The VR industry’s biggest threat is underwhelming content

By Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, VRARA Amsterdam Chapter President. Original article posted on VentureBeat.

Vrideo, the portal that started back in 2014 with the lofty aim of being the YouTube of virtual reality, called it quits earlier this week. Two years is like a decade in “VR-years”, as those in the fast-moving industry can readily testify, and while Vrideo’s founders tried to stretch the $2 million they raised from early 2015, it could only take them so far before the well dried up.

One reason Vrideo failed to get the traction it needed to survive was its inability to deliver enticing content that would have brought users back repeatedly for more. And that same traction challenge faces most other VR content companies.

While 2016 has been the year when hardware players delivered on getting a sufficient supply of VR headsets into households at increasingly attractive price points, the pressure is now on content makers to make the immersive medium stick as a mainstay for mass consumption. VR’s ability to achieve staying power will almost wholly depend on it.

“Content, be it a lack of content or poorly created content that underwhelms people when they try VR is the biggest threat to mainstream consumer adoption.” Nic Mitham, cofounder and CEO at WEARVR, told me.

I wrote last month that the VR industry hasn’t done a good job so far on safety research, but it also hasn’t done a good job on market research. Very few quantitative studies are available, and it doesn’t look like content creators are sufficiently testing the appeal of what they are churning out, which may be partly due to a lack of time and resources to make it a priority.

“The number one problem facing the VR industry right now is the lack of quality VR content with a high replayability factor,” Hess Barber, cofounder and President of First Contact, told VentureBeat last month.

The anecdotal evidence is that most people trying out VR for the first time at exhibitions and trade fairs aren’t impressed. The common complaint I hear is that the experience was surprisingly poor or, even worse, gimmicky, which to a content creator, or really anyone with a vested interest in the industry, is like hearing a chalkboard being scraped.

Yes, the walled garden operators at Oculus, HTC, and Samsung are all engaging the developer community in order to prioritize high quality, premium, engaging content, but it’s a tall order. It’s unclear whether developers will be able to produce high quality experiences, quickly, in order to satisfy the anticipated demand.

“It’s important to create solutions and content that will be better because of VR technology, not just the same services and narratives on a new platform,” Therkel Sand Therkelsen, founder at CopenX, told me.

For example, does VR as a medium offer a superior experience for learning math? And, in the case of the just-shuttered Vrideo, how compelling is 360-degree video? According to Presence Capital’s Phil Chen, not very:

“360 degree video is the wrong capture method for VR. Volumetric capture needs to work for creatives, movie directors, filmmakers, and the like to create this new medium. I think it’s a mistake that 360-degree video and VR are almost synonymous now. For a general sense of space, 360 is fine. But if you want to truly tell a story – to zoom in, zoom out, gauge reactions and create empathy and emotions – it’s terrible for those things.”

Content that fails because of technical shortsightedness like not designing the UX so that users are free of any threat of nausea is becoming less of an occurrence. What’s more essential is resisting the urge to transform content into VR experiences without considering what the value-add is. An example is this 360 video of Richard Branson playing tennis.

“Creators should ask themselves why the content is created for VR and how the technology can add value. If not, it could be a risk to the industry.” Therkelsen adds.

You can’t simply throw any story into VR and win over audiences by that merit alone. It has to be wrapped around the medium, which may in some cases require a reimagining of the content. A good example is the Verge’s exclusive VR interview with First Lady Michelle Obama on how she mastered social media. As a user, you feel more intimate with the content and may even experience a pinch of presence in the environment as the narration guides your attentive gaze.

If content makers don’t step up and instead leave users hanging with a library of VR content that lacks variety, richness, and the unique depth that only genuinely immersive experiences can provide, then the devices that have made their way into people’s homes may start collecting dust, and future hardware sales may not be as impressive as those of us in the industry are hoping for.

Pilot projects show how VR will revolutionize education

By Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, VRARA Amsterdam Chapter President. Original article posted on VentureBeat

A research report recently published in China entitled “The Impact of VR on Academic Performance,” asserts that virtual reality improves student test scores and knowledge retention. VR-based learning also tends to leave no student behind since it is able to appeal to even the least responsive of users, the report states.

