Virtual Reality

The XR Week Peek (2021.04.05): Rumors on a Apple headset intensify, Quest 2 sales grow fast, and more!

I hope yesterday you had a Happy Easter or a peaceful 清明节. Today in Italy it should be the day when we go pic-nicking… but given the fact that we are in lockdown, I’ll just eat a lot at home 🙂

While I send you a lot of good vibes, let’s see together what have been the best pieces of AR/VR news of this week, that has been incredibly interesting!

(My usual terrible image to wish you Happy Easter, if you celebrate it)Top news of the weekThe rumors on the Apple Glasses are intensifying

It is not a secret that Apple is working on an XR device: the mystery is when it is going to release it and what it will actually be. In the last weeks, the rumors of a device that Apple is building, a reported passthrough AR headset, are intensifying, and this may be the sign that the company from Cupertino may announce something in a time not distant from now.

The hype is rising, and Apple is playing with it. In the latest invitation to WWDC 2021, the yearly Apple developers’ conference, there is a picture of an animoji wearing glasses in front of a Mac. On the glasses, you can see some applications (like the calendar) that may be a reflection of the applications on the Mac taskbar or may be applications on the glasses. Apple designers clearly wanted to foster this misunderstanding, creating hype for a possible AR announcement, that maybe is not going to happen. This is a good way to keep the attention of the XR community high. In the image, you can also see the reflection of the App Store icon with a Hammer on it, and this is another mystery the community is scratching its head on.

In the meantime, Bloomberg published a report saying that Apple is going to launch its XR headset in the “next several months” (a timeline that goes from now to 2023, I guess), and that it is probably waiting until there could be physical events again before doing it. Its XR headset will be the first major product launch since 2015, and Apple surely wants to launch it in the best way possible, with a cheering audience, on-site demos to journalists, and a well-orchestrated performance. Apple wants the launch to be huge, and this is confirmed also by Robert Scoble, that says that XR is the last thing that Jobs has envisioned with Cook and so the company is preparing for it the best launch ever happened.

I don’t think Apple is going to launch its headset at WWDC, first of all because it is a conference for developers, and also because this WWDC will all be digital, and this is in contrast with the idea of a fantastic launch event. At maximum it can tease it as a “One More Thing”. But let’s see… I will tune in on June, 7th to see if there will be interesting info during the keynote. In the worst-case scenario, I will just hear about some updates to ARKit.

(PS Since there is all this big hype around Apple, I thought it could have been funny to make my April Fools all around it… if you missed it, you can still watch it following the link here below!)

More info (WWDC invitation)
More info (Image with glasses on WWDC invitation)
More info (Bloomberg report about the launch of Apple Glasses)
More info (Robert Scoble talking about the launch)
More info (My April Fools’ post about Apple Glasses)

Other relevant newsThe Oculus Quest 2 continues its march towards mainstream adoption

It wouldn’t be a normal week without some news about Facebook and/or the Oculus Quest. This week we had 3 major pieces of information about it:

  • First of all, the company has released an incredibly long (it took me around 1 hour to read it, and I’m someone that reads pretty fast) story of VR at Oculus/Facebook from the DK1 to the Quest 2, with insights on what will happen next. It’s a good read, full of interesting anecdotes, like when it is written that Beat Saber became the testbench for the tracking of the Quest controllers, or that Asgard’s Wrath, in the beginning, was a tower defense game. There is also a bit of hype for the future that has to come: Abrash says that the road in front of us is long, and the Quest 2 is just like the Apple II, and the content management team says that bigger games are to come and that Facebook is already working for the content that is coming in 3, 5, 7 years. Bigger content requires longer development cycles, and so it is already necessary to work now for the AAA VR games of the future. All in all, I found the article a nice read, but I don’t like that it looks very corporate and bleached out. I mean, it’s a happy tale for kids, and there are no references to bad things happening, like the firing of Palmer Luckey, the departure of Iribe, the terrible shipping of the CV1, the backlash for the Facebook login, etc… They are telling us just the nice things, so this is only a part of the truth;
  • Andrew “Boz” Bosworth has released an interview to Bloomberg highlighting how the Quest 2 is performing well, and Facebook will drive the future use of XR at home and work. In all this promotional message, he said two interesting pieces of information. The first one is that the Quest 2 has now sold in some months more than all the other Oculus headsets (with the exclusion of Gear VR) combined in all these years. The second one is that given these strong sales, now we are at the inflection point where VR (Quest 2 VR) is entering the mainstream segment. These are all great news for the ecosystem, but someone in the communities pointed out that we should beware of companies claiming vague data about sales without absolute numbers (for instance, it may also be that previous headsets sold worse than we thought). By the way, all VR experiences providers have seen a spike in users since the launch of the Quest 2, so the headset is selling very well for sure.
  • The good sales of the Quest are also confirmed by Steam: according to Road To VR, thanks to the Quest 2, now there are 3 million headsets connected every month on Steam, and the number is steadily rising. More than 1 headset out of 4 on Steam is a Quest 2 now, and this confirms that Quest 2 may be the fastest-selling VR headset ever released. It is not the most sold ever, though, since PSVR and Gear VR are still far ahead of them.

