Augmented and Virtual Reality: Now more about improving User Experience

We cannot eat popcorn wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset – Zaid Mahomedy :

IIn 1995, the cringe worthy Johnny Mnemonic was released where he used a VR headset and gesture monitoring gloves to control the “future internet”. Even though this movie was over 20 years ago, it is only in the past few years we are seeing commercially ready Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies hit the market.

If you watch this clip, you will hopefully notice two aspects. The first is that the technology is clunky. The second is that the predicted user experience (UX) he has is rich (for the decade of movie production): information is available at speed, the gloves are accurate, and the path and usability is seamless. When he moves his hands, the VR3 responds instantaneous. It assists him at every turn. Yet twenty years later, we have not reached this quite yet. Why? Because the focus needs to shift from technology to other aspects to enable this industry to flourish.

1: Technology Moves Aside for User Experience.

A large amount of technology companies efforts in this space in the past two years has been mostly focused at determining can they squeeze enough compute power onto a pair of glasses. Other questions to be answered were around if the battery will last a decent amount of time and will the heat emissions be low enough not to inconvenience the user. Whilst there are still optimizations to be performed, the core of the technology has at least been proven, along with some clever innovations around leveraging smart phones to save on hardware investments.

In the coming years we will see a larger amount of these companies focusing on user experience we have with these technologies – ensuring the interfaces,gesture and motion recognition are close to perfect are high on companies to-do lists. The hardware road-map will ensure they are lighter, more robust and frankly – sexier to wear. Before we discuss other aspects of how improved UX will be the focus of the coming years, its not to stay that technology wont help on this. For example, the evolution of flexible compute paradigms specifically in the nano technology area will assist in building compute into glasses, instead of adding compute retrospectively.

2: Difference in Psychologies

Apart from the technology of VR and AR being quite different under the hood, the psychology of how they are used is also. With AR, we are injecting a digital layer between us and the physical world. With VR, we are immersing ourselves into a digital world. These are very different experiences and the user experience design must have this difference at its core. We must ensure that the layer we design for AR takes characteristics from both our physical environment and our own personas. With VR, its much more emphatic to ensure the person feels comfortable and safe in that world.

3: Interfaces to VR/AR UX

The UX Design of AR and VR technologies and applications will require careful management of multiple input styles. Using wearables, voice recognition, AR and AI, we will start to see seamless blending and integration with how technology interacts with us across various senses. Touch devices are still being used, but they will move aside for voice recognition, movement tracking and even brain waves to be used to control these smart devices. The communication will be much faster and intimate, and will force designers to completely rethink how we interact with these devices.

4: The Role of AI in UX

The UX of these devices will also require more human like interactions, to built trust between the devices and the users in an organic manner. We are seeing this with voice control technology like Siri and Google Home, but they are understanding our voice, with some sample responses. Soon they will learn to evolve their speech.

Artificial intelligence will take hold of the user experience to analyze the reaction to different experiences and then make changes in real time to those assessments. UX will become a much more intuitive and personalized experience in the coming years.

5: Convergence of VR and AR Standards

Already we are seeing a myriad of startups evolving in the space, some focusing on content development in software, some on the actual hardware itself. Some are brave enough to have both on offer. We also have the larger companies creating divisions to provide offerings in this space. Choice is great, but when it becomes painful trying on your fourteenth pair of glasses at your average conference, it is not. When one takes time to observe how companies are beginning to partner up to offer solutions ( a trend extremely common in the IoT industry) it is a small step towards some form of standardization. Excessive choice can be bad from a UX perspective, as with such segregation in initial design makes it harder for app designers to get it right on the hardware.

6: Realistic Market Sensing

At some point, we have to get away from the “Toys” feel for these devices. We put them on for ten minutes in an airport or at an event to get a wow from it. Whilst the applications in the gaming industries are there to be seen, companies are beginning to focus on where else the market will be. Certain devices have flopped in the past two years, and you would wonder why with such strong brands. The first reason was awful UX. The second was the market just was not ready, with a distinct lack of content to make them anyway useful. Just because a few of these devices fail, doesn’t mean the movement stops. (Below info-graphic source is

Consumer and Industrial applications have very different requirements from a market perspective, with content choice and look and feel very important for consumer markets, system performance and governance sitting higher in industrial use cases. With the costs associated with adding these technologies to industrial environments under the microscope, companies must focus strongly on measuring and building the return on investment (ROI) models.

