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The Eyes Have It: Spatial Computing for the Uninitiated

A dad-like man in a 19th-hole style sports shirt and a pair of acceptable slacks is standing on a stage. He means business. His name is Tim Cook and he’s talking about Apple Vision Pro. As far as the eye can see during that event in California, nerds cried. For people like me who look at the possibilities of the future, I felt more encouraged about this evolution of technology than ever before because finally I thought, we could solve some of the problems that the metaverse cannot.

X-Ray Specs

They Live! Wow, that's quite a film. Helmed by John Carpenter, starring WWF’s Rowdy Roddy Piper, the plot was bonkers for its time, but now? Well, judge for yourself: The protagonist discovers a pair of sunglasses capable of showing the world the way it truly is. Stop reading now! Stop reading! Ok, carry on: he wanders the streets of Los Angeles, and notices that both the media and the government are composed of subliminal messages meant to keep the population subdued. But it’s just a film, right?

Spatial computing isn’t that new, hell, an abortive experience with Google glasses happened a few years ago because a) it was a flex and b) Google really wasn’t offering much more that we couldn’t already do with our actual eyes. So why would we even bother outsourcing our eyeballs to a computer?

At its core, spatial computing is about creating a bridge between the digital and physical worlds. It combines technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and 3D mapping to understand and interpret our physical environment and overlay virtual content onto it in real-time.

One aspect of spatial computing is augmented reality. AR adds a digital layer to the real world, allowing us to see and interact with virtual objects or information in our physical surroundings. It can be experienced through devices like smartphones, smart glasses, or headsets, enhancing our perception of reality and providing new ways to learn, play, and collaborate.

Another component of spatial computing is virtual reality. VR takes us to entirely virtual environments, immersing us in computer-generated worlds. By wearing a VR headset, we can explore fictional realms, simulate realistic scenarios, and even travel to distant places, all without leaving our physical location.

Mixed reality combines elements of both AR and VR. It blends virtual objects with the real world, allowing us to interact with both simultaneously. MR enables us to place virtual objects in our physical space, manipulate them, and have them respond to our actions in real-time, creating a more immersive and interactive experience.

Get the Net

Apple Vision Pro has been designed to be sleek, lightweight, and incredibly comfortable. Gone are the days of clunky, heavy glasses that distract you from your adventures—ish—they’re still very unwieldy. Though these glasses may have been designed and crafted with style and practicality in mind, ensuring that you can wear them all day without any discomfort: you will look like a bellend until at least 60% of the world population is wearing them. It’s got some other issues too—mostly stemming from the apportioning of technology where companies like Microsoft opt for MR vision for example, and Meta prefer VR and avoid the integration of all of it into their technologies.

Spatial computing finds applications across a myriad of industries, shaping the future of entertainment, education, healthcare, design, and more.

  • Entertainment and Gaming: Will this tech revolutionise the way we play and consume entertainment? I think so. It enables us to engage in captivating AR games that overlay digital elements onto our surroundings, creating unique and interactive experiences.

  • Education and Training: In the realm of education, spatial computing brings abstract concepts to life through immersive visualisations and simulations. Students can explore historical events, dissect complex scientific phenomena, or participate in virtual field trips, enhancing their learning experiences, it’s seemingly much more than that horrible Meta advert

  • Femtech and Healthcare: Spatial computing will enhance medical training by providing realistic simulations—if it isn’t already—allowing healthcare professionals to practise procedures in a virtual environment. It also supports telemedicine, enabling remote consultations and AR-assisted surgeries, improving patient care and accessibility.

  • Design and Architecture: Architects and designers might really benefit from spatial computing by visualising and manipulating virtual prototypes within real-world contexts at speed and procedurally. It streamlines the design process, allowing for better collaboration, more accurate representations, and efficient decision-making.

As with any new technology, social acceptance and cultural norms play a role. Wearing smart glasses that may look distinct or draw attention could lead to societal concerns or perceptions. It may take time for people to become comfortable with the idea of augmented reality glasses being a common sight in public. I mean, look around you, we are somewhere between They Live! and those horrendous stock images of women using VR, right now.

Don’t Leave Home Without Don’t leave Home

Apple's attention to detail in their vision of the future extends even to the user interface, with intuitive controls that make navigating the augmented reality world a breeze, but this isn’t news. This is Apple standard UI and UX. The user experience is so important to them, I’m surprised that they don’t make more of the CX. But even they might come unstuck, because interacting with a three-dimensional augmented reality environment through gestures and voice commands presents unique usability challenges. Oh does it ever. Connectivity anyone? I tried to play Township on my ipad pro at the top of a mountain the other day, it was way more annoying than the glory days of Nintendo DS’ limited connectivity. So, developing intuitive and natural interfaces that are easy to learn and use will be important to enhance the overall user experience.

