involved with consumer-grade VR in 2015 when I hosted a panel on AR and VR for Salesforce Developers at Dreamforce. I spent some time ahead of the conference with a Samsung Gear VR and Kodak 360 camera, and checked out an Oculus Rift-based experience at the show itself. Google Cardboard was also a thing that year.

And Palmer Luckey was on the cover of Time that August. Luckey, of course, is no longer CEO of the VR company he founded. But that’s how it goes when you sell your startup for $2 Billion.

The story accompanying Luckey’s infamous cover photo included this paragraph:

Headsets will start going on sale this year, and competition will increase dramatically through 2016. At first they’ll be bought by hardcore gamers and gadget geeks. They’ll be expensive–as much as $1,500 with all the accoutrements. And just as with cell phones, everyone else will mock the early adopters for mindlessly embracing unnecessary technology with no useful purpose. At first.

We’re past that stage, if barely. Useful purposes for VR have emerged. They’re just not mainstream. VR is most useful to gamers and niche users across health care, industry, research, and training. Prices of consumer VR headsets have dropped some, but an Oculus with the necessary PC to run it will still set you back right around $1,500, minimum. As the chart above shows, Superdata is forecasting year over year growth of VR headset sales in 2017, but the numbers are still quite small.

So what?

VR is a long play. Everyone involved knows that. Tons of money is being invested in the VR ecosystem by tech industry giants betting on it becoming one of the pillars of a new wave of immersive computing. These companies have the resources to invest and don’t need to realize immediate returns.

Facebook (owns Oculus), Google, Samsung, and Sony are all big players in VR’s early stages but none of them relies all that heavily on headset sales for revenue right now. Intel, Lenovo, and Qualcomm are slightly smaller players, and they, too, make their bread and butter elsewhere. Apple and Microsoft get mentioned with the terms “Augmented Reality” and “Mixed Reality” more than VR, but let’s mention them, too: They don’t need to sell headsets to keep chugging along.

That basically leaves HTC. HTC probably has the most to win or lose when it comes to VR’s near-term success. Once a darling of the smartphone world, the company has struggled to generate meaningful profits from their phone business in a market dominated by Apple and, to a lesser extent, Samsung. While they still sell phones, HTC’s future lies in something else. For the time being, that something else is their Vive VR headset.

HTC has sold other assets to fund its VR focus, and their need to generate meaningful revenue from this new line of business is more immediate than what their competitors face. But even if Vive “fails” and HTC is forced to close up shop, the VR business itself isn’t going anywhere even if headset sales don’t grow meaningfully over the next few years. (And don’t get me wrong, I’m rooting for HTC; they made some of the best smartphones in the world ten years ago, and Vive is arguably the best VR system on Earth today.)

That said, we’re on the brink of a transition from VR’s earliest days to the beginnings of mainstream VR. All of the VR hardware action to date has been at the extreme ends of the price spectrum, plotting out a barbell curve with super cheap headsets (Cardboard, Gear VR) on one end and super expensive headsets (Rift, Vive) on the other. A new wave of standalone VR rigs offering more power and ease of use than today’s cheap stuff, but in simpler, less expensive form factors than today’s expensive stuff, will launch by year’s end. Google, HTC, Lenovo, and Samsung have already shown their intentions. Facebook/Oculus just jumped on the train today, too, according to this Bloomberg report.

As technology and production techniques improve, and consumer preferences mature, the VR industry will mature. Too much has been invested, and too many big players are excited, for VR to fizzle out now. Ignore the short-term projections and anxiety and play the long game. The Virtual Reality industry is barely in its adolescence.