When will augmented reality glasses be ready for consumers?

Unfortunately it has taken a lot longer to get augmented reality glasses to consumers than I expected. A lot longer. I thought we would be wearing them all day by now. Heck, when I got Google Glass years ago I thought I never would take those off.

Boy, was I wrong.

Many in Silicon Valley taunt me for my previous optimism, saying “not this year, not next year.”

That doesn’t mean they aren’t getting closer. For the past seven years I’ve been watching Lumus, a small company in Israel, that makes the best lenses/displays I’ve seen so far. Every two years they come and visit me and show me its latest. Every year they get brighter, lighter, more efficient, smaller, and more.

Here, in video, is Lumus’ head of marketing showing me its latest displays and you see just how big an improvement it has made. You can see these are getting much closer to the size and quality that consumers will be happy wearing.

But since I have been so wrong before, I wanted to take a more sober look at these displays and ask myself “when will consumers buy these?”

That may just be the wrong question. Unless I was working at Meta or Apple or Snap.

Enterprise uses of these are coming right now. Just look at the revolution in robotics that is underway. AI pioneer Adrian Kaehler has been retweeting every amazing robot on Twitter (he is CEO of Giant AI, which makes manufacturing robots coming over the next year) and there are dozens that work on all sorts of production lines, not to mention do a variety of other jobs. These glasses would be perfect for controlling, and training, all these new robots. And a variety of other things, from training to surgery. This is why Magic Leap has a new shot at life that I also didn’t see, due to its cord and lack of consumer experiences.

Other augmented reality companies have pivoted away from consumers and toward enterprise uses of these glasses and devices (most notably Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens).

Why?

Well, for instance, look at some of the limitations of even these amazing new displays from Lumus. While they are many times brighter than, say, the Magic Leap or HoloLens displays, and have bigger fields of view, the image does not quite match my 4K TV, which cost me $8,000 last year.

So, consumers who want to watch TV, or particularly movies, in their glasses will find the image quality still not as nice as a bleeding edge TV, tablet, or phone display (although inside they are damn close). Even though augmented reality glasses give many other advantages (like you can watch in a plane or while walking around, something my big TV can’t do). But these are dramatically better than they were last time I saw Lumus’ latest. White whites. Sharp text. Bright videos and images.

The field of view, too, is 50 degrees. OK, that does match my 83-inch TV when I am sitting on my couch (the image in the Lumus is actually bigger than my TV slightly) but that isn’t enough to “immerse” you the way VR does. Will that matter to consumers? I think it will, but 50 degrees is way better than what Snap is showing in its current Spectacles. In 2024’s devices screens will be virtualized, too, so the hard field of view numbers won’t matter nearly as much. These are certainly better than my HoloLens’s field of view.

Also, bleeding edge TVs, like my Sony OLED, have better color and luminance depth. What does that mean? TV and movies still look better on my TV. But that, also, is sort of a bad comparison. My TV can’t travel with you. These displays are pretty damn good for a variety of uses, I just wish I didn’t need to wait until 2024 to get them.

This is why many who are working on Apple’s first device tell me it is NOT doing see-through glasses like these for its first product. They just don’t match consumer expectations yet (although these Lumus lenses are a lot closer than any others I’ve seen so far).

Apple’s first device is what those of us in the industry call a “passthrough” device and is NOT a pair of glasses like what Lumus is showing here. In other words, you can’t see the real world through the front of the device. Unless the device is on (Apple’s device will present a digital recreation of the room you are in — I hear its new version of augmented reality is pretty mind blowing, too).

Until this next generation of devices happens these glasses will mostly be used for R&D or enterprise uses, like controlling robots or production lines, or doing things like surgery, where field of view, brightness, etc aren’t as important as they will be for consumers. Lumus is selling their much better lenses to consumer-focused partners, but they don’t expect the really interesting glasses until 2024.

I’ve been working with a variety of enterprise users and here there is a deep hunger for better glasses. At Trimble, a construction company, for instance, they are working on a variety of initiatives. They are using the Boston Dynamics’ robots to map out construction sites in 3D and then using HoloLenses to do a variety of tasks. The problem? The HoloLens only has displays that are about 400 nits. Technical term for “dim, poor quality color, very little readability in bright sunlight.” Lumus’ displays are 5,000. Yesterday I took them outside and saw that they are plenty bright enough for bright environments.

