Like an assassin, AR will sneak up on you, disguised as something else

Apple just joined the list of big tech companies building out Augmented Reality (AR).

Like Google Glass, most companies pursuing AR envision some version of a pair of glasses as the eventual form factor. Today, they are more like goggles, at best. This matters because of what Wired calls the “dork factor”. It turns out that for a product to go mainstream, users of that product can’t feel self conscious while using it.

Over time technology will shrink the form factor of these devices, but the question is, “How long do we have to wait before we see mass adoption?”.

Arguably we’ve already seen a version of AR mass adoption with Snapchat’s lenses and Pokemon Go, but these are very lightweight versions of AR, overlaying an image over the camera input. I’m talking about the full vision of AR.

If you don’t want to wait for a smaller form factor, the alternative is to accept a larger size device, but remove the user’s self-consciousness about it. Be on the looking for products that aren’t marketed as Augmented Reality — AR will first show up disguised as another product

Beats made over-the-ear headphones cool by putting them on the heads of cool people, ranging from celebrities to hipster audiophiles. What’s the equivalent “cool” user for AR? The current target audience of core gamers is not the right aspirational set to drive mainstream adoption. Middle America does not look up to videogamers.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Helmet from Flickr

The other way to remove user self-consciousness about AR is to focus on a form factor where everyone is already wearing something on their heads.

I recently read about the incredibly technologically advanced helmet that pilots of the new F-35 will wear, that will let them see through the airframe of their own aircraft, in normal vision, Infrared or night vision. Additionally it will display airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings, and allow the pilot to track targets and launch weapons simply by directing their gaze.

This sure sounds like augmented reality to me.

In July the motorcycle helmet maker Skully shut down. By all accounts it was due to manufacturing problems, but the core idea, of a motorcycle helmet that provided a heads up display of speed, turn by turn directions, and a 180 degree rear view camera view was another fantastic usecase for AR. You can see a video of the experience here. There is no self-consciousness about wearing something bulky on your head when every other motorcyclist is also wearing a helmet.

Similarly, RideOn is making ski goggles which will allow users to take PoV video, see trail maps, locate friends, make calls, send texts, and play games like racing through a virtual slalom track. And once again, no self-consciousness when everyone else on the mountain is wearing googles also.

These products won’t be marketed as Augmented Reality. Instead, they can be marketed as simply the best pilot helmet in the world, the best motorcycle helmet in the world, the best ski googles in the world.

AR will first show up disguised as another product, embedded as a feature that makes it the best in its class. In fact that is how Snapchat did it with Lenses (the best selfie app in the world) and Niantic Labs did it with Pokemon Go (the incredibly popular game that let users catch Pokemon in the real world).

I think this approach is how we’ll see — and how we are already seeing — AR first hit the mainstream, without having to wait years for the miniaturization to catch up to make a pair of glasses feasible as a form factor.

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