7: Protecting the User and the Experience

With these technologies predicted to get even closer than headsets (smart contact lenses for example -link here), its quite important the UX designers can intrinsically build in comfort and safety into any application. Too many times we have seen people fall through something whilst wearing a headset (more so with VR technologies). And that’s just the physical safety. When the threshold between physical and augmented worlds gets closer and closer (mixed reality), we want to avoid a scenario of interface overkill.

Whilst the past few years may indicate that these technologies are fads, the reality is far from it. They will become part of our social fabric as a new form of mobile technology. Ensuring the users experience with these technologies will be the critical enabler in their success and adoption rate.

Designing for AR and VR entails there be better understanding of a user’s need when it comes to context of use. It’s about building connections between the physical and digital world, requiring an interdisciplinary effort of service design, interaction design and industrial design.

Closing off Web Summit 2015 – Day 2/3

And so it ends. The Web Summit on Irish shores finished on Thursday (for now), and I must admit there was an athmosphere of “what if” and that of sombreness. But we cannot allow this to affect our perspective and thinking of the impact this conference has had on Ireland tech landscape.. Paddy Cosgrave has built a conference which he began with 400 attendees to now 35,000. Let’s put that into context in regards to people’s perspective of Ireland as a Tech Hub. With over 100 countries represented, and technology itself ensuring their own tech landscape is quite small, the voices of the 35,000 will translate into millions. And I am certain the conversation will be about Web Summit, the friendliness of the services and the vibrant Night Summit, and not the number/cost of hotels, government and traffic.

Wednesday was a great day and one of the best I have had at a web summit event. It’s started on the Machine Stage, where a panel including Nell Watson from Singularity spoke on how machines and humans will coexist and complement each other in our smart future. I liked how Nell spoke about how the seamless integration of machines, and the governance of same will be a key piece of the puzzle.

Nell Watson from Singularity speaks on Machine Stage
Next up on Machine was another panel, which included Dr. Joe Salvo from GE and Dr. Said Tabet from EMC. The panel was expertly hosted by Ed Walsh who is the director of technology vision for EMC. Whilst interviewing the guys, Ed brought out not only the technology vision required for IoT, but also the collaboration that can be enabled by consortiums like the IIC, of which Dr Salvo and Dr Tabet have been so instrumental in building.

Ed Walsh hosting a panel session on the industrial internet
As already mentioned, the proliferation of Virtual reality was evident, and I got a demo of Amazons audible technology! It was quite neat!

Friday was a more relaxed day, with numbers down a little but this allowed for a different kind of networking experience. It was a day to chat with as many startups as possible, and to catch some great talks. One that stood out was on centre stage, where a panel (including Christine Herron from Intel Capital, Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures, Mood Rowghani from KPCB ) was hosted by Charlie Wells of the Wall Street Journal. Topic discussed – tomorrow’s tech landscape. A growth or just a bubble?


Panel Discussion on Future of Tech
Well it looks like what Nell mentioned above is already happening from who I bumped into!

And so, we are off to Lisbon. Whilst I believe that there will be challenges there also, it is Cosgraves personality that will shine through. An excellent CI labs data science company spawned out of the web summit, and whist there is that data science feel to a lot of the web summit, it’s this personality of Cosgrave and his team that still makes this event stand above many.

The 2020 Digital Employee: 10 Characteristics

Whilst this blog is focused at the characteristics that millennials (and others) functioning in the technology sector will need to have in the coming years, it could be associated to other industries also. Some of these features are already in play, however they are not seen currently as a full set. Happy reading.

1: Collaborator

Internal company perspectives will no longer be enough. With the lines between various technologies and industries blurring, to truly understand the necessary trends to keep up, both the person and the company will require one to forge strong active links with external companies, startups and universities. The tools required to achieve this will also evolve, with social media collaboration tools to come into the mainstream, along with the continued influence of smart devices and wearables for managing our workload.

2: Applies Relational Technology

A positive from active collaboration is the potential to see other technology methods across various industries. The wide lens approach will provide plenty of food for thought when the technologist looks to solve their immediate challenges. A  good example of this is applying classical file compression algorithms to bioinformatic problems in genome sequence analysis for disease susceptibility patterns. There will be huge advances on the adage “Think outside the box”, where people will build algorithms to find best fit algorithms to solve a related challenge. Seriously.


