Virtual reality hasn’t really taken off in 2017 the way some had hoped. It’s far from dead, and Oculus is hoping to turn more people on to VR with a standalone headset that costs $200 next year. Still, its isolation, lack of eye-tracking, and tendency to induce nausea, are big hurdles to clear. Mixed reality is so much more interesting in that it wants to incorporate virtual objects and experiences with the real world, solving a lot of VR’s problems and offering different possibilities. 2017 brought us further progress in the field.
In the most modest development, Apple went all in on augmented reality with its new iPhones and ARkit for developers. The iPhone’s capabilities with AR aren’t going to go much further than Pokemon Go-style overlays on real-world environments for a while, but Apple’s slowly adding sensors that will improve the phones capabilities and the most important part is that developers are putting together applications. For now, we can only expect to see some rudimentary redecorating apps and small but useful tools like the AR measuring tape. But remember, the first million or so iPhone apps were just fart simulators. There are also those reports that Apple is planning to drop its AR headset in 2019.
Microsoft has continued to quietly plug away with work on HoloLens, its mixed reality headset. Developers have had their hands on the early prototypes for quite some time, and they sporadically showed off cool demos that were inspired by Super Mario, Lemmings, and Portal. Microsoft also made some baby steps with a line of inexpensive but impressive VR headsets in partnership with other companies that simulate how mixed reality might work.
And finally, Magic Leap showed off its long-delayed mixed-reality headset and promised its coming to developers in 2018. It’s not as bulky as we feared and based on reports it appears that virtual objects will have a sense of permanence and presence we’ve never encountered before.
Mixed reality wants you to blow holes in the walls of your living room with a laser gun, have a pet cartoon dog that permanently roams around your house, build virtual sculptures on the coffee table, fill your surroundings with as many monitors as you can ask for, and allow you to walk down the street in the real world alongside avatars of people who are sitting in their living rooms.
Don’t get too excited: Mixed reality has a long way to go, so don’t expect to be walking down the street with the Iron Giant anytime soon. And let’s face it, the world promised in Ready Player One sounds pretty awful, so the longer we have to think about this the better.