The study, which compared test performance of students who had learned a stubject via VR versus students who had learned by traditional means, suggests that VR could the secret sauce to learning that teachers have been dreaming about for years.

I can’t vouch for the credibility of the study. It’s unclear whether the companies that sponsored it — Beijing Bluefocus and Beijing iBokan Wisdom Mobile Internet Technology Training Institutions — have a vested interest in the VR space. But we’re hearing similar things from a couple of companies in Europe.

Last week, HTC aired the latest episode of its This is Real series, featuring a visit to the offices of Immersive VR Education, a two-year old startup based in the Viking city of Waterford, Ireland, a 90-minute drive from Dublin. The company makes Engage, a platform that changes the scope, scale, and substance of what distance learning can offer lecturers and students from all around the world when VR is brought into play.

“It’s not just something that’s a bit different. This is a new medium. It’s not what we’ve been traditionally doing,” David Whelan, CEO at Immersive VR Education, says at the start of the episode.

Engage is free, and lecturers and presenters can use it to rally up to 30 users into a single session. It can be used simply as the “PowerPoint for VR,” as a tool for conducting meetings, or for anything, really, that allows users to express and share ideas and collaborate in real time at the depth of digital experience only VR can offer. A teacher reading aloud from a textbook about prehistoric vegetation to a class of 20 can suddenly teleport everyone to a great grassy plain crowded with irate dinosaurs.

An early prototype of Engage went live on Steam about three months ago and has had 35,000 downloads to date. An update in January will roll in more features and accessible content.

This kind of technology transforms distance learning into the premium mode of education. And education goes from abstract to visceral in the blink of an eye.

With the availability of tools like this, we can expect to see VR have a significant impact on how we educate. One key feature is the immersive medium’s capacity to transport us into environments that heighten engagement by making subjects alive, interactive, and therefore relatable and relevant. Another is that it transcends physical limitations that, coupled with social features, can eliminate what is in reach for anyone, anywhere.

“I’m very excited about the concept of virtual lessons, in which a teacher instructs students inside a virtual classroom and can teleport them to various locations,” says Dominic Barnard, Cofounder at VirtualSpeech. “Imagine a history lesson, where after five minutes of going through slides, the whole class is teleported to the trenches in WW2 to experience what they have just learned with 360 images and videos.”

Barnard brings us to another application in particular where VR will have an impact: language learning.

A few weeks ago, the team at UK-based VirtualSpeech released the beta version of Language VR, their initial approach of tackling what is usually considered to be the tedious task of learning a new language. It’s already developed a variety of programs that teach vocabulary, grammar, games, roleplaying, and even culture.

For example, users get to explore different parts of the UK, immersed in stunning 360-degree images while learning English as part of the ride. The roleplaying scenarios allow travelers, for instance, to practice ordering a meal at a restaurant or booking a hotel room.

“People say the best way to learn a language is to visit the country. VR in a way does just that. It can immerse you in a different language and culture as if you were there.” Barnard said. “With improvements in speech-to-text and conversation modules, soon we’ll be able to have realistic conversations with virtual avatars in various countries and situations, such as ordering a train ticket in Paris or renting an apartment in London.”

One major barrier, of course, is getting this technology into schools. The K12 system isn’t known for its sizeable budgets or its swiftness in adopting new technologies.

Everything VR & AR Podcast: Niko Chauls of USA TODAY NETWORK

Listen here

Joined by Niko Chauls who is the Director of Emerging Technology at the USA Today & Gannett Network on this episode to learn more about what his team is doing in the augmented, mixed and virtual reality space across their 110 locations in the United States.

Niko discusses what the purpose is behind the VRtually There YouTube channel, along with sharing more information about just what is the yearly StoryNEXT event that he is the Executive Director of.

Also Niko share some wonderful insight on the Hololens and what direction Microsoft is looking to head with it and so much more that it is just best to hear what he has to say.

