Stop looking for the AR Holy Grail

Badly Photoshopped attempt at humor

As I keep reading more and more articles about the future of AR and the expectations that are being placed on the technology, I am seeing a lot of similarities to the misplaced pressure to be “everything to everyone” that was put on the resurgence of VR.

That pressure pushed developers to create subpar experiences and as a result, it lowered the perception of the platform as a whole. VR is fighting its way back to being a viable platform after the initial excitement and fervor of the launch of the first Oculus device resulted in mostly low quality, nausea-inducing, throwaway experiences and bad games.

In the rush to be first on a platform, quality and purpose are often overlooked. The speed to market takes precedence over refining a product to meet the needs of that very same market.

VR was, and still is, a very promising platform. Only now are we beginning to see what it’s strong points are. Standalone devices like the GearVR and Oculus Go are just now beginning to find their place in the home, but it’s still a toy for the privileged. Their main purpose is still mainly experiential, and not utilitarian. We use these devices to watch movies, experience places we will never travel to, and shoot zombies. This is all good.

Entertainment is still the main, and best, use of these devices. All the talk of collaborating and working together in an alternate reality has not come to fruition. I am yet to be convinced this is something people actually want. We all dread the video conference calls we have to endure over the course of our work day. Imagine having to put on an extra accessory on our faces to see cartoony heads or torsos of our coworkers and clients or vendors. Even if we had contacts or implants, this is not something that I see anyone asking for. And now we have the same expectations being placed on the future of AR.

Forget VR, AR is the future of collaboration! We’re going to work together on a 3D model on our coffee table!

Call me a curmudgeon but I don’t see my plumber asking his anyone to look at virtual pipes to see what to do. To begin with, there aren’t that many jobs that require more than one person to be collaboratively building or creating something. Second, what you will see is a 3D model of the subject of interest, not the “real” object, if the object even exists. I can potentially see this usage for architecture but what other industries will benefit from this use case?

Meeting of the future (that I hope will not happen)

The last thing I want to see is everyone’s silly avatars while discussing our slipped deadlines.

So where are we now? We’re still in the early stages of figuring it out. What I’ve found, having worked with AR for the last year in a production environment, is that the best engagement from our audience came when we used AR as a part of a larger experience. It was not the main focus, it was not the only thing the app was about. It was a way to delight our users while providing a purpose.

We’re in a great moment in tech. While the release of the iPhone and all the great mobile devices that it spurred into existence may seem like the distant past to some, I believe we are still in the beginning of a cycle of great innovation. As these devices get better, as we build better lenses and new forms of seeing the world, AR, VR and mixed reality technology will only get better. New features will bring about new ways to interact with our surroundings, virtual or not. I think it’s important to always keep our user’s goals in mind while we build new applications and put less emphasis on gimmicks. Our job is to serve our users. Let’s stop trying to create the killer app and instead focus on providing long-term utility.

Daniel Wyszynski is a developer who’s worked on more platforms and languages than he cares to admit to. He believes in building products that create memorable user experiences. To Dan, the users are first, the platforms are second. Follow Dan on Medium or Twitter to hear more from him. Also check out the s23NYC: Engineering blog, where a lot of great content by Nike’s Digital Innovation team gets posted.

Author’s Note: Views are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer


Stop looking for the AR Holy Grail was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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