Virtual, augmented or mixed: the new realities

News and commentaries, Technology


Many, many years ago, I somehow managed to borrow a View-Master and saw for the first time, stereoscopic images of some tourist attractions (I can’t even remember which ones). What I remember is how my heart skipped a beat and I felt an unnamed longing – probably wanderlust. A few weeks ago, I felt a very similar reaction when I saw another video from Magic Leap. This time the longing is more defined. After decades of being promised the wonders of virtual reality and mixed reality, I have a longing to see this technology bear its full potential.

Needless to say, I have been thinking of virtual reality as one of the most exciting consumer technologies since I first heard of Magic Leap. But, outside of my little bubble, I am taken aback by how little people know about it or even how unexcited some people can be about it. So, in thinking of ways to approach this post about VR/AR/MR, I want to answer the question of: What is it and where are we at with VR? This is the first in a series of posts that will attempt to answer those questions.

What is virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality?
You and I are not alone in being confused with the terminologies. I most often use virtual reality as a blanket term or if I’m being generous, use augmented reality when I think of mixed reality. There are several articles on this, including Wikipedia ones. I will share the definitions that makes the most sense to me.

Virtual reality or virtual realities (VR), also known as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, is a computer technology that replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence and environment in a way that allows the user to interact with it. (Wikipedia)

In today’s parlance, VR refers to an experience afforded by a head-mounted display, filling your vision with a real or imagined environment. It also includes 3-D audio for surround-sound and controllers that let you interact with this virtual world.

Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. (Wikipedia)

AR augments or inlays digital information on top of the real world. This is probably not as exciting as space travel with VR, but AR is very useful for hands-free work.

Mixed reality (MR), sometimes referred to as hybrid realityis the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. (Wikipedia)

MR is simply that, a mix of VR and AR. Just like AR, you can still see the real world but you will also be able to see an interactive virtual object. In MR, when you walk around this virtual object and get close to it, it will project just like a real object would.

On the next post, I will talk about the devices that go into these categories. Stay tuned!


Virtual reality adoption and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

The very first iPhone was released in June 2007. 74 days later, iPhone sales reached 1 million units and 100 million units in 3 years. To date, 700 million iPhone devices have been sold. If we’re to look at smartphones in general (iOS, Android, etc.) the US has 70% smartphone penetration and IDC forecasted a worldwide smartphone shipment of 1.4 billion units for 2015.

It’s safe to say that in less than a decade, we have reached the late majority (maybe even approaching the laggards) of the smartphone adoption.

The question is, will we have a similar (or longer) trajectory for VR devices? I was asked this question the other day: how long do I think VR adoption will take? Within 5 years? 10 years?

My answer initially was: certainly NOT within 5 years but maybe within 10 years. But now, actually looking at data on smartphone sales, I’m now leaning towards the 5-year timeline.

What’s different now for VR devices?

  • When the iPhone was first launched, internet connectivity was not as ubiquitous as it is today. Load times for anything – within the browser or the app – were excruciatingly slow that you end up with a glorified feature phone really. Compare that to today and you have networks competing to be your data download/upload facilitator – just look at T-Mobile’s efforts.
  • There’s already a very healthy and thriving app ecosystem which means building apps for VR would be a natural extension for developers. Remember when “Ant Smasher” was the coolest game on your iPhone? I do. Last weekend, I got a chance to finally try Google Cardboard and played Deep Space Battle with it. I’m not a gamer but I can totally see myself spending a lot of time on the Rift. I also “walked around” Hong Kong via Google’s Street View. Apps like these are just bound to improve and the state of where they’re at right now is already impressive.


  • In general we are more open to new devices. I live in Boca Raton, FL, a place for retirees. You’d be surprised at how many of these guys are rocking the Apple Watch. To say that people – from millenials to baby boomers – are comfortable with strapping devices on themselves is an understatement. You can argue that VR needs to come up with a more compelling reason than gaming. How about we use VR to view adorable videos of grandkids from 5000 miles away as if they’re right there in our living room? That’s a compelling reason right there.

It’s time to stop thinking that VR/augmented reality belongs in the far-off future. It simply is another interface for today. One that developers and content creators are gearing up for. It’s an interface that networks and hardware are capable of supporting. Most importantly, it’s an interface that we are more than ready to embrace.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail.

In tech:

  1. Apple-FBI battle is over but Silicon Valley is preparing for the privacy war
  2. Hacker sells data stolen from Verizon’s enterprise customers
  3. Snapchat reportedly paid $100 million for a startup that makes an emoji look eerily like you
  4. China moves to contend in chip making
  5. Paul Allen Gives $100 Million to Enable ‘Bioscience’ Research

In retail:

  1. Alibaba hits 3 trillion yuan transaction milestone
  2. Amazon will sell more PlayStation VR bundles starting tomorrow
  3. No big surprises in Nike, Inc.’s latest strong quarter
  4. American Apparel offering on-demand delivery via Postmates partnership
  5. Pebble to lay off 25% of workforce

Note: This post was partly inspired by this article: Gene Munster thinks virtual reality will be the ultimate iPhone killer.

