The beginning of summer always elicits anticipation for what's to come. Vacations, barbecues, swimming and hopefully just some nice relaxation time are right around the corner. But recently, that's not the only thing that's been getting me excited for this time of year. A confluence of events and announcements from technology's biggest names are signaling the near future for consumers; and experiences that started as a Sci-Fi fever dream are becoming a real possibility. Between Google I/O, Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference and Augmented World Expo, it's clear that XR is a standout technology that has the power to transform our everyday lives. Yes, the industry has settled on XR (Extended Reality) as the coined term to encompass all immersive formats like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and opened the door to whatever future Reality may come. Before XR can really take off and become ubiquitous for consumers and the brands that reach them, we need the giants like Google/Apple/Microsoft/Facebook and the startups like Looking Glass, Mantis Vision, and 6D.AI to continue to innovate and break down the virtual walls. But what does that look like?
Shared Experiences Are Key
Both Google and Apple, at their respective events, showcased XR experiences that can be shared in real-time through an app on your smartphone. These multi-player experiences have limitless possibilities: a branded player vs. player game, home interior decorating to browse furniture and browse paint swatches, guided location tours, or an immersive audience experience at a live event. To demonstrate, Apple showed off a game called Swift Shot that saw two players, with iPads in hand and on opposite sides of a tabletop, firing virtual projectiles to take out their opponent's protected pillars. These shared experiences can now be cross-platform, with one player on an iPhone and another on an Android. When XR no longer needs to be a solo endeavor, collaboration, exploration and wonder can encourage more and more people to adopt the technology.
The Next Generation of the Internet is the AR Cloud
To power a future of shared XR experiences, it's essential to bind the real and virtual worlds through connectivity and data. To do this, companies big and small are developing technology to power the AR Cloud. The vision for the AR Cloud is to create a persistent digital copy of the real world that can be accessed by any user, at any time. This technology will go beyond what's in front of our camera lenses for experiences that are city-scale and crowd-sourced, all mapped in real-time. That's an ambitious endeavor, but as Augmented World Expo's founder Ori Inbar says, it has the potential to be "far more valuable than Facebook's social graph or Google's page rank index."
In the smartphone age, we've trained ourselves to take in the world around us with our five senses and then translate that into text to do things like search Google, add a friend, book a vacation, or order a meal. With the AR Cloud, the information in our real world will be searchable, contextual and accessible via the screen in our hands or eventually, in front of our eyes. The AR Cloud will become a living internet with real-time access and will provide the opportunity for brands and consumers to learn, discover, and enhance in-person and shared experiences. It's an evolution of the vision of the internet as open and standardized, working across all devices and democratized for companies and content creators both large and small. For brands, this represents an opportunity similar to the advent of the internet. In the early days, presence will be important. Brands should be available and accessible in XR, and they will then need to look at all the ways to contextualize their products and presence (physical retail, out-of-home, etc.) within the AR Cloud to enable discovery and experience anywhere, any time.
Simplified XR Content Creation
One of the biggest barriers to entry for XR is in content creation. There are already robust tools and opportunities for large scale experiences and enterprise applications for XR, but at the moment those are costly, specialized, and complex. To lower the bar and bring AR content creation to the masses, Apple and Pixar have developed the USDZ format. USDZ is the standardized format used in the upcoming release of iOS12, with a feature called Quick Look. This allows developers to drop AR assets in to a real-world scene via an app or a website, or even share them via iMessage or email. Developed in partnership with Adobe and Autodesk, USDZ creation tools will be baked into Adobe Creative Cloud and Maya so that millions more creators can explore XR.
A Better Tomorrow Through XR
The most inspiring moment at AWE 2018 came at the very end. 14-year-old Sabarish Gnanamoorthy, already an established XR developer who was sponsored by Microsoft to build XR HoloLens applications in 2017, spoke about how this technology will impact his generation as we move in to the 2020's and 2030's. The younger generation is facing mounting debt, climate change, class divide, and growing hate and isolationism. For Sabarish, XR has the opportunity to connect people emotionally, open hearts and minds to diversity and identity, heal the sick (physically and mentally), democratize knowledge through speed and accessibility and build equal representation. It was incredibly powerful and inspiring and proves the value of the work we're all doing in this industry to forge the future we want to live in.