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What SIGGRAPH taught me to look out for as a designer. Part 1: Augmented Reality

28th August 2018 - Alborz H.
I was very lucky to attend SIGGRAPH 2018 on behalf of AltumView. I got to see the latest developments in hardware, software, and machine learning and get a good idea on what to expect for the next few years. Most importantly I got a few glimpses on what kind of an effect these emerging technologies could have on designers.
5PM. I had so much fun that I forgot to eat or drink anything all day! But still smiling!
The two biggest players in AR in terms of number of devices are iOS with ARKit and android with ARCore. They are very similarly specced and ironically have a better field of view than the other wearable ones in the market if you use a tablet.

If you haven’t used an AR app I highly suggest the Ikea Place (iOS) for you to get an idea of how advanced the tracking and positioning of both platforms are.
IKEA Place app in action.
I had the chance to try the Microsoft Hololens. The self-claimed “Leader in Mixed Reality”. After wearing the headset, I asked the engineer to turn it on. he told me it was on. I said I don’t see anything. He said look at the laptop. I looked at the laptop and a dancing figure showed in a field of view that I could completely cover using one hand with an extended arm. I was really disappointed to say the least.
This image is Microsoft’s dream that is not yet a reality. A mistake to set the expectations so high if you ask me.
Microsoft has been using images like the one above in their marketing for the hololens. The camera has a better field of view than the headset, and is positioned further away from the table that the user wearing the headset. From that distance I doubt she could have all of Canada in her field of view at once. It’s really that bad. I am not joking.

I haven’t had a chance to try the Magic Leap One yet, But from the review and specs, it doesn’t seem to be that impressive either. Horizontal FOV of 40º and vertical 30º is about 8% of your field of view. 8%!

To be fair, I have to give credit where it’s due. Magic Leap’s headset has an order of magnitude improvement over the hololens. But we still need another order of magnitude improvement in FoV to consider these usable on a daily basis.
I’m Spiderman! Or Man Spider? I don’t know. These look strange but cool.
Currently, the biggest players in AR in terms of the number of devices are Apple and Google with iOS 11 and Android Oreo. iOS 12 and Android Pie promise to bring many missing AR features like shared realities and the ability to track vertical and organic surfaces. It’s safe to assume that only when wearable Apple and Google devices hit the market, can we expect mass adoption. With many apps on both platforms stores already becoming AR-ready, both of these platforms are going to push AR into most people’s lives.
If you skipped on groceries to buy an iPhone, now you can use AR to make it look like you have food!

What does this mean for designers?

if you are a UI UX designer, then start thinking outside of the screen. Imagine if the computer in front of you was reduced to a mouse and a keyboard, and the table was empty. What kind of an interface would you imagine for your 3D spacial apps? Maybe the weather widget doesn’t have to be hidden in a dashboard somewhere, but it could just be in the corner of your desk top. (see what I did there? Desk top? Desktop? No? Ok, I’ll stop) How would the apps you are using right now look in this new 3D mixed reality?
Ignoring the fact that she’s wearing a hololens and this is completely false hype, this vision is actually the closest I could find that shows what the future of AR has in store for us.
If you are a motion designer, then keep doing what you’re doing. Just make sure your final exports are AR friendly and you will reach a whole new group of audiences with a completely new way of interacting and viewing your creations! How awesome would that be. Maybe familiarize yourself with Apple’s USDZ AR file format.
Apple’s shared mixed reality in iOS 12
The biggest shift in the designer’s perspective that needs to happen is to stop thinking of screens and resolutions and start thinking about the 3D space in front of the users instead. Once you remove the pixels and dimensions, the screens and bezels, then you are truly free to create in 3D space as you wish. And that’s going to be very challenging. The limits of the display, the size, being reachable with one hand, all of these provided a guideline for us to build on. After a few years of experience, your design thinking reaches a point of inevitability. Of course, an app with this function would be designed like this. How else would it be designer? But with those limitations gone, we will be like kids that have to re-learn how to ride a bicycle and it’s going to a very fun and challenging experience. I personally cannot wait!

To prepare for this future, I’d suggest you try these headsets whenever you can. I wouldn’t suggest you rush out and buy one right now. I don’t think AR is nearly good enough yet in its current form. But you can never be under-prepared. Start learning the basics of 3D modeling and animation. These are going to be key skills in the upcoming AR revolution. Recent rumors point to mid to late 2020 for the Apple AR Glasses. But seeing the bleeding edge of what’s available right now, I wouldn’t hold my breath. There’s only so much the technology can improve in 2 years and I don’t think it will be up to Apple’s standards by then. Maybe 2022? We shall see.