The Unpredictable Future of Augmented Reality

Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg believe that someday you will pick up your augmented reality glasses exactly as often as you pick up your phone today – which is to say, from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep, all day, every day, for a thousand reasons.

You’ll use the glasses for the same purposes as your phone – communication, entertainment, shopping, searching, navigation. Once we get used to them and they are socially acceptable, it will be more convenient to wear the glasses than to pull out our phone. And the glasses will be a better experience, with extra information about the world around you and new forms of entertainment.

That’s going to take a while. Packing AR technology into glasses requires progress that is unpredictable. It might not even be possible without a tech breakthrough of some kind.

In fact, glasses might not be the right form factor. Maybe we won’t get the best AR experience until we have high-tech contact lenses or brain implants.

Sounds like science fiction, right? Sure, whatever. Tell me about how that’s clearly impossible, then pull a six inch box out of your pocket and access all the world’s information and talk to anyone on the globe and listen to anything from the history of recorded music. What part of our world isn’t science fiction?

Smart people are working today on the contact lenses and brain implants.

Stretch your brain. Imagine another tech breakthrough – injectable nanobots, tiny bundles of technology that live in your body that can connect to the network and deliver digital information to your eyes and ears.

Come on, work with me. There’s research in the field going on right now.

Okay, in our imaginary future, a tech company has developed magic AR nanobots. Testers love them. The FDA says they’re safe. People are queasy but curious.

How would the tech company take advantage of its breakthrough?

One option is to market expensive injections. The company will get rich but its reach will be limited to privileged people.

That’s how Apple got started with the iPhone. They’re doing the same thing with the Vision Pro VR headsets. (Sorry, “spatial computing.”)

The other option is to give away the injections. Make them literally free for the asking, anywhere in the world.

Then create an advertising network that displays ads alongside the array of useful and magical things that people are seeing.

That’s how Google and Facebook work.

Never forget – Google and Facebook are advertising companies. 80% of Google’s revenue comes from the ads it handles. It gives away Google Search and Google Maps and it licenses Android for free to phone manufacturers, and then it makes billions on advertising.

The fabulously entertaining novel Uncommon Scents is premised on a tech company rising to dominance by giving away augmented reality shots for free, packaged with ads.

It’s not a crazy idea.

It’s more likely that breakthroughs will come from Apple or Meta or Google – they’re willing and able to spend big bucks on research. In that case the new tech will be folded into their existing business models.

But maybe it’s a plucky bio-research lab that comes up with the Next Big Thing and turns down the inevitable offers by the giants to buy them out.

It’s hard to imagine a new company that disrupts Apple or Google. But it’s not impossible. Disruption happens.

I’ll tell you what – track us down in ten or fifteen years and we’ll chat about the world. Maybe we’ll drink a toast to the new tech company that came out of nowhere.

Fair warning, though: it probably won’t be named Arrgle. Silly name. Sounds like a pirate.