Is XR dead yet?

Bi-weekly update with the latest insights from the Metaverse: news, posts, creations and communities.

Hey there! It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in XR. Maybe a crazy past few months. Oculus continues to generate a ton of news with some important internal changes. The current state of the XR market hits some companies like High Fidelity and Magic Leap hard. But people and organizations continue to ship and share important steps forwards that makes it hard to feel negative about the industry.

A highlight is the launch of Where Thoughts Go by Lucas Rizzotto on Quest. It seems like Oculus is using it as a benchmark to allow more interesting and innovative experiences on the platform. VR can allow for wonderfully weird experience, but the strict curation of the Quest store impedes it. I sure hope WTG opens the gate a little.

On the news

  • Mike Booth from Facebook Spaces leaves VR: The front-man behind the Social VR side of things at Facebook is leaving, and leaving VR as a whole. Facebook continues to push Social VR with their upcoming launch of Horizon but it seems like Mike Booth is no longer interested in pursuing that. [Link]

  • High Fidelity is shutting down: The company will continue on a new project, but the Social VR platform is closing in mid January and half of the staff is being laid of. They’re shutting it down properly, letting people fork the code, sell their coins, keeping their blockchain alive etc. They tried pivoting to an unreleased remote work project, but have abandoned that as well. We’ll have to wait and see what the new direction for the company is. I think Social VR without a real utility won’t just work. We need to have a reason to hang out with others in VR, and that reason needs to be tied to whatever VR can do right now that makes it better than a 2D display. Social VR is more hassle than social networks and videoconferencing, and we loose facial expressions. Lets see how Facebook’s entry with Horizon goes. [Link]

  • Magic Leap pivots to enterprise: It finally happened. They’re renaming the headset, removing the “Creators Edition” and offering a package ready for the enterprise. It’s a big change in direction for Magic Leap who have tried to focus on end consumers when the technology was clearly not ready for prime time yet. They also announced Magic Leap 2 for 2021, but that feels more like a way to keep control of the news spreading in a more positive fashion. I still think that with the large amount of VC funding they picked up, it’ll be hard for Magic Leap to become a viable business. They’ll probably have to be bought at some point. [Link]

  • Focals releasing new glasses in 2020: They only just released their first pair this year and have already announced new ones for 2020. It’s supposed to be lighter and look even more like regular glasses with higher resolution. These are still not AR glasses where the virtual content adapts to your environment. It’s more like a smart watch in your glasses. Like Google Glass. It’s still exciting to see Focals and Snap Spectacles trying these form factors and getting the population accustomed to idea of HMDs. [Link]

  • Medium joins Adobe: Weird move by Oculus as it’s a pretty popular and well considered application among 3D creators. I wonder if it will continue to stay free or will become multi-platform. Adobe continues to push the tooling infrastructure around XR, adding Medium to other applications like Aero. [Link]

  • Hand tracking available on Quest: Surprise early launch of this much awaited feature. My initial thoughts are that it’s far from being at the level of Leap Motion, but good enough for managing the Oculus interface and early UX work is promising. It still feels magical that they were able to make this work on Quest and I expect it to improve with software updates. Everyone seems to expect a cheaper Quest down the line without controllers. [Link]

  • Firefox now has send tab to VR: Probably the most requested feature from the WebXR community. You can now browse on any device and send that URL to your headset so you don’t have to worry about typing in VR which we all now completely sucks. Reducing friction is great! [Link]

  • Facebook will start using your Oculus data for Ads: It’s what we all feared after the acquisition. We knew it would happen eventually. I personally deleted my Facebook account, so it sucks to see that many interesting features in the Oculus platform will need to be tied to one. I might end up creating one with no data just for that, but of course, the no data part is a lie. Facebook will collect browsing and VR information. Facebook’s business model doesn’t align well with what society needs and it’s frightening that they’re are the main investors behind XR. [Link]

  • Twitter wants to become decentralized: Jack Dorsey explained in a thread that they are creating a separate team (but not really) to work on open decentralized protocols that Twitter could use. It’s an exciting announcement and the intention is great. They seem to focus on blockchain based approaches which I’m not so sure is completely necessary. The ActivityPub, Secure Scuttlebutt and Matrix communities are stating they already have standards and that it doesn’t make sense to create a new. Some argue that federated standards aren’t decentralized enough, and Twitter probably has different needs and scale that these existing platforms don’t account for. [Link]

Food for thought

  • Philip Rosedale thinks HMDs aren’t ready for primetime: And I agree. He mentions 4 pain points; 3 of which (comfort, resolution and text input) I focused on my post about When will VR reach mass-market that I published last January. It’s all about friction, and the lower the friction, the less critical the applications need to be. I called it the Friction - Killer App Scale. His 4th point is about seeing the real world from inside the headset which further aligns with this. Philip argues that these are the reasons that Social VR won’t kick off. I don’t agree there. Applications that don’t work are normally due to them not being entertaining enough or not solving a real problem. 3D virtual universes have been around for decades. Those that are only about speaking to other people through avatars have tended to fail as people won’t have a proper reason to go there. Though again, the less friction, the less critical the application needs to be. So maybe with better headsets, Social VR might work. [Link]

Cool Creations

  • Voxel Runner: New game by Dani Gatunes based on the mechanics from Pistol Whip and running on a browser! Haven’t had a chance to check it out yet but it looks great and Dani is one of the indie folks pushing WebXR the furthest. [Link]

  • Tiny Racing: This may not seem like much, but it’s a test game from Unity for their Project Tiny runtime. The important thing to note here is that it has a Web export that creates pretty lightweight experiences that work on all devices and load fairly quickly. Having Unity work better with the Web will be instrumental for the Web’s viability as a VR platform. [Link]

  • VR Design Course: Danny Bittman has released (and will continue to do so) a set of videos around creating 3D content for VR. He’ll go into different tools including Tilt Brush, Gravity Sketch and Unity. I’m so glad this exist and I’ll definitely learn a lot from it. The easier it is to learn to create VR content, the better and more varied the experiences we’ll get. [Link]

Interesting Meetups & Communities

  • Educators in VR: Possible the first ever long event in VR? It’s happening on the 17th-22nd of February 2020. There will be a ton of talks covering all aspects around the intersection of Education and VR. It’ll be hosted on multiple platforms including Altspace and ENGAGE. I’m extremely curious to see how it will work and go. [Link]


Thanks for tuning in, that’s it for today. If you find anything interesting that we should post in the next one, reach out via Twitter or Email.

See you in 2 weeks!