What are the biggest lessons from a career in XR? Where are we in the industry’s lifecycle and what can we expect next? These are questions best answered by veterans and pioneers of spatial computing. And that’s what we aim to do in this Feeling Spatial series.

Specifically, we’re interviewing inductees to AWE’s XR Hall of Fame to find out what insights and advice they have for other players in the field. And we kick off the series here with Alvin Wang Graylin. AR Insider readers likely know him well, but for those unfamiliar, he’s kind of a big deal.

Graylin is HTC’s Global VP of Corporate Development and former HTC VIVE China regional president. He studied under the Godfather of VR, Tom Furness, at the University of Washington. Then he blazed his own pioneering path in XR, from which he’s gained seasoned insights.

See our discussion below, and more about Graylin and his pioneering work on his XR Hall of Fame profile. Also check out his book, Our Next Reality, and – in the spirit of next week’s AWE USA 2024 – his session, Our Next Reality: A Debate of Our AI-powered Immersive Future.

Amping Up for AWE 2024: What to Expect

Q&A with Alvin Wang Graylin

AR Insider: Throughout your career in XR – being commemorated by your AWE Hall of Fame induction – what have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

AWG: There are so many, but here are a few: It takes much longer, and takes more effort, then you expect to put out a good product. Changing user behavior or habits is very, very hard. Comfort is SOOOO important (without that, nothing else matters). And content is why people use devices.

AR Insider: What were the biggest challenges? Were they tech-oriented or market-based? Or both?

AWG: Convincing content creators to make quality content for a new/small user base device. Explaining to new users the value of XR who haven’t tried it or used poor quality ones before. Making XR devices financially viable given the slow ramp rate (over decades). And dealing with team and ecosystem morale with the cycles of ups and downs.

AR Insider: Any surprises along the way? What were things that you learned that changed your thinking/perspective or pre-conceived notions – either with the technology or the market dynamics?

AWG: The fact that AI will soon be able to generate 3D worlds and drive sophisticated NPCs as easy as they generate pictures today will make XR content that was previously cost-prohibitive something worth doing. The trend that XR devices can get to under 50g and have dual display, camera, speaker, etc will drive rapid adoption soon, especially with AI fueling the content, as mentioned earlier.

AR Insider: There have been ups and downs in XR in terms of excitement, investment, market troughs, et cetera. Where do you believe we are now in XR’s lifecycle?

AWG: We should be entering the bend of the adoption cycle in the next 2 years. Devices and content, as mentioned earlier, will meet the user base requirements for comfort, style, and functionality such that they could wear it as part of their daily driving. I’ve been doing it with AI glasses. The next-gen of Smart XR glasses will be more value-add, but similar size and social acceptability.

AR Insider: Similarly, what advantages and underlying tech do today’s XR innovators get to build upon, compared to resources and available tech in your early career?

AWG: The hardware, content pool, talent pool, price point, dev tools, market acceptance are ALL significantly better now than in the 1990s, when I started. The dreams we had for commercializing VR then were just a pipe dream…Now, it looks quite doable, especially as we are getting supercharged with the help of AI.

AR Insider: What are some things you’re excited about for the near future of XR? What predictions do you have for the next 1-2 years?

AWG: Glasses form factor devices that will last a significant portion of the day. AI assistants and tutors, accessed via glasses that give a reason for people to wear smart eyewear…which easily transitions into XR glasses, or already are real-time rendered virtual worlds and characters that make personalized XR content a reality.

AR Insider: Given your perspective and depth of experience in this industry, what strategic advice do you have for startups, or career advice for early-career pros in XR?

AWG: Raise more than you think you need. Find your niche of value and expertise, and get world-class. Avoid hardware unless absolutely necessary. Stay positive and don’t let the cycles or media affect you. Build a well-rounded team that really believes…not full of mercenaries. Only enter the industry because you feel a passion for it…not to follow the crowd/hype.

AR Insider: Good advice. Any final thoughts for AWE attendees?

AWG: Use this technology for good. It can easily be misused to create harm to users or society, and you’ll be tempted to use it that way during difficult times. Stick to your morals, and you’ll have nothing to regret later in life.

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