In a few weeks, on May 29, the annual AWE (Augmented World Expo) conference will once again be held in Silicon Valley (Santa Clara, California, to be exact).
And while everyone will be there The search for the next big thing in Augmented Reality, coming from both big players and small start-ups, is the perfect one, on the eve of the onset of Apple's AR wearables It's time to reflect on the industry's best-known AR meeting.
To this end, I managed to get to know AWE founder Ori Inbar (also founder and managing partner of investment firm Super Ventures) that he had kept the AR flame alive for him and the event for almost a decade.
We covered a wide range of topics, including changes in AR space, what needs to change and what both appear on the AR horizon.
Adario Strange: So for the uninitiated Give us a brief introduction to the beginnings of AWE and your background. [1
I founded an AR company in 2009; it was called Ogemento. It was a very lonely experience. There were very few people out there who even knew what AR meant. So I teamed up with a few other players in the industry and we founded AWE. The first year was called ARE (Augmented Reality Event). A few years later we changed it to AWE. It was actually in the same place, in Santa Clara, California, but we took up very little space compared to this year.
Strange: OK, that's the beginning, but who's working with you on it today? I know that Tom Emrich contributed to the event a few years ago, but who else is involved?
Inbar: We have formed an organization called AugmentedReality.org to assist with the event. as well as accelerate other activities in this industry. We have set a target of 1 billion AR users by 2020. The event is now taking place in the US, Europe, Asia and Tel Aviv Israel since last year. We now have ten monthly Meetups in ten cities around the world, many in the US, Toronto, Berlin and Tokyo.
The organization basically consists of me, along with a board that supports them. They are all entrepreneurs in the AR industry. And we are working with a few groups to support the event. Prospera Events, which focuses primarily on logistics, has been supporting us at the event since 2010 and now we have several other groups helping with programming, sales and audiovisual issues.
Strange: When a traditional company mentions a certain number of users, this is usually the case tied to a specific platform or product. So what does it actually mean when you call the target of 1 billion AR users by 2020? How do you see these 1 billion users?
Inbar: That was almost ten years ago. We did not know what devices people would use, so it was just a kind of moon shot, a scream that was supposed to help us find a target. It turned out that with the advancement of the industry, the industry will be on smartphones, but also on smart glasses, projectors and so-called magical mirror experiences.
Strange: That makes me think of Facebook publicly declared target of 1 billion users in VR. What do you think will reach 1 billion users, AR or VR? Although VR currently enjoys a lot of public attention and gaming excitement, I bet that AR will reach that number first, but what do you think?
Inbar: It's 2019, so we're only a year away from that goal, and I think it's pretty clear that the majority of this audience is on smartphones. Because there are already 3 billion smartphone users and most of them are AR-enabled. All you have to do is create an application for these devices and get the users to use them. I think we're really close to that number.
VR today has about 10 to 20 million devices. Growth is expected to increase by 30 to 40% over the previous year. So VR will grow and it will be great, but it will not match the numbers we can have on smartphones.
Strange: In my research and reporting on VR and AR I often find that people are generally attracted to one or the other rather than constantly focusing on both. I started with a strong focus on VR, but gradually phased out my computing computing efforts at around 50-50, AR and VR. What is your daily breakdown?
Inbar: On average, I spend about an hour in VR in the evening at home on a full day, but I use AR office all day or outdoors, where I want to stay in reality, but I want to improve it. And I think that's going to be pretty typical when you apply that question to the rest of the world, where people use AR all day long to stay in the workplace and work with other people in the real world. And then, when they come home, instead of sitting in front of the TV, they immerse themselves in VR experiences that they can not do otherwise.
In this area, this idea is a somewhat annoying topic of a hybrid device that combines both technologies in one product. But when I hear that, I always think of a hovercraft. Sure, we can make a vehicle that can travel both by land and sea, but that does not mean that it's the most practical tool to devote time and attention to in terms of hybrid use cases. In my opinion, a hybrid VR / AR device, at least in the short term, is an impractical approach. However, I think many people are hoping for a hybrid device, making it easier to sell different VR and AR solutions and platforms.
Perhaps in 15 years, when everything has gotten smaller in terms of components and form factors, the technology will make this more workable, but now, say, in the next decade, it seems to be just a wrong approach. What do you think?
Inbar: I totally agree. I think it's almost a waste of time to talk about a hybrid because it's not relevant. These are two different devices and two different use cases. But as you said, sometime in the future, 15, 20, 50 years, I imagine a point where you can open your eyes to AR and close your eyes to VR.
Strange: Last year's AWE event was a pretty good representation of established industry players and AR startups. While attending a variety of tech conferences for many years, I have just started attending AWE events. So my perspective is probably very different from yours. Give me a sense of how the event has changed by you as the founder in the last decade.