Also, the HoloLens is very heavy and big compared to the glasses that Lumus and many others are readying. The construction workers are not happy with the size of the HoloLens, or even the Magic Leap, which has a cord down to a computer that clips on your belt.

These enterprise users are hungry to buy a decent set of augmented reality glasses. Lumus should help its partners get to these markets long before Meta, Snap, or Apple figure out how to get consumers to want to buy glasses.

How will I evaluate whether the market is ready?

Let’s make a list.

1. Brightness. 2,500 nits is perfect for most enterprise uses (HoloLens is only 400 and all my clients complain about lack of brightness and visual quality). Lumus says theirs can do 5,000, which gets close to consumer expectations. Big improvements over the past and over competitors I’ve seen.

2. Color. The Lumus lenses are much better than others I’ve seen. Pure whites and decent color (I could watch TV and movies in them). Enterprise is ready. Will consumers take to these in 2024? I think so. No color fringing like I see on my HoloLens. Much much nicer.

3. Size. The projectors in the Lumus are much smaller than they were three years ago when I last saw Lumus’ work. Very awesome for doctors, construction workers, production line workers, etc but still a bit too big for “RayBan” style glasses. But I could see wearing these for hours.

4. Cost. They avoided this question, sort of, but the cost is now coming down to enable devices that are $2,000 or less. That is acceptable for many enterprise uses, but still too high for most consumers. That said, I’m wearing glasses that cost $1,500 before insurance, so we are heading to consumer pricing.

5. Battery life and heat generation. Here Lumus has made big strides. They claim devices that are running their latest projectors will be able to go for hours, even all day, depending on how often the displays are showing information. That is great for, say, a surgeon, using a system like the one MediView makes. They only need displays on for a few minutes during surgery. Same for many other enterprise uses. Most workers won’t be trying to watch live streaming video all day long, like consumers will be. Also, they don’t heat up like others on the market do. But for consumer uses? Not quite there yet. Consumers will want to watch, say, CNBC all day long, along with working on screens of information.

6. Field of view. Yes, it’s better than my expensive 83-inch TV, but not by much. Consumers will have higher expectations than just 50 degrees. Enterprise users? Don’t care much at all. The benefits of having screens on their eyes outweighs the lack of wrap-around screens.

7. Content. Consumers will want to do everything from edit spreadsheets to watch TV shows and movies and play video games. All of which Lumus will never do, so its partners will need to come up with all of that. Enterprise users are far more focused on very specific use cases, like controlling a robot, or being able to see data on production machinery. That’s a hard job, for sure, but a far easier one than getting the wider range of things consumers expect done. Yes, the Metas, Apples, Googles, Snaps, Niantics, etc, are working on all that but they aren’t nearly ready with enough to get consumers to say “wow.”

8. Resilience. Consumers will want to wear these devices out in the rain. Will drop them. Their kids will step on them. How do I know? All that has happened to my glasses, which I’m forced to wear simply to see. Enterprise users are more focused on safety and many jobs, like surgery, will not need nearly the same kind of resilience that consumers will need.

Now, can all these problems be fixed by, say, an Apple or a Meta or a Snap? Sure, but I bet on Apple being more aggressive and that didn’t happen. So, we need to see how well it does next year with a launch of a bigger, heavier device aimed at home users to see how well consumers react to augmented reality devices on our faces.

Now, is there someone out there that has glasses ready to go sooner? Maybe, but, let’s say NVIDIA has a pair that does a lot, will they have all the advantages of Apple? No way. Not for a while.

This is why Mark Zuckerberg told investors that it will be “years” before augmented reality devices make big money with consumers. Even its VR efforts, after being out for seven years, and having a ton of content and low price of $300, is only selling about 1.5 million units a quarter (Apple sells that many phones in about two days).

Translation: as excited as I am about going to this week’s Augmented World Expo, we still have a couple of years to go, at minimum. I’m bummed writing that, but it’s better to be more realistic about the near future than optimistic.

As blind honor Apple accessibility pioneer my son shows far more work is ahead

It didn’t shock me that MojoVision (a Silicon Valley startup making augmented reality contact lenses) brought a big percentage of their team and had a table right in the middle of Sight Tech’s event honoring Mike Shebanek for his work on Apple’s VoiceOver functionality that enables blind people and those who have vision impairments use iPhones. All around the audience were blind people.

