XR Talks is a series that features the best presentations and educational videos from the XR universe. It includes embedded video, as well as narrative analysis and top takeaways. Speakers’ opinions are their own.

There’s a big difference between technologies and products. The value chain goes in that order but they’re still separated by time, money, design and execution. According to Niantic AR Lead Ross Finman at the D.I.C.E. Summit (video below), most AR is still in the technology stage.

“I’ll say something controversial here but AR by itself is not valuable,” he said from the stage. “We all need to remember that AR is a technology, it is not an application. People don’t care about a mobile device, they care about making calls with it. They care about checking email.”

To get to the product stage requires knowing consumer wants and pain points; and how the technology can address those. That’s a challenge for AR because marketplace experimentation is still underway. We have some signals, such as currently-popular AR apps, but more are needed.

The biggest common mistake is to develop technology that’s cool or challenging to developers, but without enough insight or evidence of consumers’ real needs or desires. This is the classic “hammer searching for a nail,” affliction that appears in many early-stage tech sectors.

“There’s a growing problem in the AR community where it’s a bunch of tech people who make cool tech that geeks like me can really appreciate, but the general consumer is still a ways away,” said Finman. “The tech race is a couple of generations ahead of the application space.”

As for the types of apps that will best translate AR tech to AR products, Finman has a fresh take on the fundamentals of physical-digital convergence. Flipping the common definition of digital objects on physical scenes, the physical world should integrate with and influence digital play.

For example, Pokemon Go sometimes doesn’t fit strict definitions of AR in terms of SLAM graphics on real scenes. But it does meld the digital and physical when players encounter specific Pokemon depending on their location. This is about broadening AR’s definition (including audio).

This boils down to a key Finman concept which is that the real world is the content. So instead of creating animations that are primary game elements that interact with the real world as secondary game elements, things are flipped. The real world should have more of a leading role.

“This is all part of what I consider to be a next-generation world operating system,” said Finman, invoking an AR cloud-like concept, “where you have a consistent data layer on top of the world that people can begin to interact with. This is part of making the real-world [the] content.”

For example, could game mechanics be built around real-world elements such as shapes and colors? Finman poses a gamified experience from “mining” the colors of the world around us. This would apply computer vision to intake visual signals and process them into fun experiences.

“The world is full of colors, so you can make experiences where you can mine colors out of the world,” said Finman. “So the resources of your games can be just the color makeup of your room… The strategies that you would use change based off of the colors of the environment.”

In these types of interactions and experience design, Finman believes that gaming is fundamental. The skills and mindsets of game developers will translate well into AR experience building. And that’s not just for AR games, but enterprise applications such as training simulations.

“As augmented reality begins to grow — and the AR market in the gaming market, or in this interconnected web — the game developers who understand this new medium faster and newer than other people are going to actually have an immense amount of impact,” said Finman.

Lastly, a macro factor that provides confidence for the forward march of AR is the level of investment from tech giants. As we’ve examined, this is a good confidence signal given that they believe in the technology. Many tens of billions in investment will also be a good accelerant.

“They’re coming at it from many different directions but they’re all trying to solve the same problem,” said Finman. “These are companies with some of the biggest financial reserves
we’ve ever seen. This leads to what I consider to be an obvious conclusion: AR is inevitable.”

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Header image credit: D.I.C.E., YouTube