Times sure have changed, and it’s no longer just augmented reality we’re talking about. A few weeks ago, AWE attendees, in Santa Clara, Calif., saw ample evidence of the continued evolution of the augmented, virtual, and mixed reality industry. And with standardized platforms and APIs for AR widely distributed in the form of Apple’s ARKit for iPhones and Google’s ARCore for Android devices, more attention is now being paid to the content that can be consumed on those devices.
Another sign of that focus: Last week, Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company) announced a collaboration with Apple and Pixar on the “usdz” AR file format, which will be supported by Creative Cloud Apps and Services, enabling Photoshop users to tweak and modify AR imagery.
At AWE, several sessions were devoted to how to design for AR, where one presenter revived the “content is king” slogan, and there was even a new acronym: XR, or extended reality, which comprises AR, VR, and MR.
Here are some of the highlights.
XR In The Enterprise
Presenters at AWE acknowledged that AR hype got a little ahead of reality in previous years. In an early panel discussion, Brent Blum, global director of AR/VR capabilities at Accenture, said that as far as a business’ “AR journey” goes, “the line to ubiquity is not a straight one.” Over the past five years, he said, he has seen clients choose to delay full implementation of AR solutions not because the use cases weren’t valid, but because the timing was wrong.
“Maybe the hardware wasn’t ready for the task,” he said.
Blum’s advice was to start with a platform that can be added to later, and to consider change management and training issues from the start. He pointed out that training people to do their jobs using AR also trains them on AR itself, which creates advocates in the organization.
In another session, Dioselin Gonzalez, senior director of engineering for mixed reality workplace at Microsoft, predicted that MR will be ubiquitous within 10 years. (MR is Microsoft’s term for “any time the world we live in comes together with the computer-generated world,” Gonzalez said.) She discussed its benefits as a collaboration tool, especially for the world’s 2 billion “first-line workers,” meaning those who have direct contact with customers and processes and who frequently need assistance from experts.
In fields such as manufacturing, architecture and engineering, and healthcare, Gonzalez said, workers could benefit from a “see what I see” collaboration and the ability to view virtual objects in their real-world context.
Designing For AR
A number of AWE speakers discussed their best practices for AR design. For example, Alesha Unpingco, user experience designer and prototyper at Google, addressed the need to take the user’s environment into account. Meanwhile, both Joe Millward, innovation manager with Australian training provider TAFE NSW, and Erik Murphy-Chutorian, CEO at AR development platform 8th Wall, talked about the importance of feedback and of keeping the interface and navigation elements in the virtual world, not part of the phone or goggles.
Other presenters spoke about users’ emotional experience as well as their sensory one. We’re in the middle of a shift to an “experience economy,” said Lucas Rizzotto, founder of Where Thoughts Go, one in which consumers choose products based on how they make them feel. Therefore, brands should design for emotion, relying on emotional reactions to detect new forms of value. The goal is to create a “relationship of trust,” he said.
Silka Miesnieks, head of emerging design at Adobe, addressed the importance of designing for humanity. Adobe, she said, is trying to look beyond simple functionality to build a future where human values are reflected in technology. To that end, the company has worked with artists to explore how AR could be used in novel ways—one example was treating the face as an instrument such that changing expressions could trigger sounds or actions.
Miesnieks offered her own foundations of AR design: using tools that are 3D at their core; designing interactions that imitate physical reality; incorporating ethical concerns into AR design; and developing “sensory design” methods that incorporate how all our senses work together.
AR For Commerce
Several sessions showcased how brands are using new XR tools. For example, Mason Sheffield, technical lead at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, spoke about how the company is embracing the virtual commerce opportunity. One way is through its Holorooms, which use Oculus Rift VR goggles to give shoppers an immersive preview of rooms they’ve designed using Lowe’s products.
For another project, Lowe’s has equipped five stores (so far) with HTC Vive headsets, using them to train customers in how to do home repair and maintenance tasks, such as tiling a shower. Lowe’s has found that customers retain much more information about the process when acting it out in VR as compared with simply watching a video.
The conference featured projections about XR’s future, too. John C.C. Fan, founder and CEO of XR technology and component manufacturer Kopin, talked about the evolution of computers’ physical form factors and capabilities. The key to widespread acceptance of AR by consumers is its incorporation into normal-looking devices, such as eyeglasses, he said. And while we may not be able to fit a powerful computer into a pair of glasses yet, Fan pointed out that laptops, once less powerful computers when they debuted, are now just as powerful.
Similarly, smartphones and tablets were limited in their abilities at first, but now they can do almost anything a laptop can. “Wearables are the next step in the evolution of computers,” Fan said. “They won’t start out as more powerful than existing smartphones—but in 10 years they will be.”