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.

Why IoT needs Software Defined Networking (SDN)

Software defined networking (SDN), with its ability to intelligently route traffic and take advantage of underutilized network resources will help stop the data flood of IoT. Cisco has a pretty aggressive IoT strategy, and they place their application centric infrastructure version of SDN at the centre of this. And it makes sense. Software is still the main ingredient that can be used to combat network bandwidth challenges.

Lori MacVittie8 agrees with SDN being a critical enabler, but only if SDN considers all of the network layers from 2 to 7, and not just stateless 2-4. “Moving packets around optimally isn’t easy in a fixed and largely manually driven network. That’s why SDN is increasingly important when data volumes increase and do so in predictable waves. SDN can provide the means to automatically shift the load either in response or, optimally, in anticipation of those peak waves.”

The network challenges in IoT do not stop at bandwidth and volumes of data. Applications will be required to deal with the peak loads of data, so services will be required in layers 4-7 that provide for scale, security and performance of those apps.

Figure 5: Stateless vs Stateful in SDN Application Services [8]

SDN has features that will also be particularly useful. Dynamic load management should allow users to monitor and orchestrate bandwidth automatically on the fly, which will be music to the ears of global IoT providers. Service chaining will enable application specific processing procedures in a sequence fashion to a client’s job. This should ease management overhead in IoT services, as the subscriptions increase globally. One of the coolest features of SDN is bandwidth calendaring which will allow the user to schedule the traffic an application will need at a given time, and when you think of a sensor only wanting to communicate at periodic times, it is apparent that this will be a great asset.

But this cannot happen soon. Data center managers will have to modernize their infrastructures. Once they do, a potential big win would be the ability to create numerous virtual and private networks on top of a single physical network. This would be a big advantage as multiple customers could then share a single network, without risk for their applications and data. However, for this to work, one would need the entire network to be SDN enabled.

When one considers the concept of Network Functional Virtualization (NFV), this path can be traversed quicker. With NFV ready networks, carriers can create services in software, rather than dedicated hardware, essentially allowing virtualized servers to allow these new services. This enables business transformation by moving away from having multiple isolated networks, and one would work with an open ecosystem, a set of virtualized network functions, and most importantly an orchestration layer. This will allow businesses to accelerate with agility in the face of device quantity explosion.


8: Dev Central: SDN and IoT article

Considerations of Change: An Intro to Networking in IoT

One of the major consequences of Moore’s Law for silicon is that pretty much any device now can have a reasonable level of computing power and internet connectivity. Because of this, the number of internet enabled devices is increasing, thus causing a huge influx of IoT traffic; it is predicted that WAN bandwidth will need to be increased.

When one considers the types of data that will be generated, it becomes clear that they both present challenges. George Crump, an analyst with Storage Switzerland points this out7. “First, there is large-file data, such as images and videos captured from smartphones and other devices. This data type is typically accessed sequentially,” explains Crump. “The second data type is very small, for example, log-file data captured from sensors. These sensors, while small in size, can create billions of files that must be accessed randomly.”

From this, it is clear that data centers will need to handle both types of data, and the storage and processing requirements that come with them.

For decades, the network was considered to be the plumbing of a company’s IT solutions, and was considered a somewhat dumber element of the design. With the advent of IoT, it is clear that the networking element of the IoT ecosystem is slightly lagging behind, which is a concern as IoT is very much a network centric technology, and in essence makes the web by which the sensors communicate to the host and to each other. There are a number of ways for these devices to be networked. Some devices can be directly connected to the internet utilizing standard Ethernet or Wifi, which are TCP/IP based. There are other wireless technologies, some of which are dependent on TCP/IP, but all require some sort of intelligent gateway to convert their network into standard Ethernet or Wifi. These include, but are not limited to, Zig Bee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, and Cellular.

Evolution towards IPv6 

Due to the advancement of object gateways, the first two stages of the IoT roadmap will sit on current infrastructure and protocols. Once the volume of devices and data increases and true IoT is in motion, the IPv6 protocol will be required, which offers unlimited IP addresses.

The main challenge that IPv6 looks to overcome is the large packet size when we consider standard IP protocols. For IPv6, the packet size is reduced by making a number of changes to the release of the 6LoWPAN standard, namely RFC 4944. Changes included the compression of IP headers and the introduction of a fragmentation mechanism that enabled reassembly of IP packets that did not fit the IEEE 802 packet. Lastly, routing protocols for lossy, low power networks were required. New protocols were developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that provided basic routing in low power lossy networks.

In my next blog post, i will continue to write about network enablement requirements, talking about why IoT needs “Software Defined Networking” (SDN)


7: Orange Business: Can your business handle IoT