Snapchat and Deloitte revealed this week that 1.5 billion people use AR frequently. Not only that, Snap showed a new version of their Spectacles wearables, this time with full augmented reality functionality. So with Snap part of a plethora of technology companies innovating in augmented eyewear, is this the time to take AR glasses seriously?
The augmented reality headset is a remarkable technology and one that is often mooted as the next step for communications, work and entertainment. However, some people are frustrated by how long it is taking for headsets to make it into our daily lives. While it’s easy to see why this sector is testing our patience, there is a generation of AR developers that are already producing stunning projects using this fast-evolving technology.
VR is hot right now, make no mistake. 23% of adults have used VR, according to ARtillery Intelligence while Oculus is expanding the market at a rapid rate with estimates of 3m Oculus Quests sold in Q4 2020 alone. So, it seems we are getting more and more comfortable wearing a headset covering our eyes, for short periods of time at least.
Meanwhile, headphones are the equivalent for our ears and have never been more pervasive than today. The statistics surrounding AirPods will make your hair curl – Apple is estimated to generate more revenue from AirPods alone than Spotify does as an entire business. Indeed, Apple’s in-ear headphones make billions of dollars more than Universal Music – the world’s largest record label. There is a solid argument to say that this solitary piece of wearable technology is effectively the world’s largest music and sound-focused product or business of any kind.
What does this mean for AR? It means that wearable technology is already becoming phenomenally popular and all-of-a-sudden the idea of glasses with AR functionality is not such an alien and sci-fi concept. The bases are loaded and AR developers like ourselves are next up to bat.
So who is making waves in the nascent AR headset market? The most recent reveal is Snapchat’s latest take on Spectacles. Whereas the previous incarnations were about capturing content, this time around they feature true augmented displays and interactive inputs. Perhaps more important than the hardware, which is impressively compact albeit divisive in terms of style, is the content that is being showcased on it. There is a slant towards the fun, the irreverent, the artful. Indeed, the headset is aimed squarely at creative technology influencers with early dev kits in the hands of AR developers only. Under the hood, it features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 chipset, something that is fast becoming the standard basis for stand-alone XR wearables.
Other recent reveals include glimpses of Niantic’s forthcoming headset, which is sure to leverage and showcase their Real World Platform technology. Nreal is continuing to develop their tethered headset which remains the only true AR device that can be bought by consumers.
The leaders in the full-featured stand-alone AR headset market are Microsoft with their HoloLens. While HoloLens is established as the go-to enterprise headset, they have recently spoken of plans to create a version that is lighter in form-factor and lighter on the wallet.
Meanwhile, after pivoting towards a more enterprise and health-care focus, Magic Leap will be looking to revitalise themselves with a long-awaited second product. Let’s hope that after changing management, they retain their bold approach. Draw & Code joined the Magic Leap developer programme ahead of its official reveal and between our projects with Mercedes, Philips and The Royal Shakespeare company, we estimate that our Leaps have been used upwards of 50,000 times. Each and every time they have brought smiles and amazement to audiences, whether they are familiar with AR or not.
Meanwhile Facebook’s Reality Labs has continued its odyssey into wearables with reports saying that nearly a quarter of the social media giant’s workforce is now dedicated to immersive technology development. Obviously that includes Oculus and the Spark AR platform, but with Project Aria and other AR hardware-focused projects on the horizon, there are big moves afoot at Facebook.
It’s a similar story at Apple with the ever-tantalising prospect of AR hardware from the company that has kick-started more than one technical and design revolution in its time. However exciting the prospect of an Apple headset may be, AR developers are not hanging around waiting for Cupertino to reveal its hand. Nor should they, while Apple are likely to deliver something special in this market eventually, there is no guarantee that they will be the only game in town.
There are a lot of smaller players hoping for a chunk of the AR wearables market. One favourite of ours is the Mira, a compact device that leverages your smartphone as the brains, battery and display for their headset. This makes for a cheaper and surprisingly capable unit that now comes in a hard hat-ready format for use in construction. It also forms the basis of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan, with the Mira blending effortlessly with Mario’s hat.
Why is it worth technology giants, ambitious start ups and creative AR developers continuing to pursue the AR glasses dream? A decade ago, a truly usable and versatile smartwatch was something that was tantalisingly out of reach to many consumers; today the Apple Watch alone generates more revenue than the entire Swiss watch industry. That is in spite of most people NOT owning an Apple Watch. In other words, even if AR wearables don’t become as ubiquitous as the smartphone, there is still a giant audience waiting to be served by this technology.
To find out how Draw & Code can help you to prepare for the next step in AR wearables, get in touch.