Snap's AR Camera Strategy

It's about Story (Content) Creation and "Advertising"

In my previous post, I talked about Snap being a Camera company and an AR company (I had to state the "obvious" since many people, even in our AR industry, do not realize this. FYI, Snap refers to "AR" when it mentions "filters" or "lenses.")  

In this post, I talk about how Snap will use the technology to become one of the world's biggest online media and advertising companies, competing with the likes of YouTube. Already users of Snapchat are reportedly viewing at least 10 billion videos per day. And in my previous post, I shared examples of how Snap users are now posting 10 times more with using the Spectacles. 

Snap's new motto is "improve the way people live and communicate," i.e., with the camera. This has everyday connotation. Unlike other smartglasses and AR solutions, Snap Spectacles are about everyday use, by anyone. It's not about a specific use case or vertical, it's about everyday day life. It's about first person's narratives (watch video below.) This can have the potential of translating Snap's image recognition triggered ads into a huge business. 

Snap is all about creating (and consuming) "Snaps" or stories and content curation. Snap added augmented-reality World Lenses into their app in early Nov, enabling AR overlays on top of real-world objects. It's to be expected Spectacles will also have this capability. With AR (including object recognition) and Camera technology, the possibilities are many. Examples, include: 

Snap is all about creating (and consuming) "Snaps" or stories and content curation. Snap added augmented-reality World Lenses into their app in early Nov, enabling AR overlays on top of real-world objects. It's to be expected Spectacles will also have this capability. With AR (including object recognition) and Camera technology, the possibilities are many. Examples, include: 

Call for VR AR Industry Committees and Committee Chairs

Industry Committees will work with VRARA members and industry at large to establish best practices and Call to Actions to further accelerate the market. 

The VR/AR Association (VRARA) is the global industry association for VR, AR and MR, connecting leading solution providers with brands and customers. Members and sponsors include Samsung, AT&T, Orange, USA TODAY NETWORK, Mativision, NYU, Sears, Lowe's, Walgreens, and many other VR AR hardware, software, and content companies. In addition, VRARA already has a global team of industry experts with over 15 Chapters in major cities in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Middle East to help members grow locally and connect them to global opportunities.

As the VRARA is entering it's second year and passing the 100 members mark, it's time to accelerate growth even further. As such, the VRARA is soliciting interest for potential Committee Chairs for the following verticals:

  1. Medical/Healthcare (Digital Health
  2. Entertainment/Film
  3. Mobile 360/VR
  4. Retail & eCommerce
  5. Education
  6. Marketing/ Advertising
  7. Journalism
  8. Travel
  9. Real Estate
  10. Automotive
  11. Public Safety & Emergency Response
  12. Licensing
  13. More/Others 

Each Committee will collaborate with VRARA members and the industry at large to produce best practices, guidelines, and call to actions (e.g, recommendations for standards). 

If interested, see the Industry Committees page and fill out the following form and let us know which Committee you would like to participate in:

Name *

Mobile is the "Here and Now" VR/AR Opportunity: VRARA's San Francisco Fall Event


Though PC and console VR are sexier, mobile is where VR could really scale.  This was a central theme that emerged during VRARA’s packed San Francisco Fall event.

For instance, the 2 million headsets that will be sold this year (IDC), are dwarfed by the 2.6 billion global smartphones that are the installed base for mobile VR.

Yes, it's still the lesser version of VR but it's improving. Moreover, mobile VR's mainstream-friendly price point make it the gateway drug that VR needs at this stage.

The same goes for AR: Lenovo’s Carter Agar showed us practical use cases for smartphone-based AR through the recently released and Tango-powered Phab 2 Pro

With Tango’s depth mapping and area learning, use cases range from the whimsical (virtual dominos on a real table) to practical (interior design, guided indoor navigation).

Beyond Borders

Moving on to our panel, three heavy hitters are sinking their teeth into VR and AR through corporate strategic investment: Orange, Lenovo and Comcast Ventures.

A cross-section of the VR world can be seen in Comcast Ventures’ investments over the past year. Michael Yang leads a team devoted exclusively to CV’s investments in VR and AR.