On a separate note, a new image leaked from the firmware of the Quest 2 seems to point to future phone notifications on it. It’s nice to see how Facebook is updating the Quest software constantly.

More info (Facebook’s long blog post about its VR journey)
More info (Oculus Studio working on bigger VR games)
More info (Asgard’s Wrath being originally a Tower Defense game)
More info (Beat Saber helping to shape Oculus Touch controllers)
More info (Boz speaking with Bloomberg)
More info (Boz talking about Quest 2 sales)
More info (James Wagner commenting the Quest 2 sales)
More info (Road To VR estimates 3 million VR users on Steam)
More info (One out of four VR users on Steam uses a Quest 2)
More info (Quest 2 selling faster than PSVR at launch)
More info (Phone Notifications maybe arriving on Quest)

Niantic is working on its AR-glasses platform

Niantic CEO John Hanke has teased on Twitter an image where you can see a little piece of see-through glasses with the writing NIANTIC on the frames. They may be AR glasses or smartglasses, but what is sure is that Niantic is working to support AR hardware within its platform. Mathew Olson from The Information (subscribe to his awesome newsletter!) confirmed with the company that it may not be a Niantic-branded pair of glasses, but a reference design that Niantic is building with Qualcomm since 2019. This pairs well with a piece of news from mid-2020, where Niantic said that it intended to build a reference design, but not its own Pokemon Go glasses.

This is not a piece of bad news at all: even if Niantic is not building its glasses, it is creating the platform to let other players build them. And I’m not only talking about the hardware, but also the software. Niantic has just teased the game Urban Legends, another geolocalized game, but this time with more emphasis on AR and 5G. This game lets multiple people go to a location and start shooting each other, or shoot AR creatures together with their smartphones. Watching it, I had serious AR-Cloud vibes (most probably powered also by the technology of that Niantic acquired), and the fact that Niantic is working with telco operators to support 5G is an indicator that the company wants also to dominate this technology.

Niantic is working well to be a leader in the next technological platform: it is gaining expertise in AR hardware, 5G, AR Cloud and has strong content like Pokemon Go on its side. It is a player to keep an eye on for sure.

More info (Niantic teasing “AR glasses”)
More info (Mathew Olson confirming that it is the picture of the reference design)
More info (Article from 2020 with Niantic saying it is not going to build its glasses)
More info (Urban Legends game)

Snap is finally adding AR to its glasses

Until now, Snap (the parent company of Snapchat) has launched three editions of its own glasses, dubbed Spectacles. All of them were just elaborate and stylish cameras, with no actual display, and they have all been flops for what concerns sales. According to The Information, now Snap is preparing its 4th edition of Spectacles, this time finally adding a display and AR functionalities. So it seems that the user will be able to see the videos he/she is recording, with the actual AR filters already applied in real-time. A great bump in usability for sure.

The glasses should work in tandem with the Snapchat app on the phone and should launch at first for developers (that can so create specific filters for it) and then for consumers.

Given its great expertise in image analysis and its big user base, Snap is another company to keep an eye on for the future of augmented reality.

More info

Microsoft signs a $22B deal with the US Army

We all know that Microsoft is building AR glasses for the US Army: a modified version of HoloLens 2 called IVAS, that is ruggedized, with a wider field of view (80° x 40°), and feature additional sensors (for instance to provide thermal vision). Two years ago, the company had won a $480M deal with the army to produce the first evaluation units (beating Magic Leap in this contest and condemning it to a sad fate) that should have increased soldiers’ efficiency and lethality.

It seems that this test has been a success, and so now Microsoft has won now a bigger contract to carry on the project: $21.88B (!!) over 5–10 years, to deliver a maximum of 120,000 units.

