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Augmented reality is waiting for its 2007 iPhone moment, according to the lead investor in the AR startup bought by Snap for $500 million

  • Octopus Ventures partner Simon King says augmented reality is still waiting for its iPhone moment.
  • King was the lead investor in WaveOptics, the AR startup sold to Snap for $500 million in May.
  • Apple is heavily rumoured to be working on an AR headset while Facebook already unveiled its plans.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Augmented reality is still waiting for its iPhone moment but widespread adoption of the technology will come, according to the lead investor in an AR firm bought by Snap for $500 million.

Simon King, a partner at Octopus Ventures, sat on the board of UK-based WaveOptics, which was acquired by Snapchat’s parent firm last month. WaveOptics manufactures augmented reality displays for wearable devices, including for Snap’s Spectacles.

Augmented reality is broadly defined as a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image onto the real world. It made some advances into the mainstream — think Pokémon Go emerging as a runaway hit in 2016. Snap’s own AR filters and IKEA’s AR app, which allows users to picture what a piece of furniture would look like in their home, are likewise popular.

But widespread use of AR through headsets — as envisaged by Google with its Glass headset in 2014 — remains elusive.

King said the technology still needs a series of killer applications but that smart glasses implementing augmented reality were just a couple of years away.

“In terms of the actual applications that people will use it or in the long-term, I think it’s still to be determined, we’re still waiting for that 2007 iPhone moment,” he said.

“But actually if you look back, 15 years on now, I don’t think anybody would have predicted the range of applications and things you can do with the smartphone in your pocket.”

The major US tech giants are at varying stages of pioneering augmented reality. Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, launched in 2016, is mostly focused on enterprise uses. Facebook is thought to be working on AR glasses. In Cupertino, rumors around Apple developing a headset have continued to intensify with various patents showing off the company’s potential designs.

The AR industry was worth just under $4 billion in 2018 but has been tipped to be worth around $76 billion by 2030, according to figures from Global Data.

King added that developers need the hardware in the first place so they can start to build use cases around it. He predicted the initial use of AR will be in cases where people won’t wear their glasses all the time, instead only when conducting specific tasks.

He cited an example whereby a user could plug their glasses into a computer while working in a coffee shop and project multiple virtual screens around the physical laptop. Other use cases include the ability to scan a box in a warehouse just by looking at it and being fed data about what’s inside.

AR glasses are largely broken up into two separate divisions. The first, smart glasses, operate in way where they feed in additional information into the glasses themselves like a heads-up-display. The second, augmented reality glasses, overlay digital imagery directly onto objects in real life.

King said smart glasses will come first as they were “easier to fabricate” in the form factor of normal-looking glasses.

“For these things to become ubiquitous they’re going to be down to the hundreds of dollars price point, not the multiples of thousands,” he said. “For that to be the case you’ve got to be able to manufacture them on a line that’s producing hundreds of thousands if not millions per month.”

The Octopus partner said that tech manufacturers like Apple typically lock in a design two years ahead of time due to the volume of devices they’ll ultimately manufacture. King said that some form of smart glasses for consumer use cases can be expected by 2023 with full-blown AR glasses coming around 2025.

Facebook is expected to unveil its first smart glasses device with Ray Ban later this year, but its abilities are going to be quite limited, according to the company’s CFO David Wehner. Wehner said the first iteration won’t be “anywhere near where we want to get to”, CNBC reported.

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