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.

Though consumer AR’s most prominent formats are gaming and social, we’re big believers in killer apps that are “boring.” Just as the Internet’s killer apps include search, communications and news, AR could be most valuable when it takes the form of all-day utilities like visual search.

“Don’t get me wrong, augmented reality demos we’ve seen —  flying whales and aliens jumping out of walls — these are all fantastic demos but they’re not really applicable in your everyday lives,” said Intel’s Chris Croteau in a recent AR in Action talk (video below).

Beyond AR’s potential to helps humans in mundane but important ways throughout their everyday lives, it should be discussed and marketed in those plain terms. Croteau believes we’ve instead put the cart before the horse in getting caught too up in industry jargon and technical definitions.

“The first thing I want to talk about is the bias that we have toward the term ‘augmented reality.’ he said. “Sometimes those definitions are defined by companies and with an agenda to get you to think what they’re marketing is ‘true AR.’ If you break it down, what we’re talking about is a basis of reality — what your personal reality is, what you perceive to be your world. Augmentation of that reality is to make it larger, to make it greater, to expand that reality. Notice these words don’t include anything about field of view… stereoscopic… spatial… SLAM. Those are self-imposed terms that we’ve applied to augmented reality.”

Croteau believes that the best metaphor for AR’s true value, and hence appeal to consumers, comes from Spiderman: Far From Home. The E.D.I.T.H. glasses in the film (care of Tony Stark), give Spiderman specific powers. He needs the glasses to achieve a level of performance.

Society has already seen this concept in real life: it’s called corrective eyewear. Looking to the dynamics of standard corrective eye-glasses can tell us a lot about smart glasses’ potential trajectory. People wear glasses to elevate their ability and (secondarily) as a fashion item.

Starting with the primary driver, glasses are medically required by a large segment of the population to raise their eyesight to baseline levels. That degree of need and value compels people to wear something on their face, which is otherwise a very difficult proposition.

“This is a secret for those of you that don’t wear glasses. I’m going to share it because if you need vision correction —  and the more extreme correction you need, the more this is true — your glasses are a prosthetic device […] We will buy these because, without them, we can’t function as normal human beings. So this medical prosthetic device allows us to get up to the baseline of what “normal people” do. Once you add this device, you can read, you can drive, you can recognize people. You can learn new things.”

As for the fashion angle, Croteau reminds us that corrective eyewear in the 1970s started to become fashionable, which gave choice to glasses-wearers for the first time. So they could buy a few pairs of that fit their personality, closing the loop on the physical extension of themselves.

Tying this back to AR’s potential utility and marketability, the same lessons apply. The value tradeoff for someone wearing a device on their face all day — an extension of their personality — has to involve significant elevation of their capabilities as humans… and pass the style test.

And when this all happens, consumers will pay for it. There’s lots of talk today about how AR glasses are too expensive. But it’s less a matter of price than it’s about value. For all the reasons Croteau states above, glasses wearers today willingly pay up to $1000 for each pair.

So how will that capability-elevating value exchange translate to AR? Croteau believes the answer lies in an ambient information layer that empowers us with unlimited knowledge — both on-demand and discoverable. This brings together visual search, AR cloud, IoT and social AR.

“With a simple camera, the compute we all carry in our pocket, and a private display, I can take all of those people that buy glasses to become normal, and I can give them superpowers. I can give them the ability to recognize people because they’re in their social graph […] I can tell you about the metadata of everything in the world because everything around us now has context. We are in the Internet of things. We may not have it all connected but we’ve assigned values to everything […] I can read different languages. I can do live translation using a camera and a display […] No flying whales… no dolphins.”

Whether or not it’s this specific vision for an ambient information layer, Croteau makes a strong case that AR’s killer app will be more utility than whimsy. And the history and dynamics of corrective eyewear can be a good proxy for expected market evolutions for AR glasses.

In simpler terms, it’s a more powerful and compelling value proposition to exist in the matrix he says, as opposed to seeing whales and dolphins and other fodder that’s been used in AR demos: “Do you want a dolphin following you around all day,” asks Croteau, “or do you want to be Neo?”

See the full presentation below. 

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Disclosure: AR Insider 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.

Header image credit: AR in Action, YouTube