The AR Illusion

Feature-rich augmented reality is still many years away. You probably wouldn’t think that, however, after reading the headlines from today’s Apple WWDC 2018. Apple is employing some clever sleight of hand to make AR appear more polished than it actually is. This is the AR illusion.

The AR illusion was in full effect at WWDC, and it may have some long-term impacts for the immersive industry.

I can spend 30 to 60 minutes in any variety of VR headset before the experience feels uncomfortable. If I’m hunched over a table, walking around with an iPad AR experience, I’ll be done in five minutes. These experiences remind me of DK1 rollercoaster demos: stepping stones at best, fun for geeks like me, but certainly not ready for the Apple spotlight. The fact that Apple rolled out AR multiplayer is particularly uncharacteristic.

Multiplayer AR is difficult. The players’ positions and orientations in space must be determined and constantly updated. To do that, AR Kit will need to have each player scan the room (a slow process) or use a real world physical object, like a Lego building, to anchor your real world position. Barring some magic hidden up Apple’s sleeve, it is a bad user experience. Matt Miesnieks knows more about that this than nearly anyone, so you can learn more about that here https://medium.com/6d-ai/dawn-of-the-ar-cloud-1b31eb4b52ac.

Look at the below shots from the Lego demo, depicting both the iPad view and ‘real’ view. How do the physical objects add meaning to the experience?

They don’t.

It’s an illusion.

The Legos are a gaff, used to obfuscate the need for a physical anchor (and to give Lego a physical object to sell).

Consumers expect that once Apple releases something it is ‘ready’. That’s why I think Animoji is brilliant, and why AR Kit worries me.

We may look back on this time, before Apple Glass, as a hilarious in-between period before AR and VR merged into the mega product we crave. To make up for this, companies like Apple need to use some clever sleight of hand to create a passable AR experience. Is this the original iPhone before the App Store, or is it the Newton?

An important lesson learned from 2016 VR is to give developers the tools and time needed to work out the kinks, release tech demos to early adopters to iron out the user experience, then bring in the mainstream audience. We are seeing the benefits of this process done correctly  with games like Beat Saber. 

When non-tech savvy consumers have a bad AR experience, it may be years before they try it again. By showcasing AR on the WWDC main stage as if it’s ready for primetime, consumers will expect the experience to be polished and seamless. Apple is known for hardware differentiated by premium software. That’s still years out with AR, so consumers may be waiting for that perfect product longer than anticipated, potentially creating (or reinforcing) an XR Winter.