Professor, Designer, Husband, Father, Gamer, Bagpiper

Antti Oulasvirta posted a rant on his twitter account, that starts with the tweet below, about why he doesn't believe in current VR/AR technology.  Overall, his arguments point to some good reasons to be cautious about going all-in on the current round of technology.

Click through to read the whole thread on twitter.

On the other hand, a lot of what he says relies on strawman arguments that most folks working on the tech don't really believe.  

It's only in slick presentations and product promo videos that we see people suggesting that interacting with virtual objects via hand tracking will be just like interacting with physical objects.  Yes, the effusive presentation Microsoft did at MWC this year presented all kinds of ways that the hand tracking tech in Hololens2 will enable guestural and direct interaction, and included lots of examples of people fiddling with virtural content as if it was real.  

But isn't that what you'd expect from a company demonstrating some amazing progress on this technology?  Do we expect Microsoft to use their limited time on stage to explain how this wonderful tech is going to be difficult to use for some of the things audience members might be imagining?  

Direct manipulation AR and VR interfaces don't need to behave exactly like interacting with physical objects. And while we will see plenty of examples of bad UIs emerge over the next few years, we will also begin to see people figuring out how to create effective UIs in the context of these limitations.  That is, after all, what HCI and Design research and development is all about.  It's not like the modern touch screen UI on Android and iOS sprang forth fully formed on the first touch screen device all those years ago.

Another example mentioned in the thread is text input. Yes, inputting text (especially text that isn't primarily made up on common words spoken in grammatically correct utterances) is difficult without a keyboard. But why, exactly, won't we have keyboards when users will be doing tasks that requires non-trivial input, especially in AR?  

If a task you are doing requires text entry, it's pretty easy to imagine a bluetooth keyboard being in the mix of tools you use. How about the mobile phones that people carry now?  Heck, even an old-timer like me has heard that kids these days are pretty efficient with them.

Why not conceive of a future where people carry many devices and use them together?  Obviously, tech companies want to paint a clean and beautiful picture of the future with their devices, but who really believes that a see-through head-worn display is going to be the only device you carry to support all the work and personal interactions you do with the digital world?  

The problem with technology prognostication and critique is that it's easier to pick holes in simplistic visions of the future that companies put forth, than it is to step back and imagine a more serious response based on what the future might look like when these devices are inserted and appropriated by real people for real tasks.  

Clearly, AR (in particular) and VR (less obviously) will exist as one element of an ecosystem of technology and work practice, and so simplistic views (positive or negative)  of how they will solve our problems, or how they will fail horribly, aren't going to get us anywhere.

I sympathize with the points Antti makes in his thread.  Perhaps some of the people working on these technologies are unaware of them, but I doubt it based on my interactions with folks at Microsoft and Magic Leap (for example), as well as Oculus, Valve, and the rest.

I, for one, and looking forward to figuring out the UI metaphors and applications that will work, rather than getting too hung up on the limitations in the current tech.