Virtual reality and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

If someone gave you a perfect simulation of today’s world to play in and told you that it’s all fake with no actual consequences—with the only rules being that you can’t break the law or harm anyone, and you still have to make sure to support your and your family’s basic needs—what would you do? (Tim Urban, Wait but Why)

The context of the quote above is more about how we can push ourselves to pursue a more fulfilling life that may be out of our comfort zone. But, I also think of the above in relation to virtual reality and the idea of an “experience machine.” If a life with no actual consequences is available to us, would we plug in? And if we do plug in, are we going to map out a life of only pleasure or will we include experiences like volunteering in desolate areas?

Later this month is the long-awaited release of the Oculus Rift. Other companies are set to follow: HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and who knows – Apple, Google and the ever secretive Magic Leap. Of course, we already have Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Cardboard. But with Oculus Rift, we very well might be at the tipping point for tech companies to enter the VR hardware market. With competition comes innovation and better VR content.

There is no question in my mind that VR or augmented reality devices will improve to a point where they become as common as smartphones and the content becomes as compelling as social media, movies, games (pick your poison as it is), and even real life. Are we in danger of eschewing real life for a type of Second Life or Grand Theft Auto in VR? Will we favor Neal Stephenson’s imagined Metaverse in his novel Snowcrash over our real lives?

…I had a nagging sense that many users were neglecting their offline lives and relationships to be there. The company’s own data revealed the majority of its most active users spend an average of 6-plus hours daily within Second Life. Another study suggested people derived more happiness within that world than from the real one. (Wired)

We already are opiated in some way with our TV shows, Instagram moments, alcohol, Tinder, pain killers – the list could go on. And in each of this instance, we make the choice on the degree of the escapism involved. Of course, the fact that virtual reality can potentially recreate the life that we live right now with more of anything that we desire is definitely a concern. The same people who have no qualms spending a majority of their waking lives immersed in escapist activities will also be the ones to prefer VR to real life. Just like how we evolved with the internet, I think we will find a myriad of uses for VR beyond escaping the life that we have. Just like Tim Berners-Lee’s bemusement at one of the uses of the world wide web he invented, I’m sure Rift’s inventor Palmer Luckey will also be surprised at how people end up using VR.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 2.10.36 PM

So instead of going the fire and brimstone route, how about we all get excited about the possibilities of VR?

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. FBI vs. Apple: Twitter, Airbnb, eBay, Kickstarter, LinkedIn and Square File Brief Supporting AppleWhat’s Next for Apple as Its Battle With the FBI Plays Out in Washington?
  2. Alphabet: Verily Is Building A Google For Medical Information; Google’s computers paint like Van Gogh, and the art sells for thousands
  3. Uber’s International Business Is Deep in the Red
  4. Space: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth: What a year in space does to a person’s body; Hubble breaks cosmic record, captures most distant galaxy
  5. Yahoo exploring sale of $1 billion-$3 billion in ‘non-core assets’: CFO

In retail:

  1. Luxxotica pares profit guidance, pours cold water on tie-up talk
  2. Adidas plans to open 3,000 new stores in China
  3. Target ramps up spending on logistics to win your shopping dollars
  4. Kate Spade aces holiday quarter with same-store sales beat
  5. Gap core sales fell 2% in February

Augmented reality and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Magic Leap, the secretive startup based in Dania, FL (👋 there, short drive away!) is in the news again for another massive round of investment of $793.5m led by Alibaba. Virtual/augmented/mixed reality in general is set to be at the forefront this year as Facebook-acquired Oculus Rift finally releases its $600 gear. HTC and Sony will also be releasing their respective VR headsets.

What makes Magic Leap very special is not only the money it has raised – an impressive $1.4B with no product yet – but also its technology. Existing VR tricks the eyes by showing a different image of the same object to each eye (stereoscopic 3D). Magic Leap meanwhile shines light directly into the retina, blending with the light received from the real world. This tricks the brain which makes actual and projected objects indistinguishable. Imagine talking to your parents in your living room, except they live 5000 miles away. Not a lot of people have seen this technology firsthand but those that have tend to be super excited about it.

Needless to say, I am watching this closely. In the meantime, I’ll be anxiously waiting for the Rift and will be trying out a watered down VR for interior design from Modsy because online furniture buying still has a few hurdles.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail.

In tech:

  1. Alphabet: Alphabet Surpasses Apple as the World’s Most Valuable Company; Google’s self-driving cars drive three million miles a day, without leaving the lab; Here’s How Much Google Has Spent on Robot Cars, Internet Balloons, Its Anti-Aging Lab and So On
  2. Microsoft Plumbs Ocean’s Depths to Test Underwater Data Center
  3. Airbnb pays Paris €1.2m in tourist taxes
  4. Russian cosmonauts ready for ISS spacewalk
  5. LinkedIn acquires recruiting startup Connectifier

In retail:

  1. GrubHub Revenue Soars 36.3% in Q4 Earnings
  2. PVH spends $172m on Tommy Hilfiger’s Chinese partner
  3. Online fashion retailer Nasty Gal cuts 10% of staff
  4. Ralph Lauren’s stock stumbles after missing sales expectations, cutting outlook
  5. American Apparel losses widen amid bankruptcy process