MojoVision’s CEO, Drew Perkins, had cataracts and eye surgery, and has long sought to build a bionic eye. So, it makes sense MojoVision would align themselves with the blind community. But all around were others working on augmented reality products. Meta, Apple, and others.

While Shebanek’s speech will be interesting to any Apple fan (he gives lots of stories about building an accessibility team at Apple, including lots of Steve Jobs stories) I don’t want you to miss what happens about 57 minutes into my video: several of the blind people around the room were called on to tell what Apple’s VoiceOver meant to them.

The stories are heartwarming but the job isn’t done. Why do I say that? My 14-year-old son is a special needs kid and has speech that is hard to understand by many and is autistic. None of the AI voice systems understand him and you should hear his frustration at not being able to communicate with computers like his brother can by talking to Alexa or Siri. He’s had Apple devices since he was two years old.

He can’t use systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or even Google’s Assistant with his voice. They just don’t understand him.

As we move into augmented reality devices, which could greatly help him live his, and those who are like him, life, these technology walls grow more daunting. Why? Five years from now we will be talking to AIs far more frequently than today.

At his public school his special needs classmates have similar problems. Some can’t hold their hands still enough to type on a keyboard. Many have a tough time with speech.

Will my son and his fellow students be included in the next paradigm shift? The paradigm shift of moving to 3D computing and new user interfaces for using your real voice and real hands in. For some users, like my son, this will be a frustrating paradigm shift.

It was an honor hearing Mike Shebanek’s stories. He’s a real pioneer who has had a deep mark on many companies (he now is working at Meta). He gives me hope that my son, and his fellow students, will be included in the computing platform of the future.

Thanks to the Vista Center for inviting me.

The Vista Center empowers individuals who are blind or visually impaired to embrace life to the fullest through evaluation, counseling, education, and training. Learn more: https://vistacenter.org

It has a conference coming in December, 2022, for developers who are shaping new technologies to create a more accessible world for people who are blind. Details on that here: https://sighttechglobal.com

Future proof your playlists with these HUGE Dolby Atmos music lists

UPDATE June 14, 2002. I’ve been focusing only on Apple lately. Amazon’s user experience really sucks and it’s just too difficult to keep all my lists synched. My Apple lists are here: https://music.apple.com/profile/AllDolbyAtmos

As Apple puts the finishing touches on its new augmented reality headset, expected later this year, I’ve been tracking innovation in music. Spatial Audio/Dolby Atmos. Why? Dolby Atmos will be a huge part of the announcements Apple is going to make. It will also be very important in the future of the “metaverse.”

Last year we got a new Sonos system that plays Dolby Atmos (new spatial audio/surround sound/better quality). Since I sold audio gear in the 1980s it’s amazing to me that you can feel like you are in the middle of a concert now. Apple’s headphones, which I also have, also support Dolby Atmos but don’t really get you the surround sound or the bass of our $3,800 Sonos system.

While watching group forums on Facebook and elsewhere I see lots of others are getting new audio systems that play Dolby Atmos. Movies have played Atmos for years, but music services started sharing Atmos less than a year ago.

The problem is finding Dolby Atmos music.

For instance, Apple’s “Rock Spatial Audio” list has 99 songs. Nice start, but I got bored very quickly. So I started collecting my own. My rock list has 1,131 songs and my hard rock list has 166 songs. Finding these are very difficult. Why? Some albums only have one song done in Dolby Atmos. So you gotta go one by one through each song and you need to know where to look to find new ones.

None of the services are doing Dolby Atmos fans, like me, justice. I’m on all of them that support Atmos (Tidal, Amazon, and Apple) and even some that don’t support Atmos (like Spotify and YouTube Music).

It makes you wonder why the music industry is hiding its biggest technology advance in decades? When it comes to Apple, I’m pretty sure it is readying their own Dolby Atmos music service for its new headset. But Amazon? Its UI is horrid. Worse, all services have really shitty search engines.

Anyway, Dave Winer regularly writes that blogs let authors route around big companies. This is exactly what is going on here. Now, I know 99.99% of people don’t care. That’s fine. You will when you get new surround sound headphones next year. If you still are reading, just remember that this post exists so when you do start to care about music quality you have a resource to go to.

