Why is Facebook doing VR if AR is the big prize? (mesh unf**kers and the future)

Ben Thompson’s excellent Stratechery newsletter took this topic on this morning. Why is Facebook doing VR, he asks, while pointing out that Apple is the apparent winner?

I have been watching this space in much more detail than Ben, having cowritten a book on augmented reality and I have a few friends who are working inside Facebook on various efforts. Lately I’ve been visiting with people building Magic Leap and HoloLens and other AR glasses as well.

This gets to what I’ve been working on the past year: building a new theory of the next five years.

What is that thesis?

2019: six degrees of freedom VR for $400 on the VR front. On the AR front (the industry is moving toward calling these “XR” or “Spatial Computing Glasses” or “Mixed Reality Glasses”). Expected, a new version of Microsoft Hololens, which joins Magic Leap. Expected to be for high end users only, since the price of these will still be $3,000 and fairly big.
2020: Facebook enters the spatial computing glasses with something around $1,500.
2021: Apple releases its first spatial computing glasses at about $1,000. Microsoft, Snap, Samsung, Facebook, Google, and others jump in as well.
2022: Second pair of Apple finally fixes them enough that the mass market starts showing up.

Why am I still so bullish on spatial computing? Let’s start with the fact that you get as many virtualized screens around you as you want. Imagine working in an office where you just show up with a little keyboard and your glasses and you get glorious big screens around you. That, alone, will sell many of us on using these glasses. I have a Hololens already and it’s quite compelling to see virtualized screens in front of you. The problem is that Hololens is WAY too heavy and big to wear for long, way too expensive for most to try it, and the optics just aren’t very good so you can’t work as well as on a physical screen yet. I hear all of those problems get fixed by 2021.

This thesis comes from studying the immersive/spatial computing/VR/AR industry very closely for years. You can follow along by watching the best people and brands on this Twitter list I built.

So, this gets me to Thompson’s thesis and question. Why invest in VR today if it’s AR (er, spatial computing, XR, mixed reality glasses) that everyone is going to use?

This brings me to the video. It’s of a new SDK that’s coming from HTC in a few weeks. Most of you haven’t seen it, and wouldn’t know what’s important about it, but the developers I talk to say this technology is HUGELY important to where the glasses are going.

To get computing to properly interact with the real world, you will need many new technologies to be built BEFORE the glasses hit.

The video shows one of them my friend calls “a mesh unfucker.” Technical term, sorry for the harsh language, but that is what my friends call it so I’m going to stay with that term for now.

See, when you get the glasses they will have a sensor, or a few sensors, on the front that will see the world and then overlay a mesh of little polygons on top of that world.

The problem is that sensors will always introduce noise. You see that in the video by inaccuracies in the way the polygons lay on top of the real world. You then see the mesh unfucker do its work. Someone trained it, with deep learning, about the objects it sees there. The chair, for instance, and then the mesh unfucker “locks” the polygons onto the chair, so that the virtual human can properly sit in that chair.

This is really advanced tech that will be improved over time (Carlos Calva is building a company in this space, for instance, and he’s not alone, he’s one of the people who taught me about unfucking the mesh, more on his company when he gets out of stealth mode probably next year as a new Hololens and Oculus Quest arrives). The problem is that developers who are building these new technologies can’t always afford a HoloLens or a Magic Leap and certainly can’t afford 20 of them for a lab. Right now they are $2,500 each, while VR headsets are coming down to $400 for an Oculus Quest next spring).

Also, users can’t afford these headsets. Quick, how many of you bought a HoloLens. I know very few.

But many more users, for now, can afford a VR headset. So, now, think about how brands get built. How companies get built. How communities get there.

Facebook is using VR to “boot up” all of that into the glasses so that when glasses do arrive and do get popular, they will have a ton of cool things to do on them.

This is the fight of the next decade and billions of dollars are being spent.

So, will Apple’s program of secrecy work better to get all sorts of amazing apps built for the AR glasses? Or will Facebook’s more open strategy of working with VR developers get more apps?

I’m betting Facebook’s strategy will and I won’t be shocked if I’m more excited by Facebook’s ecosystem, even though Apple has so many more advantages, from 450 stores to a brand people are fine with putting on their face, to an non-ending marketing budget.

Note that developers are getting major new technologies from the VR ecosystem now, while Apple remains silent. This video is showing something that HTC Vives will have in a few weeks.

Where’s Apple?

Yes, Apple has AR Kit, its own AR on the phone, but phone-based AR just doesn’t get developers and users to dream like putting on a VR headset.

That all said even if Apple wins, all this work and investment that Facebook is doing will pay off big time as it will have a ton of great things to do on the Apple headsets as well and will have all the learning that comes from making its own operating system and headsets (and Facebook is learning a LOT by doing this work) much of which will port nicely into Apple’s headsets as well.

For these big companies it’s about keeping relevant as a paradigm shift hits and this paradigm shift will be the biggest one yet for a whole lot of reasons.

Oh, and as to the future of jobs, well, there are teams coming up with mesh unfuckers as we speak. Imagine trying to explain that one to your family “well, I am training the mesh to reduce noise in it and more accurately get it to wrap to objects in the real world.”

I want that job and am learning as much as I can about how to train systems to do that. Hey, in two years you will want your mesh not to be fucked, no?