His investment thesis is grounded in VR's vision as the next major platform shift. But more importantly it’s one that scales across geographic and vertical/industry borders.

For example, CV investment NextVR, revolutionizes a media staple with massive reach: live sports. It's also broadcast’s saving grace against cord cutting, which VR will amplify.

Orange meanwhile stands as a carrier at a time when VR/AR data payloads will skyrocket. Its Orange Silicon Valley (OSV) subsidiary tracks emerging tech opportunities.

According to OSV business strategist Kristie Cu, VR aligns with 5G rollouts. And that’s good timing, given that mobile VR and AR’s data throughput will certainly need bigger pipes.

Bottom Line Results

Lenovo meanwhile manufactures PCs for VR’s graphical processing needs. And it’s competing on the AR front, as shown in Agar’s earlier presentation.

Lenovo’s director of worldwide innovation, Joe Mikhail had a lead role on Meta’s series B round, and correspondingly believes AR’s real opportunity is all about enterprise. 

This includes everything from workplace productivity to manufacturing and industrial design, such as 3D modeling, he says. It's one reason AR will surpass VR in market size.

In these enterprise integrations, the name of the game will be to improve operational efficiencies, agreed both Mikhail and Cu; and to demonstrate true bottom line results.


Recap of VRARA LA Event

The VRARA LA Chapter event on Nov 19th was filled with great content and LA stars, including Interscope Records, Starbreeze (doing VR work with IMAX), Producers Guilt of America, Wolfprint 3D, Soundstage VR, and the infamous Mr Virtual World, Neverdie, among others. The topics covered VR in film, entertainment, and music; how to use VR to interact and storytell. 

The LA Chapter represents the local companies in the area, which are mainly involved in VR Film & Entertainment. There are also AR hardware & content companies like Snap with Spectacles and DAQRI, which we will be keeping a close eye on. 


Alibaba and VRARA Member VRCommerce Shopping Solutions for Macy's, Target, and other Retailers

You probably heard this year Alibaba topped $18B in sales in one day during the world’s biggest shopping day on its Tmall ecommerce platform. In comparison, combined Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in the US in 2015 were about $14B, and that’s across all retailers. 

This year on Tmall, brands & retailers got to experiment with new commerce concepts, such as VR. Shoppers got to experience shopping at Macy’s and other virtual stores and were able to discover and engage with items as if they were in the real store, including purchase by way of controlling their gaze. Alibaba integrated with Alipay to allow customers to check out with Buy+ within the VR environment.

VRARA member VRCommerce, has built a VR ecommerce platform that integrates with the retailer's existing product catalogs. “We’ve created a seamless path for retailers to begin to experiment in VR and create incredibly immersive transformative retail experiences,” says VRCommerce CEO, Amol Sharma. The video clip showcases a few of the early virtual storefronts. The user experience and UX can be completely tailored to reflect a brand and the experience desired. Example #1 shows an experience that could be inside an Apple, Samsung, AT&T or Verizon stores. Example #2 shows an interactive 360 experience inside a furniture store. Example #3 shows VR shopping inside a store like Macy's or Target.   

Other highlights:

In October, Alibaba started selling 150,000 cardboard VR headsets for 1 yuan (about $0.15). This enabled 8M shoppers to try out VR shopping experiences with brands like Costco, Macy’s, Procter & Gamble, and Target. Other brands, including Target, CostCo, and Tokyo Otaku Mode, are also doing virtual shopping experiences with Alibaba. 

Alibaba claims this gives consumers a chance to more deeply engage with the product, to understand it better, and to do it in a famous’ store environment, saying, “it is a new tool to move the relationship with their consumers beyond a highly transactional one where speed and efficiency count most, and allow the brand to create stronger bond" (Mike Evans, Alibaba’s President).

In offline B&M retail, Alibaba created a Pokémon-Go-like augmented reality mobile game — “Catch The Tmall Cat” — to drive traffic to the offline stores of partner retailers like Starbucks and Suning and increase sales; players could “capture” discount codes to use in stores. 