$22B is an insane number for the XR market. For sure, as Tom Ffiske reports, it doesn’t include only the cost of the hardware, but also the software and Azure cloud architecture that Microsoft will build for the program. Azure was one of the reasons why Microsoft was preferred by the Army (Magic Leap only had a glass, Microsoft an ecosystem) and it will be exploited for this program to provide better services to the soldiers. Anyway, this number will make all stats about XR business skyrocket, and I’m sure it will also attract more investors in the field. Well played, Microsoft.

More info

News worth a mentionPC VR market is growing

Investor Tipatat Chennavasin has released an amazing interview on Protocol where he gives a positive look at the XR landscape.

All the interview is pretty cool, but the best part for me is when he talks about the PCVR ecosystem, that is far from being in decline. According to Tipatat’s calculations, on Steam four VR titles have done over $10 million in revenue (and developer Brandon J Laatsch confirmed his game Boneworks is one of them!), and at least 40 titles have done over a million dollars in revenue. Thanks To Half-Life: Alyx, PCVR jumped 4x in terms of revenue from the previous year, and it is set to grow (even if not at this huge rate) even in the upcoming times. So, don’t give PCVR for dead yet…

More info (Tipatat’s analysis)
More info (Boneworks making more than $10M)

…and LBEVR is not dead either

Good news for the LBEVR (Location-Based Entertainment in VR) sector. After Sandbox, which has born again from its ashes last week, this week Hologate (probably the best LBEVR company at the moment) has announced that it is back at 90K players per week in all its venues. This means that it has almost returned to its pre-COVID levels, giving all LBEVR operators hope that when the vaccinations will advance a bit more, there is the possibility for location-based entertainment to bounce back. I really hope that this is going to happen. (And kudos to Kevin Williams to have predicted it some months ago)

More info

Cubism is a great case study for hand tracking UX

Cubism is one of the most appreciated games on the Oculus Store. It can work both with the hands and the controllers, and since its hand interface works really well, Road To VR asked its developer Thomas Van Bouwel to write an article about it. I found it incredibly interesting, and if you like reading about UX in VR, you will love this post too.

More info

Tundra Tracker crashed its Kickstarter goal

As I predicted last week, the Tundra Tracker has gone beyond its $250,000 goal in less than one day and now sits at around $900K. Most probably, before the end of the crowdfunding period, it will be well beyond $1M. Kudos to Luke Beno and all the team!

More info

Viveport users get access to Sansar events for free

All Viveport users (not only the Infinity ones) can get free passes for two upcoming big music events on Sansar (Tobacco Dock Virtual and Lost Horizons) on a dedicated website. I suggest you exploit this opportunity, of course.

What puzzles me is why this partnership. I mean… HTC controls five other social VR experiences in its XR Suite, it is weird that now it is partnering with a competitor company. Does this mean that it plans including also Sansar in its future XR Suite offerings?

More info

Ubisoft adds VR support to its engine Snowdrop

Ubisoft has its own gaming engine called Snowdrop, which is used by the company and its partners. Now finally it has added VR support to it, and this means that the French company is planning to use VR for some of its upcoming titles… maybe even the ones about Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed it is building with Oculus.

More info

At IEEE VR many interesting research projects have been showcased

IEEE VR has been a very interesting event, where many research projects regarding AR and VR have been showcased. Here below I link for instance the video about one Korean research team that has developed a special optic system that can reduce a lot the space between the lenses and the display of a VR system, making the VR headset so thin as a pair of bulky sunglasses.

More info (Korean research on VR optics)
More info (All videos of IEEE VR)

A spotlight on two cool projects

Before doing the usual brief update on VR content, there is two software I want to put the spotlight on:

  • Sam & Max. This Time It’s Virtual. Developer Happy Giant has announced it is coming to Quest in June for $29.99. It is coming later this year on Steam and Viveport, and in 2022 on PSVR. I really can’t wait to play this game, I’m a big fan of the saga (and in fact, I was excited to interview the CEO of Happy Giant about it some months ago);
  • Painting VR. This is a new drawing application in VR that will come to light on May, 5th. It is not another Tilt Brush clone, but it is a realistic painting simulator: this one lets you paint on a canvas as if you were using real brushes making strokes on the fabric. I’ve seen the video about it, and it is pretty cool!

More info (Sam & Max: This Time It’s Virtual)
More info (Painting VR video)
More info (Painting VR website)

Some news on content

  • Starcade Arcade is going to launch Space Slurpies, that is like a VR version of a multiplayer Snake game;
  • Upload VR has reviewed Doom 3 VR and given it a pretty low mark. Some people in the communities do not agree, though;
  • The hand tracking sandbox Hand Physics Lab has been released on the Quest Store, and its reviews are pretty mixed. On one side, it is incredibly cool, on the other side, the current status of hands tracking on Quest makes it a bit frustrating sometimes;
  • Stride’s developer Joy Way has teased a new action+rhythm game coming soon;
  • Upload has reviewed Floor Plan VR and found it pretty funny;
  • Pavlov Shack will cost $24 on the Quest Store when it will be released there, and it will have crossplatform with PSVR. A free beta is now available on App Lab;
  • Upload has reviewed Zombieland Headshot Fever and found it a good game, probably needing more work on the graphics, though;
  • Spatial, one of the best social VR experiences, has just added other cool features, like the possibility of importing environments scanned with your Lidar-powered phone, or automatic translated subtitles of all people speaking;
  • A VR Mod for the popular game Valheim has been released!

More info (Space Slurpies)
More info (Doom 3 VR)
More info (Hand Physics Lab review on Road To VR)
More info (Hand Physics Lab review on Upload VR)
More info (Joy Way’s new game)
More info (Floor Plan 2 Review)
More info (Pavlov Shack on Quest Store)
More info (Pavlov Shack beta on Quest App Lab)
More info (Zombieland VR Headshot Fever)
More info (Spatial)
More info (Valheim VR Mod)

News from partners (and friends)

Flipside Studio XR now features motion capture export, letting you record the animations to move CGI characters just by using your XR rig, exporting them and then using them wherever you want, like to move your game characters in Unity. This is a very welcome feature for little indie game studios.
Learn more

Some friends of mine are contributing to the Africa XR Report, a report of the status of immersive technologies in the African continent. It would be great if you could contribute to it too!
Learn more (Africa XR Report)
Learn more (Form to contribute)

Catherine D Henry has prepared a 50-pages free report on AR, VR, and wearable technologies from the point of view of a market analyst. If you are more on the business side and less on the technical side of the technology, you should give it a look.
Learn more

Some XR fun

Two of my favorite April Fools’ jokes have been about NVIDIA and Lego!
Funny link (NVIDIA)
Funny link (LEGO)

The current status of VR gaming…
Funny link

How you look with your tethered headset on
Funny link

VRChat people will understand
Funny link

How to catch a miner or a VR gamer
Funny link

Be my Easter Bunny!

Usually at Easter we open chocolate eggs and find some surprises inside… it would be great if opening my e-mail today, I would discover that I have received the surprise of some donations on Patreon to support the management of this blog!

These are all the people that are already making a gift to me every month, and that I thank from the bottom of my heart:

  • DeoVR
  • Raghu Bathina
  • Jonn Fredericks
  • Ilias Kapouranis
  • Michael Bruce
  • Paolo Leoncini
  • Bob Fine
  • Nikk Mitchell and the great FXG team
  • Jake Rubin
  • Jennifer Granger
  • Jason Moore
  • Steve Biggs
  • Niels Bogerd
  • Julio Cesar Bolivar
  • Jan Schroeder
  • Kai Curtis
  • Francesco Strada
  • Sikaar Keita
  • Ramin Assadollahi
  • Jeff Dawson
  • Juan Sotelo
  • Andrew Sheldon
  • Chris Madsen
  • Tracey Wong
  • Matthew Allen Fisher
  • Horacio Torrendell
  • Andrew Deutsch
  • Fabien Benetou
  • Tatiana Kartashova
  • Marco “BeyondTheCastle” Arena
  • Alex P
  • Sb
  • Vooiage Technologies
  • Caroline
  • Liam James O’Malley
  • Paul Reynolds
  • Wil Stevens
  • Matias Nassi

Join them by clicking the link here below and make me happy with a surprise! Thank you 🙂

Donate on Patreon to The Ghost Howls

Disclaimer: this blog contains advertisement and affiliate links to sustain itself. If you click on an affiliate link, I’ll be very happy because I’ll earn a small commission on your purchase. You can find my boring full disclosure here.

In the meantime, Bloomberg published a report saying that Apple is going to launch its XR headset in the “next several months” (a timeline that goes from now to 2023, I guess), and that it is probably waiting until there could be physical events again before doing it. Its XR headset will be the first major product launch since 2015, and Apple surely wants to launch it in the best way possible, with a cheering audience, on-site demos to journalists, and a well-orchestrated performance. Apple wants the launch to be huge, and this is confirmed also by Robert Scoble, that says that XR is the last thing that Jobs has envisioned with Cook and so the company is preparing for it the best launch ever happened.


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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