“We are creating an experience that merges the art of user interface design with the science of the brain, creating ‘natural machines’ that feel like extensions of ourselves rather than the other way around.”
Meron Gribetz, Founder, Meta
Seeing the Future
Last week, augmented reality start-up Meta published a teaser video on its YouTube channel building anticipation for its next generation augmented reality smart glass. The film featured several recognisable faces from the upper echelons of tech waxing lyrical about Meta’s upcoming product. It even contained a ringing endorsement from Will.i.am.
One of those featured was the futurist and writer Robert Scoble who called Meta’s glass “the most interesting product demo I’ve ever had in my life.” No doubt fully cognizant of the impact of his words, he then compared it favourably with the introduction of the Macintosh.
A few days earlier Scoble had used his Facebook video channel for almost an hour to ‘decompress’ after viewing Meta’s new demo. Restricted by an NDA from revealing any details before its public unveiling at a TED event on February 17, he nonetheless managed to convey a degree of passionate enthusiasm unusual even in an eager early adopter.
In the hype-saturated world of technology, game-changing tech is actually pretty rare. So often the hype bubble inflates, only to implode under the weight of unfulfilled expectations. In this case, it was evident that something significant was afoot. Scoble has had front-row seats for many of tech’s biggest reveals and after the brief heat of Google’s Glass failed to ignite, he’s no doubt wise enough not to stick his neck out without good reason.
Today the hype looks justified. Judging by the response from those able to witness the reveal, Meta has succeeded in positioning its AR device as a genuine next level interface. One with the potential to explode our current screen-based paradigms.
I tried Meta’s prototype device last year and came away with a genuine sense of wonderment. It’s already clear that AR can make possible entirely new kinds of computing experiences. Gestural control over holographic objects, overlays of virtual data onto the real world, holographic video calls with loved ones, enchanting, immersive learning and entertainment experiences, it’s all to play for, and it’s an enticing vision. One that will disrupt the smartphone status quo in a far shorter timeframe than is currently imagined.
Meta’s founder Meron Gribetz has said that he sees holographic computers, as the future of computing. He isn’t alone in attempting to realise this vision. Microsoft, Magic Leap and many undeclared others will also have plenty to say about it. It’s a billion-dollar market – everyone is going to want to play.
At this point, the conversation isn’t about which headset may (or may not) rule them all. It’s far too early to be making that call. What is clear, is that augmented reality has a genuine disruptive potential and is going to radically re-align the technological status quo.
In the near-term, AR will continue its march into the workplace. Products like Daqri’s Smart Helmet are already beginning to prove their usefulness. Next, we’ll see a wider-scale rollout to industry, followed by broader adoption and integration as professionals in as medicine, law-enforcement and education begin to explore its potential. After that, all bets are off.
How quickly all this arrives, is open to debate. Scoble estimates it will take three years; citing weight, cost, the tethered nature of current AR devices and the lack of viable software as hindrances that will need to be overcome.
With Meta already showing product, Microsoft teasing more HoloLens, something due from Google’s Magic Leap soon and unspecified ‘others’ still to enter the fray, it’s possible that things could move more quickly. Either way, the market is ripe for disruption.
The future is coming soon. After today, ‘soon’ suddenly doesn’t look that far away.