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3 reasons why the future of AR could be audio

3 reasons why the future of AR could be audio


TL;DR

  1. We are in the age of discreet technologies, future successful interfaces will be those who anticipate our intent and adapts accordingly to help users in decision making instead of saturating brain inputs.
  2. Do we need more visual distraction? Audio is as good as another brain input like visual or touch. Discreet Augmented Reality might blend into our lives through subtle audio augmentation of our surroundings.
  3. Social acceptance means AR Glasses will take a while, however, earbuds like Airpods are now mainstream, they only need a small lens to become spatial.

1. Discreet technologies — Gets it right for me

“Technology will recede into the background of our lives,” wrote American computer scientist Mark Weiser¹. It’s no longer a secret that consumers demand interfaces and technologies that are subtly integrated into our lives, this is called discreet technologies. In a previous article², I explain how interfaces can become more contextual using spatial information, anticipating user intent to display useful data, freeing-up visual bandwidth in order to help users make good decisions.

Voice interfaces blend into our lives and make typical human-machine interactions, a conversation. Plus voice is faster: In English, speaking is 3x faster than typing. It’s faster to ask a digital assistant a question than to type into a search bar or text message.³

2. Discreet AR — An ad-blocker to see the sky?

By definition, the value of AR is to augment the world with a layer of information, this is the promise of AR. The only way AR will work is if it truly adds value to our experiences without asking too much of a behavioral change.

It’s fair to say that our daily visual input is probably saturated with screens and there’s little space for an additional layer, however, we are not necessarily leveraging our audio input but do already use audio devices at work or when we commute or do sports…For these reasons, it would seem that spatial audio might be a more valuable and subtle solution that magically integrates and augments our surroundings versus trying to add more pixels into it.

3. Social Acceptance — Do I look cool with a computer on my face?

When a new innovation comes through, it might require consumers to change or adopt new behaviors. When the market isn’t ready, users need to make more efforts to learn and get in the habit of using a new product, this reduces adoption. The amazing movie General-Magic⁴ explains how the first version of a tactile pocket communication device arrived and died before people were ready for it.

Snap Inc. Spectacles 3 are probably the closest thing to a socially acceptable Spatial device, however, it’s only an input device.

For an independent device to spatially locate itself precisely in 3D (as the Oculus Quest or Mobile AR powered by Apple ARkit and Google ARcore) at least one camera is needed (this is also called Inside-Out tracking) With at least 2 cameras, a device will be able to calculate depth: distance and contact between objects. While most of the AR community seems to be expecting a breakthrough pair of AR glasses, from Apple, Google, Microsoft or Facebook or even Magic Leap, the form factor and price of recent releases just show that consumer AR glasses will take a while longer.

So while startups and giants are bringing us head-mounted displays, what is a product we wear that has been massively adopted recently?

AirPods sales almost doubled to $6 billion in 2019, and they’re positioned to generate $15 billion in revenue in 2020 — Business Insider. Image courtesy of Apple

So not only we‘ve already accepted the look and behavior of earbuds, but they also already feature a battery, inputs/output, and a low-energy Bluetooth connection to your mobile — with a small lens on each unit, they would become the perfect spatial device.

Conclusion

Considering the social acceptance factor, the technology and the need for discreet technology, a lot is pointing at Audio being the first step in everyday consumer AR and Earbuds could be the vehicle for that audio augmentation.

If mass consumer AR will be audio, will it be Bose Frames or is it the next iteration of Apple Airpods paired with ARKit?

Concept image of Amazon Echo buds with a camera lens.



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