 

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A year of Scoble change

In my 53 years I’ve seen a couple of house fires. One, at a neighbor’s house, woke me up in the middle of the night with banging on doors. Terror from waking up to a weird light in the bedroom, unnatural heat coming through the window, and the horrific sounds of lives being disrupted.

Years later I still remember the pile of trash in front of the destroyed house that kept growing over the first weeks after the fire. The burnt and soggy sofa. The sheetrock ripped out so firefighters could get to fire inside the walls. The carpet, stained with ash-heavy water. The clothes, some burned, others just discarded as too dirty and smoky to save. Later that disappeared and was replaced by trucks rebuilding.

My life, and that of my family, has felt a different kind of fire burn through it in a series of events that started about a year ago. Like with a physical fire, I’ve had the choice to look at the wreckage and loss, and have a cry, or look toward rebuilding. I find that looking backward toward my failures serves to keep humble, but looking forward is what gets me off the couch.

My gratitude list runs long.

My kids, for instance, were being punished for my success and travel and not in a way I ever could have seen a year ago and even if you pointed that out I just wouldn’t have been in the humble space to hear you. We lived in Half Moon Bay and just couldn’t see how to move, or why. Until the fire came through our lives (and not just #metoo, but several deaths of people close to us). A young friend just shared with us that he has colon cancer, which helped me write this post since it showed me more clearly, again, the fire that burned through our lives the last year, which burned away everything that really wasn’t important.

Now that we have moved to Campbell, I see just how much better the schools are here and how much happier my kids are that they have both of their parents pulling their weight at home and sober (in other words, me, since Maryam has always had to pull extra hard while I was off having fun with my career).

This month brings me to a year of sobriety and not just the kind of sobriety that means being away from alcohol (which is closer to four years in my life) or weed or other drugs (I had my last weed just about a year ago today) but an emotional sobriety that I had no chance of attaining before the past year. The ability to be honest with myself, and others, about the depression and mental illness I face, and the burnout that just wasn’t clear until many months had gone by away from the fun of travel, parties, dinners, and conferences.

A year ago, I could never have imagined I would have given a eulogy at my former partner’s funeral. I could never have imagined that I would be in the mental or career state to take a month away from everything and take my three kids on a 9,000-mile road trip around America if we had talked last October. I could never have imagined that my relationship with Maryam would be so much better. Funny, too, a year ago I could never have imagined volunteering at school, doing the dishes or laundry, or going to PTA meetings, amongst other things.

Today I have a choice, too. Do I look backward at the successes and failures of my first 53 years? My past is on Google and the Web, is my current thinking, and looking at it is just is going to focus my time left on this earth away from my new mission to serve others and will just lead to more mental illness or craziness. Best kept anyway to my rehab sponsor or my therapist.

So, now, Maryam and I are having new conversations as we head into our 17th year of marriage.

First, we got our financial lives in order and are watching things carefully, and now have good hands watching our small savings and it’s clear we don’t have close to enough to retire. Heck, putting food on our kids’ table will be difficult if both of us aren’t building income streams, even though she has an amazing career and is doing great work at VMWare in the conference team there (funny how roles switched, in a few weeks she’ll be the one traveling).

Needs are high. We have an 11 year old special needs child. Our nine year old will most likely need college in nine years. Not to mention all the unplanned expenses that go with parenting and, well, it’s just damn expensive living in Silicon Valley, even after downsizing our lifestyle as much as we can.

So that’s tugging in the back of my mind.

But I find freeing to dream about a world where I never make another dollar and one without personal needs, which has its own form of torment.

What is my mission? What gifts do I have to share? What skills can I use? How can I pay my life forward? How can I be helpful to others? In a decade what do I want to be doing? And, even better, how do I see my industry changing and where does offer opportunity?

For that I find I needed to go back to the basics. Go and do my homework. If you’ve been watching my lists on Twitter you see just what I’ve been doing: https://twitter.com/scobleizer/lists Over the past year I’ve built a series of new lists so I can see the industry in a new way. So I can listen and serve. But that’s just so I can see and brainstorm.

For the past few months I’ve been building a thesis for where the tech industry will see growth. In discussing my thesis with others it’s clear that a decade from now our organizations will have increased assistance via AI, increased augmentation via AR, increased virtualization, through a variety of technologies hitting the datacenter and cloud, and increased decentralization, via a variety of technologies including blockchain and 5G. Any dummy can see the same, but I see these changes as exponential, which means that soon they will hit all industries and cause lots of job changes. Already lots of people are predicting the same. One reason I wanted to drive around America is to get a sense of the kinds of jobs people do. We visited factories at Boeing. Ford. Louisville Slugger, and talked with many people.

It is clear that the next decade is going to see a huge amount of change to what it means to be human. Yesterday’s keynote at Magic Leap’s conference and last week’s Oculus Connect/Facebook event gives you just a taste of what’s coming. We just bought a June Oven, that shows you even more about how human life is changing, more on that when I get some meals under my belt to share here.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Now it’s time to really do my homework, which will lead into a new business and new ideas over the next few months, about what I am seeing as the post-digital-transformation enterprise: one that’s seeing great increases in decentralization, assistance, augmentation, and virtualization.

In other words, the next year will be hopefully less about change than the last one, and more about learning and putting in place a new mission.

This is a much more fun phase of life. More like designing a new house after the old one burned down. Looking forward to having new conversations on Twitter at https://twitter.com/scobleizer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble