Spatial Computing isn’t a new term. Spatial Computing as a term was coined by MIT graduate researcher Simon Greenwold in 2003. But what is spatial computing? And why is it going to be any different in 2024?
At its core, spatial computing is about bringing computing to our physical world. Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and Virtual Reality are all examples of spatial computing.
Apple this year burst into the XR space when it announced the Apple Vision Pro and increased the popularity of the term ‘spatial computing’. Why not use the term AR or VR? Apple as with the iPhone is looking to lead this journey into this new era of computing. They are not the first, but they are hoping to be the one that brings these devices to the masses.
Meta with the Quest line up of products has already been leading this space in their portable Virtual Reality devices. Until this year their focus was on VR but now with the Quest Pro and the recently launched Quest 3 they are pushing mixed reality as the new way to play games and work.
Growth and Impact of Spatial Computing in 2024
The most eagerly anticipated device of early 2024 is the Apple Vision Pro. Where Apple is looking to change the way that entertainment and work is experienced. By 2028 the spatial computing market is projected to be valued at a whopping $280 billion USD. At a starting price of $3500 USD this device may not become the next iPhone anytime soon. But what it will do is generate huge interest in these kinds of devices. Apple is initially only going to be selling them through their store network where they will be able to adjust and setup the device for customers.
Apple definitely isn’t the first to be successful in the space. HTC, Meta, Pico and Sony have already built devices that are popular mostly in the VR gaming market. Apple wants to be successful in the next generation of computers after its success with the iPhone and the iPad.
In 2024 mixed reality passthrough is poised to become a popular way of interacting with entertainment and work. The difference between MR and VR is that in Mixed Reality you can still see your environment and interact with it, which is different to VR that complete isolates you from the physical world. Apple wants the Vision Pro to be in this AR/MR mode by default with fully immersive (essentially VR) akin to when you click full screen on your laptop.
Big Tech’s Interest in AR/MR
The end game for Big Tech is light weight wearable glasses that can be worn all day long. Devices like Meta’s Quest 3 and Apple’s Vision Pro are stepping stones towards this future. It is true that AR glasses already exist, but not in a form factor that can easily be worn all day long. The other limitation of current wearable AR glasses is that they have a narrow field-of-view where you can only see content on a small window in the glasses. Meta’s updated Ray-Ban smart glasses don’t have an AR display, but they are an excellent example of where these mass market glasses will one day be. They have cameras, speakers, microphone and an AI assistant.
The AR features that are already a part of smart phones being developed by Google and Apple are also a step towards this AR wearable future. In 2024 the rise of mixed reality devices that are using external cameras to be able to merge the digital and physical world will be proof of where computers are heading. Eventually these companies want to cram all this tech into a pair of lightweight smart glasses.
Why Spatial Computing is the future?
Spatial computing is more natural than our traditional computers or smartphones will ever be. As the interactions are grounded in the intersection of our world and the physical. Spatial devices will make experiences that we feel both immersed and engaged by.
With spatial computers, collaboration in 3D space is intuitive to understand. Often when manipulating 3D assets on traditional 2D computers we need to have a level of assumed knowledge where we use the mouse and keyboard to manipulate these objects. With spatial computing devices we can directly reach out and make changes to 3D objects in our own physical space. With networking we can then bring others into these experiences, and then interact together as if we were in the same physical space.
The Potential of Spatial Computing
2024 is shaping up to be the year where we see the ripples of AR turning into waves. Entertainment and work are going to be permanently changed by existing and new mixed reality devices. We are going to interact with technology that is beyond the keyboard and mouse. Where our hands, eyes and voice become efficient input methods for manipulating the digital world.
Contextual AR experiences that leverage the immersive nature of these new devices will be a large part of the shift towards the mainstream adoption of these devices.