Personal brand is going to continue to grow in influence for future technologists. There are a few aspects to brand to consider. First, your internal brand within your immediate company – how your colleagues view you, how you ensure you remain visible in the right areas within your company. Next, your external brand is how you are viewed in immediate applicable technology areas, both geographically and in parallel companies. Lastly, the social brand of a technologist will require a suitable online social media strategy, to compliment the first two, and ensure that you are visible in areas that may very well blur into yours in the coming years.

4: People Person/ Personality

For years, technologists had an interesting reputation! Most people believed them to sit in dark rooms, writing code, and building circuits, with “geek” and “nerd” aimed in their general direction. Not so now. Its now “cool” to be in technology, given that the technology we work on is impacting everyone’s lives. We can see it, feel it, touch it. Its real. And thus, the impression that technologists can make in various circles has increased. We are now in boardrooms (see my previous blog on trends), becoming online influencers, some are even getting celebrity status (Elon Musk). Also, there is going to be a continued evolution in the number of generations that we will have to work with, which will mean more youthful employees will have to lead the aging generations.

5: Employee Skills as a Service

OK this may sound controversial. But think about it. As the lines between companies blur, with collaboration having a magnetic effect in pulling them exceptionally close to one another, it is predicted here that employees may begin to work in different organisations, with companies contracting their core employees into other partner companies that may need a particular skill set for a fixed period of time. It is predicted here that it may go a step further, with employees interviewing companies, rather than the other way round. The shift in power will happen, and employees will maintain their time bandwidth per week/year, and will give their services on a consultancy basis to multiple companies. Also there is a trend that the “one company employee” is a thing of the past, with employees more free to move quicker between jobs.

6: Self Managing

The next generation of technologists will have independence in their DNA, and will possess the required soft skills to be able to self manage their time and tasks. Point 5 above will demand this, but this is not to say that upper management will not be required. What is being said is that the hierarchical org charts will be a thing of the past, with flat structures work best in evolving technology companies.

7: Mobility

The walls of companies will be well and truly knocked, with advances in technology ensuring that “work from anywhere” is a distinct reality. Augment reality will play a part in this, when renderings of colleagues will solve the lack of contact/visibility challenge that currently exists. Enabled by technology, an entirely new work environment is on the horizon. According to Wakefield research, 91 percent of C-level executives and IT decision-makers believe that today’s teenagers will be working in roles that do not exist today. 72% agree that the traditional office as we know it will become obsolete within four years. Think about it. How are the generation in school now communicating? There were born into technology.

8: Educational Diversity

With online education companies such as Coursera becoming hugely disruptive in the education sector, it is predicted that the classical – Degree – Post Grad – Work (with training) model will change greatly. Numerous people have been quoted as saying “I don’t use a huge amount of my primary degree”. This will mean that certain individuals (think of the 16 year old kid who became a millionaire) will be hired quicker by companies, and then incrementally receive their education throughout their company. This is quite common in Japanese companies, with kids being given apprenticeships at 16, and mix college with work over the next 6 years. Now if the employment laws would catch up! Whilst incremental training is happening now within companies, colleges/companies don’t recognize it as a sum of the parts.

9: Startup(s) as a Hobby

Currently, having external commitments in technology areas, such as startup involvement is seen as a bad thing by most companies. There are trends to suggest that companies are actively opening the door to employees who use their spare time to engage in other opportunities. And rightly so. The skill set that can be gained from contributing in different company and academic structures are incredibly valuable, and there is the added bonus for the company in that they have a viewpoint into more early stage alpha and beta companies.

10: Mass Parallel Processors of Information

Yep. Its happening. And we don’t even know it. The way education is being delivered these days demands huge levels of multitasking. The ability to respond to several different stimuli at the same time is called continuous partial attention. We used to teach in a way that demanded a tremendous amount of memorization, but now it’s more about cognitive agility and multi-tasking. The part of the brain, called the hippo-campus, that’s involved in memory is a little different than the multitasking part at the front of the brain.

We see it currently in technology. To every Splunk there is a Hunk. Hadoop was barely alive when Spark came along. Java now has over 50 different varieties. Argh! Do we need to be expert at all of them? No, but we need to be able to switch between them seamlessly. Or at least know what gets used where to meet the challenge we are working on.