Come meet VRARA, VRCommerce, and other VRARA members at the NRF Retail Show in NYC in Jan. More info here

The VR/AR Association Vancouver Chapter Launch Event on Dec 5

RSVP Here 

The VR/AR Association, the global trade association for virtual reality, augmented & mixed reality announced today its official launch in Vancouver British Columbia, Canada. The global Association has named Dan Burgar, who leads Business Development & Partnerships at one of the largest dedicated VR/MR Studios in the world, Archiact, as the Vancouver chapter president to draw new members, create member value, education, develop best practices, and guidelines.

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality is growing at an exponential rate in the business community and is no longer just for the gaming community. We've barely scratched the surface of what is possible and what the practical uses of these innovations can do to solve problems.  This event will uncover the realities of the industry and what how it will impact our daily lives in the present and in the future. VR/AR and MR are looked at as the next computing platform, and it's coming faster than you might expect.

Please join us for the VR/AR Association Vancouver Chapter launch, which will be a great opportunity to network with top industry leaders, peers, and organizations in all different industries and others within the VR/AR/MR ecosystem.  This will be a start to regular events around the city, industry specific events and initiatives

The VR/AR Association (The VRARA) is an international organization designed to foster collaboration between innovative companies and people in the virtual reality and augmented reality ecosystem that accelerates growth, fosters research and education, helps develop industry standards, connects member organizations and promotes the services of member companies.

The event is $30 for non-members and admission includes food and drinks. This event is free for current VR/AR Association members.  

SPACE IS LIMITED so be sure to get your tickets ASAP! Industry professionals are encouraged to register early.

Snapchat (Snap Inc) is a Camera and Augmented Reality Company

The industry needs a success story for consumer smartglasses and AR that goes beyond PokemanGo. Here's why you should pay attention to Snap as an Augmented Reality player with respect to hardware, software, and content.  

You probably know Snapchat (it launched in 2011 and changed it's name to "Snap Inc" in 2016) as the popular mobile messaging app that allows you to send videos and pictures, both of which will self destruct after a few seconds of a person viewing them. You can capture a photo or brief video with it, then add a filter (lens) over it, and send the finished creation (called a snap) to a friend. Alternatively, you can add your snap to your "story", a 24-hour collection of all your snaps that’s broadcasted to the world or just your followers. Filters are a fun overlay; an augmentation of reality. You can even add geo-filters to your snaps. 

What most people (still) don't realize, that Snap's filters have evolved into Augmented Reality filters. In fact, Snap might be the world's biggest AR company right now (yes, bigger than PokemanGo). Moreover, Snap is working on ad products, Snap Ads, which are Vertical Videos, Viewed by Choice; and Unlockables, which include Sponsored Geofilters, Lenses, and other unique (i.e., AR objects) ad products.

The background is that Snap has acquired 3D photo app maker Seene (also known as Obvious Engineering). Seene lets you capture 3D models from your phone with a simple smartphone camera. Snap uses Seene’s format for a brand new category of selfie lenses and augmented reality projects. Seene scans and reconstructs full 3D geometry on your phone. Unlike Google's Project Tango or Microsoft’s Kinect, Seene doesn’t need special infrared sensors and multiple cameras. Similarly, Seene doesn’t need a cloud backend to process 3D scans and recreate 3D objects, everything happens on the phone. Watch the video "Scan yourself into virtual worlds with Seene" to learn more. 

In addition, Snap has acquired a company that makes smartglasses in 2014; Vergence Labs made Epiphany Eyewear, a range of fashionable black-framed smart glasses that allow wearers to record video at the touch of a button. Also, Snap has acquired video software company AddLive, to advance its video functionality. All these acquisitions have came to fruition into a successful product, the Spectacles, the smartglasses with a video camera, which are becoming a smash hit.   

