Augmented World Expo & Mixed Reality
Last summer, I attended the world’s largest mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR) conference, the Augmented World Expo (AWE) in Silicon Valley. At the center of AWE was the expo floor where hundreds of AR and MR companies showcased their cutting-edge products. I demoed many of these devices first hand, and the two that rose high above the competition were the Meta 2 and the Microsoft HoloLens. However, there was a gaping hole left by the absence of Magic Leap—the secretive, overly-hyped mixed reality headset that wasn’t yet released. Fortunately, working at a mobile development company means we have the latest tech in stock to test our clients’ apps, so I was able to try out the Magic Leap once it was ordered. After demoing the three industry-leading mixed reality devices, I discovered an abundance of benefits and pitfalls that will shape the future of mixed reality.
Before diving into my analysis of each headset, the differences between AR and MR must be clarified. Augmented reality requires the use of a smartphone, glasses, or a headset, and everything you see is real with an extra digital layer superimposed into your field of view, or FOV. The digital objects in view, which can be 2D or 3D, don’t necessarily respond accurately to the real world or to the user. Examples include AR-enabled iOS and Android phones as well as Google Glass 2.0, Vusix, and Recon. Mixed reality is a more recent technology that uses a headset or glasses to blur the lines between the real and the virtual. Users can interact with 3D digital objects in their direct FOV and the objects will react accurately to both the user and the surrounding physical world, making the experience more realistic and immersive. HoloLens, Meta, and Magic Leap are paving the way for an extremely bright future in mixed reality.
(Photo Credit: Amis Technology Blog)
During AWE, the first product I demoed was the Microsoft HoloLens. I tested the Remote Assistance app, in which an instructor appeared in a 3D video in my periphery to show me how to fix some factory machinery. The instructor talked me through the repair by drawing impressive, real-time 3D line and arrow graphics directly over the machinery. Overall, I loved the rich, detailed visuals, clear audio quality, and comfortable headset of the HoloLens. I also found the HoloLens apps to be very practical, especially for industry and enterprise use. Best of all, the device was untethered to a computer or mobile device, allowing for freedom of movement and a seamless experience.
(Photo Credit: Hackernoon)
Unfortunately, the HoloLens had a limited field of view at a minuscule 30 degrees horizontal by 17 degrees vertical. The small FOV created a rectangle on the outer edges of my view, like a picture frame, which cut off virtual objects once they extended beyond the inner side of the rectangle. Additionally, HoloLens retails at the steep price of $3,000 for the cheapest version, severely limiting its user base to more enterprise businesses and fewer consumers. Not to mention, the product was also too heavy and unstylish for everyday use. Lastly, the Hololens’ hand gestures were unintuitive and unresponsive at times, and the interface did not ease me into the experience. Fortunately, Microsoft scheduled a release for HoloLens 2 in 2019, which will improve on the flawed but stage-setting original version.
After experimenting with the HoloLens, I walked across the expo floor to demo the Meta 2 and its Viewer app, exploring a virtual shelf of realistic 3D products including drones, Teslas, and Nike sneakers. Using only hand gestures, I pulled 3D products off the shelf and placed them on a table in front of me. The Meta 2’s massive field of view combined with its rich and detailed graphics made for a completely immersive experience. I enjoyed being able to tap a button and explode a 3D product to explore its inner workings. I foresee the Meta 2’s capacity to customize and animate products as a useful function for real-life tasks in the future. In regards to pricing, the Meta gears its apps towards consumers with a lower cost of $1,495 for the dev kit edition.
To the contrary, sometimes the hand gesturing and interactivity did not function as well as expected and objects animated or repositioned themselves unpredictably. With that said, the interface would have benefited from a tutorial regarding the gesturing system. The technology also showed issues with occlusion, or the ability to hide virtual objects behind real things. For example, when I grabbed the virtual drone my hand went through parts of it, breaking the realism of the experience. In my opinion, the most significant downsides to Meta are its cumbersome hardware and the fact that it’s tethered to a PC at all times. The tethering is incompatible with Mac computers, and it limits the user’s freedom to move around in physical space. The Meta 2 blew me away in certain aspects, but the product still needs to overcome several shortcomings before it’s consumer-ready.
(Photo Credit: Women Love Tech)
The long-awaited Magic Leap finally arrived at the POSSIBLE Mobile office following the AWE Conference. The headset was light, comfortable, and easy to adjust, which contributed to a painless system setup. The headset was also notably smaller than the HoloLens and the Meta, and it included a remote and a Lightpack – a small, compatible computer you can clip onto your pocket. While using the Magic Leap, the Lightfield graphics, which layer natural light waves with synthetic light rays, were impressive but had slightly too much transparency. However, the launch screen and app selection interface on the homepage were beautifully animated, drawing me into the engagement. I particularly loved the NBA app (still in beta) for its impressive 3D graphics of player highlights and how it allowed users to place digital screens around them to watch multiple games, shows, or videos at once. Another impressive app was Magic Leap Creator, which demonstrated how the system handled occlusion better than the other mixed reality headsets, though still has room to grow.
Unfortunately, Magic Leap’s field of view, which was 40 degrees vertical by 30 degrees horizontal, was too narrow for a convincing experience. Magic Leap’s UX was also very unintuitive due to the changing input methods between apps. For instance, the user interacts with Tonandi app using hand gestures, the NBA app by pointing the remote which emits a laser to select screens, and the Helio app by swiping on the remote’s trackpad to select buttons and pressing down to make a selection. I believe Magic Leap would greatly benefit from just using hand gestures and body movements to interact with the apps. Magic Leap’s onboarding methods could’ve been improved as well so that the user had clearer instructions for the technology. The flow also needed work – at times I felt stuck on how to dismiss windows, go back between views, or jump forward to an app that was previously opened. Furthermore, Magic Leap uses a system called “world meshing” to scan the room around you and accurately track its surfaces so that they respond to the 3D mixed reality graphics. While this is an excellent idea in theory, the meshing process took too much time and I was unable to scan the room successfully.
In terms of hardware, while the Magic Leap headset is lighter than the other devices, it looks too much like a pair of goggles from an alien sci-fi movie for the general public to embrace the technology. The Lightpack was also heavy and intrusive in my pocket, and the cord from the Lightpack to the headset was bulky and prohibited movement at times. Finally, Magic Leap’s app store, called Magic World, only contained a handful of apps that were not in beta, and the full-fledged apps didn’t include enough content to keep me engaged for an extended period. Magic Leap and its app store are very much a work-in-progress, and they currently have too many deficiencies to break into a mass consumer market. The technology does, however, exude some exciting ideas and enormous potential for future releases.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)
After attending the AWE conference, testing the three major players in mixed reality, and conducting extensive research, I feel confident gauging the future of the ever-growing AR and MR industries. Currently, augmented reality on mobile phones is king as it reaches the most significant audience and is the most developed, especially with Apple’s release of AR Quick Look. As I’ve mentioned, mixed reality faces numerous challenges regarding the three devices I’ve explored. Despite these hurdles, I along with many leading tech companies believe that MR is the future of mobile computing. In comparison to AR on mobile, mixed reality has a much wider field of view, more vibrant graphics, completely immersive experiences, access to collaborative applications, and the ability to solve real-world problems with a heads-up display. However, mixed reality must first overcome a myriad of challenges, and I am not sure that the Magic Leap, HoloLens, or Meta will bring us there. I anticipate it will take Apple or Google’s unveiling of a mixed reality wearable to truly shake the world of technology.
Want to keep your brand on the cutting-edge with an AR or MR strategy? Fill out the form below and one of our experts will be in touch.