Anyway, here’s the master list of my playlists. I’m breaking them into two sections: “curated” and “catalog.” Curated means I built the list after listening to every song. I built these for my own home and are what I listen to every day. Catalog means it’s just a list of everything I can find (like my rock lists) without any concern about the quality).

If you use these, you must see the Dolby Atmos logo. If you don’t see a logo when playing then you aren’t getting the full Atmos experience (you might need to turn it on in your phone’s settings, or upgrade your equipment).

So, let’s start with “curated.” The first link is to Apple Music. Amazon has a lot less music in Dolby Atmos format and I have only moved over some of my playlists (they take hours to move over because Amazon has far less Atmos).

I include the link here because Amazon sounds better than Apple. Even on Apple’s own headphones. Why? Because it is using a new version of Dolby Atmos that Apple and Tidal aren’t yet using.

1. Chill Together. 242 songs. This is music that Maryam (I’m her husband) and I like listening together to. Nice and calm music.

2. Dolby Atmos Nightclub. 537 songs. The opposite of Chill Together. Lots of explicit language and mostly hip hop/rap. Loud, obnoxious. Rattles the subwoofers. (Amazon)

3. Dolby Atmos Party. 297 songs. None of the explicitness of the nightclub, but still fun beats to get people dancing. (Amazon)

4. Dolby Atmos Radio. 1,713 songs. Music that’s great to listen to all day long. No explicit stuff, but a wide variety of songs. (Amazon)

5. Dolby Atmos Speaker Demonstrations. 91 songs. The best of the best. I did this list to show family and friends what Dolby Atmos is all about but I found it’s great to keep going back to whenever the software in my speaker system upgrades. (Amazon)

6. Favorites. 1,254 songs. Similar to Dolby Atmos Radio but with a little higher quality level.

7. Holiday Party. 102 songs. My favorite Christmas/holiday music. (Amazon)

8. Quiet Beauty. 165 songs. Very quiet instrumental music. Great for having in the background while working or reading. (Amazon)

9. Timeless. 398 songs. The music that we can listen to for decades and not get tired of listening to. (Amazon)

10. Vibe Alignment. 432 songs. Nice songs to listen to with other people in the room. (Amazon)

The rest is what I call “catalog.” In other words, genres or other things that don’t have editorial input from me. Here I go for completeness, not quality. Usually I try to stay with Apple’s own categorization.

11. African. 228 songs.

12. Alternative. 2,362 songs. (Amazon)

13. Blues. 58 songs.

14. Bollywood. 280 songs.

15. Catalog A. (everything I can find that has last name of “A”). 1,417 songs. (Amazon)

16. Catalog A-M. (Explicit). 2,935 songs. (Amazon)

17. Catalog B-C. 4,316 songs. (Amazon)

18. Catalog D-F. 2,318 songs. (Amazon)

19. Catalog G-J. 3,715 songs. (Amazon)

20. Catalog K. 886 songs. (Amazon)

21. Catalog L-M. 4,042 songs. (Amazon)

22. Catalog N-P. 2,229 songs. (Amazon)

23. Catalog N-Z Explicit. 1,870 songs. (Amazon)

24. Catalog Q-S. 3,050 songs. (Amazon)

25. Catalog T-V. 1,667 songs. (Amazon)

26. Catalog W-Z. 1,568 songs. (Amazon)

27. Children’s Music. 99 songs.

28. Church. 362 songs. Religious.

29. Classical. 9,353 songs. (Amazon #1. Amazon #2)

30. Country. 1,400 songs. (Amazon)

31. Dance. 856 songs. (Amazon)

33. Drinking. 51 songs.

34. Electronic. 711 songs. (Amazon)

35. Funk, R&B, & Soul. 1,516 songs. (Amazon)

36. Hard Rock. 280 songs. (Amazon)

37. Hip-Hop & Rap. 4,237 songs. (Amazon)

38. Holiday. 647 songs.

39. Jazz. 581 songs. (Amazon)

40. Latino/Mexican. 1,246 songs. (Amazon)

41. Meditation. 30 songs.

42. New Dolby Atmos Friday. (Changes every day as new music comes out. I keep music here for about a week).

43. Pop. 4,116 songs. (Amazon)

44. Reggae. 59 songs.

45. Rock. 1,571 songs. (Amazon)

46. Singer/Songwriter. 193 songs. (Amazon)

47. Soundtrack. 786 songs. (Amazon)

48. World. 322 songs.