I experienced the Spectacles-mania phenomenon this past week, when I was standing in this line (see the video "Snapchat Spectacles Bot Drop") to purchase the Spectales. I recorded an existing user that demo'ed the Spectacles to us. The highlight was when he said "I don't have to use my phone anymore to Snap." He also said that he "snaps" 80 times per day with the Spectacles, compared to 5 times a day before he got the Spectacles.  What what also fascinating was the fact that he works for a security company, given the security (and privacy) questions arising around the Spectacles-mania. 

Furthermore, Snap Inc has been granted several patents related to AR and optical objects, including the below patent United States Patent Application: 0160210545 (CUSTOM FUNCTIONAL PATTERNS FOR OPTICAL BARCODES) for mobile and wearable devices that will leverage Snap QR codes for the device to scan the object and trigger relevant content. This can be related to Snap's ad products, Snap Ads, which can be in the form of Vertical Videos, Viewed by Choice; and Unlockables, which include Sponsored Geofilters, Lenses, and other unique (i.e., AR objects) ad products.

U.S. Senate Committee Hearings on Augmented Reality

On November 16, 2016, the following U.S. Senate Committee Hearings on Augmented Reality took place. 

Exploring Augmented Reality

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation convened the hearing, entitled “Exploring Augmented Reality.” The hearing examined the emergence, benefits, and implications of augmented reality technologies. Unlike virtual reality that creates a wholly simulated reality, augmented reality attempts to superimpose images and visual data on the physical world in an intuitive way.  


•    Mr. Brian Blau, Research Vice President, Gartner (see Testimony here)
•    Mr. John Hanke, Chief Executive Officer, Niantic, Inc. (developer of Pokémon GO) (see Testimony here)
•    Mr. Brian Mullins, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, DAQRI (see Testimony here)
•    Mr. Stanley Pierre-Louis, General Counsel, Entertainment Software Association (see Testimony here)
•    Mr. Ryan Calo, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Washington (see Testimony here)

Reference Information Slideshow


Majority Statement from Chairman John Thune

Good afternoon.  I would like to thank everyone for coming today to discuss the exciting potential of augmented reality technology.

This past Fourth of July weekend, many Americans began to notice an unusual phenomenon: more and more people – far more than usual – were going outside.  Suddenly, sidewalks, parks, and local landmarks were packed with people wandering the great outdoors while burying their heads in their smartphones.

These people, of course, were playing the smash hit mobile game Pokémon GO.  But by going out into the real world to find and capture digital creatures, they weren’t just playing a game – they were getting their first exposure to the possibilities of augmented reality.

Many of us have heard of, or experienced, virtual reality, which usually involves putting on a headset that covers users’ eyes, surrounding them in an artificial world.

Augmented reality, or AR, is different.  AR takes digital information and superimposes it onto the real, physical environment.  Rather than closing the user off from the real world, AR adds virtual content on top of the real world.

Pokémon GO accomplishes this by using a smartphone’s camera to record the real world while the game displays digital characters over the image on the phone’s screen.

More advanced AR headsets currently in development and in use by industry have “mixed reality” capabilities that can map the user’s surroundings in real time and allow virtual content to convincingly interact with the physical world.

These more advanced AR devices and techniques show that the potential of this technology goes far beyond smartphone games, and could one day have a major impact on manufacturing, transportation, medicine, and eventually the daily lives of average Americans.

For example, imagine a worker in a factory whose job is to assemble an advanced jet engine for a new airliner.  With an AR headset, that worker could see step-by-step instructions floating above his workstation, with the exact spot he is supposed to weld being digitally highlighted.

Or imagine a medical student who can train on a virtual 3D model created from scans of a real patient.  Or an EMT in a rural area who can receive real-time instructions from a specialist in a hospital hundreds of miles away on how best to stabilize a patient while help is on the way.

AR technology promises to take all of the information that has been confined to the Internet over the past few decades and integrate it into the physical world, where such content can be most useful and do the most good.

Advanced manufacturing and other industries have already begun using AR for training new workers and have seen great improvements in safety and efficiency.  We often hear about technology replacing workers, but AR provides an opportunity for technology to enhance workers instead, by helping them with their training and making them more productive.