If we can control the augmented reality experience with simple and intuitive gestures, we should be able to join the dots of connectivity or what is the actual point? The problem lies in the obvious—some countries have free Wifi, some countries have only 4G, some 4G and 5G and some not much at all. No amount of fancy UI and UX is going to save you from a poor connection. It’s 2023. Why are we so fragmented?

Spatial doesn’t exactly mean Space*

The term “spatial” refers to the concept of space and how objects relate to each other in a three-dimensional environment. Spatial computing leverages this understanding of spatial relationships to create a more natural and interactive digital experience. It allows users to interact with virtual objects, manipulate them, and experience digital content in a way that feels as if it is part of the real world.

Because spatial computing with a viewing device isn't just about fun and games there’s some big moods in the Vision Pro for us to explore work and productivity too! Visualising complex data, collaborating seamlessly with colleagues around the world, or stepping into virtual meeting rooms without leaving your desk, it feels very Meta and very Microsoft but a bit less pushy. Again if the brief is to cross the chasm, Apple will nail it. If the brief is to put the Vision Pro in the hands of everyone on earth, I’m not seeing it and not just because of price.

I recently wrote about digital adoption for another publication, and I was staggered by the amount of rejection that initially came about from my suggestion that people still use crap Microsoft OS, tools and devices because it’s what they’re used to. My fear is that the one thing Apple could do to tip the balance will be the thing they forget to do because they’re too focused on everything else that hypes the device tech and not enough on habit and value pairs.

When I first started talking about and writing about the metaverse, I pretty much had the Vision Pro in mind. I’m not an Apple acolyte, no way. But I am a hopeful dreamer and an optimist that the future will be a hybrid state of various technologies all joined up to make a big layer frame (rather than a static mainframe) or some kind of cloud frame where everything slots in. With Meta we had to live through the grift of everything being joined up but only if it was on facebook’s terms. I don’t deny that inside their walled garden everything is joined up. It is. However, Apple gives us a reluctant omniverse inside a walled garden. We’ve got the SDK, the glasses, and collaborative working opportunities. There are limitations but the obvious notwithstanding, the future looks good.

(*It means freedom)

The technology behind spatial computing relies on a combination of sensors, cameras, depth perception, motion tracking, and sophisticated algorithms. These components work together to understand the physical environment, track the user's movements, and overlay virtual content in real-time, creating the illusion of objects coexisting with the real world. It’s worrying to think that mass-adoption of any device that provides or retains that much tracking and data is safe in anyone’s hands let alone a massive tech giant. You know what I mean.

Apple is known for its commitment to privacy and security, and Apple Vision Pro is no exception. Your personal data and experiences are safeguarded, ensuring that you have full control over your digital adventures. You can explore, create, and connect with confidence, knowing that your privacy is protected every step of the way.

Crossing the Chasm

While spatial computing offers tremendous potential, there are challenges to overcome. One challenge is the accessibility and affordability of the technology. Devices and equipment required for spatial computing can be costly, limiting its widespread adoption.

Another challenge lies in creating intuitive and natural user interfaces that enhance the overall user experience. Efforts are being made to develop easy-to-use gestures, voice commands, and controls to make spatial computing more accessible to a broader audience.

Spatial computing is bloody exciting though, I can’t deny that for a moment. As technology evolves, we can expect more advanced and affordable devices, improved user interfaces, and a wider range of applications. It has the potential to revolutionise how we interact with digital content and reshape our daily lives. If it’s only a glimpse of the future, it's an exciting glimpse that leaves us eager for what lies ahead. If Apple is continuously pushing boundaries, we can expect even more mind-blowing features and improvements from others who will follow their success criteria. As the technology evolves, spatial computing is likely to become an essential part of our daily lives, empowering us to see, experience, and connect in extraordinary ways. This is the original vibe of Oculus when Palmer Luckey was the driving force of a democratic VR. Today, and a little like the Vision Pro, we’re in this walled garden with VR—folks on the inside can afford it and they’re developing for it and loving it. The rest of us yearn to be a part of the inner circle but we can’t, it’s simply out of our reach.

By seamlessly merging the physical and digital realms, spatial computing opens up new avenues for creativity, communication, and problem-solving.

If this brings us closer to mass adoption of virtual, augmented and mixed reality, I’m all for it—I just can’t afford it right now.


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