Inbar: In the beginning, it was only the enthusiasts. But now it is a completely different world. I look back at the companies and the people who participated in the first event, and it's interesting that there were some companies and Fortune 1000 companies. Like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, they were some of the first pioneers to try out AR and VR. So you were there the first year to find out what was going on.
But now, I think, in the last few years, the big change you see, due to many ROI studies that are of significant benefit to businesses, there are a large number of companies participating in this event In order to truly test the latest solutions, whether it is a small pair of glasses that has the goal of enterprise or software solutions that are aimed at the enterprise – warehouse picking, remote service support – all these applications are much more mature than in the past.
What we hear from exhibitors is that they come to CES because it's compulsory, and they're going to the Mobile World Congress because it's such a big event. But when they go to AWE, one hundred percent of the audience is relevant to them, whether as customers or partners to hire, or just people to be inspired by.
Strange: This leads to something else I wanted to think about a lot at Next Reality. At the moment, we still see AR as a cutting-edge technology, but within the next five years, with the advent of Apple-acclaimed AR-Smart glasses, as well as other solutions, AR, and the software that drives this technology, it's becoming more and more mainstream. At this point, conferences such as CES and others are beginning to double their interaction with AR as an industry. What will they do then?
Inbar: That's a great question we're just starting to think about. I decided not to be in the event business. I am an entrepreneur. My goal, my passion is to make this industry mainstream. In essence, one could say that our work is done once it has become mainstream. However, there will still be a need to steer and guide the industry to the potential of the space data processing industry. I think it's probably a 10 year journey from today. Strange: Yeah, that reminds me of what happened with the Macworld conference. When Apple started hosting its own events, it seemed that the Macworld conference was dying rather than innovating. Of course that's a shortcut, there are other factors, but I do not think it was absolutely necessary to go away. So I think that's the general approach for both of us, which will evolve into mainstream as space evolves.
Inbar: Exactly. I think there is always room for innovation, especially in spatial computing, where we are still at a very early stage. We need to develop a new visual approach that I do not believe yet. What does it mean to interact in a world where everything is visible and around you and not on a two-dimensional screen? So there is much to do.
Strange: On the subject of conferences, I have had some discussion with women in the field of immersive computing about how representation looks like at VR compared to AR events. In my view, it seems that I meet more women in leadership positions and spotlight at VR events (founders, developers, enthusiasts, etc.), but less at rigorous AR events.
At first I thought this might just be my attitude, but some of the discussions that I have had with women in technology have confirmed my admittedly unscientific assessment of the two spaces. When I joined AWE last year, I noticed that it was a very normal tech conference, with more men than women participating in the event. So I wonder if you agree or disagree with that view, and if you agree, you can talk about what your team is doing to potentially change that momentum.
Inbar: I'm really glad You mentioned that. That was actually a very important topic for us. I can not comment on the other events, but at our events we put a lot of emphasis on bringing women on stage. I would say that we probably have the highest proportion of women compared to other major events (19459033). If you go through our speaker list, it is probably about 40% [women speakers] which is unlike any other conference of this size. The partnership we have entered into with Women in XR and the WXR Fund and other women-centered organizations in XR has been very beneficial for this purpose.
As far as the audience is concerned, it's still a bit of a joke for men, but I do not think so much as you see it at other major tech conferences.
Strange: How do you think this will be in the next four to five years? In terms of the high-end AR headset manufacturers compared to these somewhat subordinate devices like the Nreal Light or, if it does, the Apple Smart Glasses?
Inbar: There are probably 50 smartglass manufacturers currently not even VR headsets. As you know, some of them went out of business last year. The new ones are coming out, like Nreal, Rokid, and a few others that I think are pretty typical of this leg of the industry. And many investors and critics say, "How can a small business compete with Apple or Google?" You could even say that about Magic Leap. It's very well funded, but it's still small compared to some of the big companies. "How can you compete?"
I think that we have seen in each technique cycle that the big players have an advantage In many cases, they actually can not move on to the next cycle. Then you have new companies that develop and take over. I think that could definitely happen now, even if smart glasses seem to be a very difficult problem. I definitely see that some of the little players have managed to enter at least one niche and join in.
What Qualcomm has been doing with Intel in the field of mobile chips, nobody has predicted. How come that Intel could not take chips for mobile devices? And I think, now we could see the same thing [in the AR space]. Some companies are building displays for next-generation smartphones. Some of them are still in stealth mode, and they could become the equivalent of Qualcomm, where everyone, whether Apple or Google or others, will use their displays because they are the best and the smallest.
Strange: We recently posted a story about the AR cloud and the topic of trust and privacy as we evolve in the AR space. Part of the problem may relate to the trust of your AR cloud data with a foreign company, in some cases from China, that has been in the news recently about user privacy about Huawei, or that you only Allow your movements and what you see through Smart glasses are tracked by "every" company. Remember, this is not just a foreign AR startup, but also some of Facebook's issues, another company working on the release of an AR wearable. Have you spent a lot of time thinking about it on your site?
Inbar: As far as the Chinese market is concerned, you've probably seen the Digi Capital report, which predicts the Chinese market as the world's largest market for AR hardware and software, just for the sheer size of the country. This is definitely something nobody can ignore. In 2016, we went to China with AWE to get to know the market. We could not ignore it.
In terms of trust and privacy, I think what we see today is just an indication of what's coming in the future. If you have a camera that points out everything you do and analyze it, those concerns will be a million times greater than they are today. I'm talking about the AR cloud: I do not see any Americans using China-managed AR clouds, and vice versa.
Strange: But what if they do not know that a Chinese company does it? AR cloud you use? As I noted in my recent reports, especially with regard to hoverboard manufacturers, Chinese companies often used a US address and an English name, but they were in China. However, many US consumers believed that the sometimes dangerous products they bought were based in the US, with the same responsibilities as any other US-based company. As AR smart glasses become cheaper and more widely distributed with brands coming from different manufacturers, I see that this is also a potential problem for AR space when it comes to AR cloud data.
Inbar: That would be a problem. But it's a bit like Huawei, most people in the US did not know the alleged practices, and now they know it, and now there's this backlash. I think it will be your job and our job to make sure that we uncover such things so that consumers are well informed about what they are using, especially when privacy becomes such a big issue in these cases.
Strange: On the subject of trust, you host one of the biggest conversion conferences in the computer system field, but you also have this big AR mutual fund. It seems that there are many opportunities for potential conflicts of interest, who gets access to what and who is portrayed in which way. Do you have any questions about it?
Inbar: It's a fair question. And we have addressed this question since our launch. Legally, there are two different organizations: There is the non-profit organization that organizes the event, and the VC organization that makes the investments. But at the end of the day, everything is in people. And if you've been following some of my work over the last 12 years, I have advised and supported thousands of AR startups for free for the love of the game. I joined them and helped them, whether in AWE or beyond. In our opinion, we have a very tough wall between what we do to further develop the community and promoting the acceptance of AR as an industry versus what we do on the investment side.
Of course, at our portfolio companies. We spend a little more time, but we make sure that no confidential information gets from one page to another. I think if you talk to companies at the event, in our communities or in our portfolio, you will find that this ethic is very much supported.
Strange: I recently had the opportunity to use the HoloLens 2 and it has completely changed my mind about the company's efforts. I was not a fan of the first device (HoloLens 1) in any way, from fit to experience. But the HoloLens 2 could be my favorite device from Microsoft besides the Xbox. However, it is still referred to as an enterprise device, so it probably will not become a mainstream factor for the popularization of AR. In this context, I wonder what the biggest hurdle for you is for AR to explode into the mainstream?
Inbar: Content. People understand that there are certain things that they need to "use" smart glasses for. That will generate demand for more. Companies such as ODG and Meta have made their mistakes, but one of the key points is that in order to achieve smaller size and lower costs, these devices must be produced in large quantities in the millions. And until there is a demand for millions of such devices, there is no way to get there.
I think we are getting closer now. You see 100,000 units for the HoloLens 2 [via the US military] and we have recently heard that RealWear has received an order of 10,000 units from a utility company. So you're starting to see the number grow so much that we could make the manufacture of these devices much cheaper and allow for the miniaturization of the various components.
Much of [mainstream adoption] is training. Until you get into AR and VR, you do not really know what you're missing. You can not really learn it from videos. And this education takes time. Training and understanding of needs will therefore create demand. In this way, the entire industry can reach a point where it matures and produces the devices we all want.
It's also about the display technology. Most devices today use waveguides that bring us to our current location. But you will not be able to make the leap where we need to be in terms of miniaturizing the glasses and solving some of the big issues with display quality. I think it's pretty clear to me today. The next-generation technology is a retinal projection invented in the early 1990s. Magic Leap built up their big rounds of investment on this idea, but did not bring them up.
Strange: Coincidentally. When I met her at my New York office in 2015, it was the momentum that was described to me to spark interest in the product and the company. But that's not what they finally revealed. I think that's what's behind the company's negative media slump last year after the release of the Magic Leap One. I think the Magic Leap One is a perfect device. It's just not what they promised early.
Inbar: As this technology begins [retinal projection]we begin to see the early stages of technology with the intelligent lenses of North's Focals. This will be necessary to truly achieve a form factor that looks like normal glasses – and overcome the problems of brightness, focus, and even occlusion – which is almost impossible today with waveguides.