In previous hearings this Committee has held on new and emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things and Autonomous Vehicles, I stressed how important it is for government to avoid jumping in too soon with a heavy-handed regulatory approach.

AR is no different.  While there are certainly important policy questions to consider, such as the privacy of user data recorded by AR devices, it is essential that policymakers not unnecessarily stifle innovation.  Instead, we should foster an environment that maximizes the potential benefits of this promising new technology.

There may be obstacles, regulatory or otherwise, to achieving the full potential of AR.  Like a Pokémon trainer, the job of this Committee is to “catch ‘em all.”

Earlier today, the Committee had the great opportunity to see AR in action first-hand.  DAQRI, Niantic, and the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center provided us with a great demonstration of:  the DAQRI Smart Helmet and a heads-up display for automobiles, which gives drivers important information without having to take their eyes off the road; Pokémon GO and other Niantic apps; and military-focused applications of AR.

Even though the only reality they could augment was the reality of the Russell building, it was easy to see the potential of this new technology for a wide range of applications.  I want to thank them for making their products available to us today.

I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses to learn more about their experiences with AR and their visions for the future of this promising new technology.

Apple working to make the iPhone's camera a portal to augmented reality

The VR/AR Association's Kris Kolo was interviewed for this Business Insider article

Apple is integrating augmented reality technology into the iPhone’s camera app.

The effort, which involves teams from several acquired startups, reflects Apple’s near-term desire to put augmented reality technology into consumers' hands even as it develops special glasses that could eventually change the way people perceive their surroundings.

Apple also recently hired an expert in head-mounted displays, in the latest sign of its longer-term glasses initiative.

Augmented reality is an exploding field in technology in which digital objects are superimposed onto the real world. A view of a city street for instance can be enriched with a map for directions, a coupon for a nearby store or an animated character in a video game.

The ultimate goal is a pair of smart glasses, and companies including Google, Microsoft,Facebook, Apple and Snapchat are all actively developing or exploring such a product. But in the near-term most popular augmented reality applications will take place on a smartphone, as was the case with this summer’s smash hit Pokemon Go app.

Point and recognize

By adding AR technology into the iPhone’s camera software, Apple wants consumers to be able to point the phone at a real-world object and have it be recognized, according to Kris Kolo, director of the VR/AR Association and a board member of Flyby Media, an AR startup that was acquired by Apple earlier this year. That would require creating or licensing a database of 3D objects.

Another early feature for Apple's AR integration into the camera app could be to recognize and manipulate people's faces. Apple integrated facial recognition technology into the photos app in the most recent version of its iOS software, and purchased FaceShift, a company with similar technology in 2015. 

Apple has acquired several AR and virtual reality technology companies in recent years including Metaio, in February 2014 and Flyby Media in January 2016. The employees from both groups are now working in Apple’s camera group.

Eventually, Kolo said, after the AR features are built into the iPhone camera app, Apple will release the technology behind them as an SDK for app developers, like it did with its Touch ID fingerprint sensor. At that point, Apple will become a competitor to companies like Vuforia and Blippar. 

Apple declined to comment.

Several leaders in the augmented reality space have previously said they expect Apple to integrate AR into the next version of iOS.

Glass backward

Apple is also working on a pair of skinny, stylish smart glasses that pairs to an iPhone to display contextual information, Bloomberg reported on Mondayand sources have told Business Insider. 

However, the timeline for the device is far into the future — 2018 or later, according to the Bloomberg report.

But there are some signs that the project has moved out of the exploration labs and into a more advanced stage in which Apple is exploring production. 

John Border, who lists his title as "senior optics manufacturing exploration engineer," joined Apple in September, according to his LinkedIn profile. Border's bio describes him as a "subject matter expert in the fields of head-worn displays, plastic optics manufacturing, camera systems and image sensors."

Before joining Apple, he was chief engineer at Osterhout Design Group, a small 50-person company based in San Francisco. 

ODG is notable as one of the few companies currently demoing a fully functional pair of smart glasses. ODG sells a device called the R-7 Smartglasses that uses "3D stereoscopic ultra-transparent see-thru HD displays" to superimpose computer graphics into the real world.

