Joshua Katz
Tech / Innovation
I’ll Take My Reality Enhanced, Not Virtual!

By now you have seen all the mind-blowing articles, like this letting us know that virtual reality is the next big thing. Perhaps you saw Tech Crunch’s bold claim that VR will be larger than mobile in 2020. It feels that unless you are developing a campaign to run through Virtual Sky you are doomed to be amongst the luddites; the few outcasts roaming the earth without an Oculus Rift headset, sadly grounded in their mundane reality

If you’ve already bought into VR mania, I would suggest making room in your storage shed for your unused rig, soon. It will fit right next to 3D TV you had to have.…you know the spot next to the Google Glass that you now really regret wearing to that big presentation?

It’s not the idea of VR; it’s the ratio of hype to actual consumer interest that seems out of whack. VR is cool, it’s just a lot of work without a commensurate return.

VR for the home consumer is not going to happen in a big way, at least not with this generation of full immersion devices. And I am not alone in this belief: Tim Cook, Business Insider, and Forrester Research, among others, see VR as a toy for the nerderati. VR will, however be a boon to business, according to Mark Hardy, CEO of InContext Solutions. He points out possible applications that can revolutionize planograms and envisions how VR can revolutionize retail research. Hardy sees a near-future where retailers will be able to test out store designs and merchandise placement with the consumers virtually, rather than implementing them in a test store. This will reduce costs, keep retail spaces fresh and speed up the pace of innovation.

That’s fascinating, particularly for retailers, but that is a very limited application of the technology. That’s not going to change the way we all live. I can’t help but think that the future will be guided by the initials ER or Enhanced Reality, instead of VR.

Not AR (Augmented Reality), you say?  No, augmenting reality looks at this from a developer’s POV. It implies that your reality needs a major upgrade, that your reality is the Internet Explorer of realities.

Enhanced Reality, however, is a consumer-first perspective. It asks (or should ask) what does the consumer want or will need vs. what are the outer boundaries of this technology. If reality is a “10,” enhanced reality goes to 11.  It goes beyond sight to sound, intellectual stimulation and even taste.

The technical capability to create enhanced reality exists today but not in one cohesive package. ER eschews the visuals-first approach of AR and replaces it with a holistic way of altering reality. ER, if adopted, would accept that for the average human, altering reality is a Big Deal. ER takes that human perspective in mind and aims to create products that carry us along the road to changing our perception of reality much like the evolution of the smartphone changed the way we get information and hook-up.

Enhanced reality doesn’t promise escape, it exists to make your world a little better, and that is why it is the future of direct-to-consumer reality alteration. Here is one hypothetical example of how it could be applied: In 2016, Target announced they were using a mass spectrometer to determine the freshness and nutritional quality of its produce. Combine this with the Digital Taste Interface being developed by National University of Singapore, and now the consumer isn’t just hoping that honeydew is ripe; they know it is. Now imagine ER tasting rooms attached to grocery warehouses and you have the potential to revolutionize food choice and consumption.

In short, ER is all about technologists asking themselves what the consumer needs tech to do, rather than just exploring the limits of the technology. Or think of it by way of analogy: AR and VR are the smart phone. ER is the app store.

Apple, according to Bloomberg, gets this and is making a big investment in a suite of technology that appears to be the first steps towards ER. It has purportedly pulled together a team of digital effects artists and engineers to create products that one presumes will help them sell more phones. They’re Apple, so whatever they produce will look cool and be easy to use. Will it put the consumer first? Or will it be another chapter in bending the consumer to their vision of the future?

Prognosticators love to project that augmented reality is going to be a huge, and given the level of tech investment and marketing hype, they might be right. Global Market Insights sees it as $165 billion business by 2024, but it doesn’t take a visionary or expensive research to also see that e-waste dumps are littered with “can’t miss” products.

Augmented reality can actually live up to the hype if it becomes ER and focuses on consumer needs and wants, not just cool tech. AR will become ER when it stops trying to push the limits of the technology to become the THE NEXT BIG THING and remembers the words of Sony founder, Akio Morita, We don’t ask consumers what they want. They don’t know. Instead we apply our brain power to what they need, and will want, and make sure we’re there…..ready.”

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