2017 was disappointing for XR, and parts of that will flow into 2018. But there are bright spots, XR thought leader and Metaverse author Charlie Fink tells ARtillry. Building from our own 2018 predictions, we recently engaged Fink in a dialogue about his outlook.

Here’s the highlight reel, followed by some of our reactions and references.

— “2017 was a bad year for VR. Tepid sales in the US and Europe. 2016 was a much better year for VR hardware. Sales were down for virtually every device. Windows MR launched without much fanfare.”

— “China was a bright spot, and there continues to be a lot of government investment in VR and AR there. They seem poised to overtake the West in many critical technologies and are nurturing Western-style entrepreneurship and innovation while producing an army of programmers. They call them the “new PLA”. In 2017, there were twice as many college grads in China as the US, and eight times as many science and engineering grads.”

— “Oculus Go, coming next month, is sub par. It’s Samsung Gear without the phone. It’s a device for simple games and 360 video. There are no killer apps.”

— “HTC Vive Focus, their $600 standalone wireless VR all-in-one HMD was introduced in China today. I got a private demo at CES. It’s pretty damn impressive. Potential game-changer. My guess for US is late 2018, with software coming from Viveport. 

— “VR will see solid growth this year, and especially next, and will build undeniable momentum, which it does not yet have.”

— “Interim devices: Kopin Solos, Vuzix Blade, ODG R-8, Meta 2, Lenovo/Disney Star Wars Jedi Challenge, The Mira Prism. Looking forward to my golf AR rangefinder glasses, which will surely arrive in spring 19.”

— “If Apple puts AR into glasses by 2020, as you predict, my guess is that it will be like the Vuzix or the Solos: iWatch on your face. There is as yet no proof people want this. We’ll see.”

— “Infrastructure. We need (1) an AR cloud (2) a universal visual browser to access it (3) altimeter integration (if you’re making a 3D map of the world, you have to know what floor you’re on) (4) cheap, plentiful external 3D cameras for telepresence (5) more, much more, better bandwidth. Beyond 5G. Without these import things – none of which are even prototypes – AR won’t have any killer apps.”

— “We are going to see a lot more location-based VR (LBVR) open up this year. There are two flavors: Vrcades which use the HTC Vive, and Free Roam or Warehouse Scale VR. Within three years, 80% of the players who launch this year will disappear. Too soon to say if the survivors will be on life support, or consolidators starting what will be the new movie business. While the technology is flat out amazing (you are literally inside a movie), no one has a solution for retail entertainment’s big problem: utilization. Not enough seats on Saturday, and too many seats the rest of time.”

We agree on all points. The AR cloud in particular will be critical for AR to fulfill it’s promise. And browser-based access is a smart call, given the friction and fragmentation around apps, that could make them sub-optimal vessels for AR, despite Apple’s heavy-handed influence.

There are still lots of question marks about how things will unfold in 2018, which makes it exciting. Oculus Go will be a wild card, and it has the potential to mainstream VR and jolt adoption through loss-leader pricing. But Fink’s insights on the device’s quality detriments are certainly a factor.

A lot of this comes out of Metaverse, where you can get a deeper dive. Sort of like Kramer’s coffee table book, the physical book itself is AR-enabled (very “meta”). Stay tuned for lots more from Fink, and more commentary we’ll continue to tap from XR innovators and thought leaders.

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Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.