Take a look at their tech for yourself: 

Boost Your VR IQ: VRX 2016

In VRARA's continued partnerships throughout the event world, the latest is VRX 2016. Taking place 12/7 & 12/8 in San Francisco it features heavy-hitter speakers from HTC to AMD. 

With a theme grounded in VR's business growth and cultural immersion, it promises lots of concrete learnings (agenda here), not to mention networking with industry influencers. 

VRARA is proud to be a media partner, meaning we'll not only be there but association members save 15 percent with our discount code. Email if interested.

Everything VR & AR Podcast interview with Kharis O'Connell of Archiact VR

Listen here

On past episodes we have discussed the importance of audio and visual in regards to augmented & virtual reality. Kharis O'Connell who is the Head of Product of Archiact VR joins Kevin to discuss why design is such an important aspect to focus on in the AR/VR industry along with the increasingly popular mixed reality space.

Archiact VR has a solid set of software available for multiple platforms that you may already be familiar with which you can see here.

As someone who lists Apple, Samsung and Nokia as previous companies he has been a part of, Kharis has a strong resume which includes the O'Reilly Media published book titled "Designing for Mixed Reality".

Kharis also shares his thoughts on whom is doing things right in regards to currently available hardware and much more.

Have a listen and make sure to grab a free copy of "Designing for Mixed Reality"


Connect with Kharis O'Connell and Archiact VR online:

Website -

LinkedIn -

Email -

Is Mobile VR the Near-Term Opportunity?

Though we're all excited about higher-end tethered (PC & console) VR, is mobile where VR will really scale in the nearer term? This was the topic of VRARA's Fall San Francisco Event.

In fact, roughly 2 million tethered VR headsets will be sold this year, growing to 64 million by 2020 (IDC). That's great, but it pales to the 2.6 billion smartphones out there.

This and other nuggets were presented in our event's opening presentation, which can be seen below. Stay tuned for lots more video and thought leadership from recent SF events. 

What's On VR/AR's Horizon?: VRS 2016 Dispatch

We're kept busy enough with current VR/AR innovation, but what's on the longer-term horizon? This was the topic of a panel I moderated at Greenlight Insights' VRS 2016.

The panel's theme had a subtext of AR and MR, given their longer-term horizon. But there are also future developments in VR, such as lightfields, haptics and new use cases. 

On the AR front, more than half the panel represented AR glasses, including Meta, Atheer and ODG. But the similarities stopped there, as each targets different areas. 

Meta is targeting several enterprise use cases, while Atheer is focused on manufacturing and medical applications and ODG is pursuing consumer and enterprise.

Meta's Stefano Baldassi, with a background in neuroscience, asserts that AR should cater to humans' innate cognition, such as intuitive gestures to manipulate graphical overlays.

This speaks Singularity University's Jody Medich's language. She focuses on design that builds from human cognition, rather than force new input languages (e.g. gamepads).

Atheer's Frank Nuovo applies this principle but in a different way. His AR glasses make use of graphics that everyone is used to, including icon-based screens within users' line of sight.

ODG is likewise focused on enterprise, said Nima Shams. But he foresees big opportunity in consumer applications, such as ODG's BMW integration for driving overlays. 

But it's not all enterprise and consumer. There are altruistic and socially valuable use cases such as AR's use in Education. Here, Lifelique is pioneering lots of learning tools. 

Ondrej Homola explains that learning can be accelerated through 3D models, housed in an open development platform, allowing students to be more immersed in subjects.

Medich continued the theme of altruism. Using VR's ability to dominate the visual cortex, it can be applied to things like pain therapy for injured soldiers or burn victims.

She describes the brain's habit of "skipping" steps to avoid sensory overload and to triage the most important incoming signals -- a fundamental human survival mechanism.

Building from that, VR's level of immersion can manipulate the brain to skip specific steps deliberately... such as pain receptors. There are myriad directions this can go.

In total, the prevailing theme was the vast applicability possible in VR and AR's next generation. The use cases will continue to develop, and move well beyond fun & games.