Yes that is a Bass ukulele on the wall

I’m going to start this post with this statement: With consumer AR; function follows form. Now for most of you, you might remember the old design mantra; ‘Form follows function.’ For those that are unfamiliar, it basically implies design what you need first, then the form will follow. As a past Berkeley Architecture student this was drilled in my head. In consumer AR however, I think this is flipped. When you wear something, especially on your head, design matters. Given two products, a less attractive but more capable product vs a more attract but less capable one, people will tend to the more attractive product. Function follows form.

Cue the Nreal AR glasses. They look like ODG glasses, but smaller, and this makes a big difference. I really like the looks of the ODG, but just to bulky, heavy, and hot. Nreal removed all the compute of the head to slim it down. Yes, you lose some performance by moving CV to the phone, and yes there is now a chord hanging down the back, but given the value provided, this is minor.

In consumer AR, function follows form. Lets look a the Hololens/Magic Leap vs the Nreal. Now, they are completely different devices as far as I’m concerned. The Hololens is STILL the best AR device you can buy, but its big and expensive. The Nreal is small, light and only $500. However, what is really important here is; I can be at a cafe with the Nreal and feel OK, where I would not with the Hololens or any other capable AR device on the market. Why? Because the Nreal looks almost like a normal pair of sunglasses, yes it is far less powerful the other AR headsets, but it still supports most of my AR use cases. As such, I argue you need two things for a successful consumer AR device; a very light attractive device and access to lots of content. Combine the Nreal with a phone (better with a desktop like DeX) and you have it.

ROI: When I first got the GearVR I loved it. I was traveling a bit back then and I LOVED the fact I could put these on my head and I’m watching videos and playing games. The device only cost me just over $100 bucks and I already had the phone. The ROI was easy. I got more value out of the device than what I put into it. I also got the Vive. After a few week I felt done with it. It was far too troublesome to set it up. Yes the Vive is better, and could do more, but I could throw the Gear is a bag and take it anywhere. Thus I used the Gear FAR more often than the Vive.

Which brings to the main point of this post.

Consumer AR use cases will have the same ROI question. How often will you REALLY use it, and given those occasions, was it worth the money/trouble? I have read so many articles talking about all these great consumer AR use cases, virtual shopping, fitting new furniture in you place, even playing a virtual piano. How often do you really think you will use it? Most likely you will use it often if three conditions are true: 1) Easy to use/access, 2) satisfies a frequent use case, and 3) if in public, easy to carry and looks good.

Use case examples:

Before I go into these use cases, keep in mind they are not definitive or exhaustive, but instead illustrative to support the point that use cases that will support frequent use, does not need an expensive AR device to derive value from the product, in fact, less is more.

Short media consumption on the go: I define this as short sessions (say 10-20 min), alerts, short video, etc. Anything that is a quick bit of information consumption and interaction but longer than something you can see on your watch. For example; reading emails or socMed posts, viewing videos or photos. Yes you can do this on the phone, but if I have easy access to my glasses, I can enjoy a larger screen, better sound, and not keep looking down. I’ll also include HUD here as well. Walking or biking where you can get alerts and/or navigation or point of interests.

Information Augmentation. This can be language translations, getting more information on a store product, bar or QR codes, object recognition, etc.. Anything where one bit of information can be modified or expanded upon. In this case the phone would be the primary camera for capturing information allowing greater flexibility when trying to capture.

Dex seen through Nreal

Augmented Desktop: Right now this is limited to Samsung phones as far as I know. When I connect the Nreal glasses to a Samsung phone, I get a DeX desktop. This is a big use case for me and something I can use right now when I’m away from my desk or traveling. When I plug the usbc cable into the phone, I get a 1k Desktop. Add bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and I’m set. Bonus points, as long as you are not trying to use the same app, you can run desktop on the glasses and some other app on the phone. (still need to test this more) BTW, you can use the phone as a mouse and keyboard as well. The only downside is its headlocked. I’m hoping this can be addressed.

Fits in my pockets.

Side bar on Travel: I used to travel quite a bit, for fun and business, and like to travel light. My current set up is to use a Samsung Fold, folding keyboard, and flat mouse. Well now with the Nreal, I will be adding one more device to my mobile war set. I have the Samsung Fold which is already a big screen, but now with the glasses, any phone should be fine. Again, we still have the issue that DeX is head locked. Side note, I still need to see if I can power the phone and keep the glasses connected at the same time. Another post for another day.

Samsung Fold, Folding Keyboard, MS Curve mouse, and Nreal glasses
First test with DeX with Nreal:

So, we just looked at 4 use cases that the current Nreal glasses and a high end phone can support. What about the chord? I got used to that really fast. For years we have been listening to our music using wire headphones and ear buds and no one has batted an eye. I have the same feeling with a chord coming from the glasses. It does not feel awkward and does not get in my way having used wired headphones for most of my life. BTW, works with a USBC extension.

Each use case has the same thing in common; they are things you would do often. They do not require too much compute power nor sensing technology. They do, however, require that you feel comfortable using them in public.

Now, I do not want to give the impression the Nreal is perfect. Far from it. It does not fit me well, (Nreal: Day 0). When I use DeX, the display is head locked. There is no easy on/off for the glasses while connected to the phone. and a few more small issues. But the main point is this. The Nreal is the first AR-lite glasses I have seen (pun intended) that sets the bar for all other AR-lite headsets to follow in the near term. Sure sometime this decade we will have wireless glasses with higher resolution and detail hand tracking and a bunch of other stuff.

But I do not want to wait that long.