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Spatial Computing in 2024: The Dawn of a New Reality and Rise of Human-Led Spatial Computing"

By Trent Clews-de Castella

Co-founder & CEO at Phoria

As we usher in 2024, the horizon of innovation within the immersive technology sector illuminates the potential of Spatial Computing. This will herald a transformative era for Extended Reality (XR). This paradigm shift, accentuated by the advent of Apple's Vision Pro, beckons a promising narrative not just for avid technophiles but for an entire industry vying for the real essence of immersive experiences.

While XR has been evolving over the last decade, it often feels like we have a long way to go. As an XR studio, PHORIA has been on a rollercoaster journey witnessing these glimmers of magic and awe alongside the countless hurdles and friction to deliver these experiences to the masses. Today, we’re at a point where the power of the medium can open people's minds, educate users in profound ways, heal them through experiences instead of drugs and give embodied experiences to open minds and drive change. The infusion of Spatial Computing being driven by Apple is set to propel it towards a transformative trajectory.

The initial dalliance of the industry with affordable VR solutions like Google's VR Cardboard headsets and Samsung Gear VR hinted at the unexplored vistas of virtual storytelling. However, these fledgling attempts soon hit a reality check, exposing the limitations in delivering a sustainable and functional user engagement.

The narrative took a conspicuous turn with the advent of Mixed and Blended Realities. Despite the promising outset, the prohibitive price points and technical constraints of products like Hololens, alongside the overhyped yet under-delivered Magic Leap, momentarily clouded the commercial viability of these realities.

The subsequent endeavors, including Oculus' evolution from a modest developer's kit to the now-celebrated Quest 2 and Quest Pro, underscored the industry's relentless quest for a more robust and immersive platform. WIth Meta’s latest release the Quest 3, being touted as the first consumer “Mixed Reality” device - effectively a spatial computer.

Recently, I was giving an AR demo of an AR series we made about how we can build more resilient communities in the face of climate change. It’s a fun and interactive experience but I can’t help but see the limitations of engaging with immersive content through small 2D screens. The paradigm shift into blended realities and spatial computing is as it was always intended to be experience - in a more human, embodied and realistic way. We simply didn’t have the hardware and software to enable these spatial experiences at scale. That is set to change.

The narrative, however, took an optimistic turn as the world grappled with the pandemic, forcing us to think outside the 2D box. The consequential lockdowns propelled a surge in demand for virtual tours and XR services, heralding a shift in the zeitgeist of XR. This seismic shift in user engagement trends was an emphatic endorsement of the inherent potential of XR software, products, and experiences, underlining a new narrative of acceptance.

Amidst this evolving narrative, Apple's meticulous approach stands out. With an arsenal of over 5,000 patents in the XR domain, Apple's Vision Pro emerges as a harbinger of a new era of immersive interactions. The Vision Pro, with its emphasis on fostering an immersive and interpersonal experience, embodies the essence of Spatial Computing. The synergy of Lidar, IR (Infrared), and eye-tracking systems, coupled with spatial audio and a Spatial (3D) camera, heralds an intuitive user engagement model, enabling a seamless blend of the virtual and the real.

This innovative stride extends beyond hardware, manifesting in strategic collaborations with industry stalwarts like The Walt Disney Company and Unity. These alliances, aimed at redefining content creation and immersive storytelling, resonate with our ethos at PHORIA.

Like many XR studios, behind the scenes, we are working hard on new experiences to capitalise on the XR revolution. As we venture into this new realm of Spatial Computing, our collaborative projects with industry giants like Netflix, Meta, the UN, and Google reflect the limitless potential of this domain when relatively small studios can stand on the shoulders of giants to co-create new experiences, shape new worlds and pioneer new ideas.

Our team has had some time to tinker and explore the parameters of VisionOS and what we are finding is that our hunch and intuition is aligned, not necessarily due to the fact that we have a crystal ball, but rather simple UX design and years of testing have refined and improved a creative and technical approach that is ultimately more natural and intuitive. This goes to show that whilst Spatial Computing is a huge technological leap forward, it’s actually circling back to digital experiences that are more embodied, organic and unconscious.

Underpinning the Vision Pro’s Vision OS, is a thinking and approach that breaks free from the 2D screen and extends information into scenes and volumes that better represent how we engage and interact with the physical world. Interacting with more than the twiddling of our thumbs, but rather our eyes, our hands, voice and full body. Let’s see if Apple can seamlessly integrate spatial experiences that extend beyond the conventional boundaries of the displays to which we have all become accustomed.

The essence of Spatial Computing transcends technological innovation, encapsulating a human-centric approach to digital interaction. As we envisage the future, the convergence of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) under the identity of Spatial Computing illuminates a promising pathway towards a more intuitive and immersive user engagement model. The intuitive interaction model, enabling users to manipulate apps with their eyes, hands, and voice, unveils a new dimension of immersive AR and XR experiences.

As we stand at the cusp of this transformative era, the potential of Spatial Computing in redefining storytelling and fostering a richer social connection is boundless. As I reflect upon our journey at PHORIA and the broader narrative of XR, the horizon is imbued with a promise of an immersive and interconnected digital realm that I hope creators and future pioneers choose to harness their gifts and these tools for good.

In conclusion, the dawn of Spatial Computing is more than a technological innovation; it's a narrative of human-centric digital evolution. As we step into this new reality, the dialogue between the virtual and the real is set to become more engaging, intuitive, and ultimately, more human.

Join us as we delve deeper into this exciting frontier, exploring the unchartered realms of Spatial Computing and unraveling its implications for the XR industry and beyond.

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