THE QUARTER IN REVIEW - Say, what’s that thing on your head?

Posted: 04.05.16

The first quarter was dominated by VR and, to a lesser extent, AR and its confused cousin MR (mixed reality). As I write this, the Microsoft Build event has just happened and Hololens has marched into the room. It seems clear that in the near future, at least some people are going to be wearing some kind of device on their heads to access information and entertainment. 

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say some people will be thinking about wearing some thing on their heads, lots of people will be talking about wearing some thing on their heads, and a few people will actually wear a device, because we are still really in the early phase of these digital reality view devices. The commercial VR HMDs are just barely arriving, and already the conversation is switching from “I gotta have one of these,” to “I’m not going to pay $x for one of these,” and $x can be pretty much anything over $50. This is just one phase before the “people don’t want to wear stupid glasses.”  

And people don’t. 

Let’s not forget that the simplest approach is often the best. Why wear glasses when it’s easier and more efficient to simply check your phone … maybe your watch? 

The fascination with headsets is an extension of the complete transition mobile devices have brought to our lives. Mobile devices have freed us from our desks and often our PCs, and so perhaps we get a little too enthusiastic about glasses as a means to further free our mobility. That will all play itself out down the road—if honestly useful apps arrive to justify wearing glasses throughout the day. 

For now, it makes sense that people will grab a pair of glasses to get more information on a task such as a machine repair, or to see additional information about products on a shelf, find related bar code information, or follow a map in the dark or in a smoke-filled room. 

And maybe content creators will get the hang of creating apps that will encourage people to stay in VR environments for more than a few minutes. 

What’s really amazing about this quarter—and this issue of the TechWatch quarterly reflects it—is that virtual/augmented/mixed reality has honestly captured the imagination of just about everyone across the technology industry. We did not go to a single conference or trade show in this quarter that did not have some significant focus dedicated to new modes of visualization, and mostly that has been virtual reality. 

We can also tell you that also this quarter, high-end graphics showed strength against low-cost integrated versions. Workstations are holding their place in the market and returning good margins to the companies that build and sell them. 

The fascination with visualization is a good thing in the long run. It will help fund new development in hardware and software, and that new development will result in new tools and products. On the darker side, all this VR and AR enthusiasm looks a lot like the start of a bubble. 

And perhaps most obviously, as I wrote all this, I wondered, are we reflecting reality or our own enthusiasms? It behooves us to look for the bigger picture even when all the focus is on one shiny, glittery, object of fascination. We’ll do our best