What product managers need to know about augmented reality
Today we are talking about augmented reality and what product managers and leaders need to know about this rapidly changing field that is becoming part of many digital transformation programs. Our guest has created several products using augmented reality, including a phone-based vision test at Warby Parker, the Neiman Marcus digital mirror that makes trying on and selecting clothes easier, the SalesForce conversational balance table, and much more.
His name is David Rose, and he’s an MIT lecturer, an author, and a serial entrepreneur who offers a unique perspective on the next platform of spatial computing—what he calls SuperSight. This is also the title of his latest book, SuperSight: What Augmented Reality Means for Our Lives, Our Work, and the Way We Imagine the Future.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:13] What is the real-world metaverse?
I’m trying to highlight the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). A lot of people, when they think of metaverses, think about roadblocks, Minecraft, multiplayer games, etc. Those are all virtual environments where you are sealed off and the real world is obscured from your vision.
By the real-world metaverse, I mean laying information over the existing architecture, city, and water of the places that we go in order to make those places easier to navigate or imagine how they might change in the future. I’m talking about taking all of the internet and spatially anchoring it in the real world.
[3:57] You have created several products related to this real-world metaverse. Tell us about how you get ideas for products.
For me, good ideas for projects or innovation come from a confluence of three things: The first is user need or insights about people. I’ll give an example of an application to boating. I’m a boater, and I’m regularly disoriented out on the water. That’s the user need component.
The second thing is a technological maturity component. In the case of the boating application, it’s computer vision. Computer vision can now identify things in front of your boat.
The third thing is the viability of the business idea or a way to scale. For me, this usually comes from meeting a go-to-market partner who could help commercialize the technology.
[9:14] Can you tell us more about the boating product example?
I was speaking about my new book at a healthcare conference. We had shown how we could see through the human body for surgery planning. A fisherman approached me afterward and said he wanted to be able to see through the water to avoid hazards and see where to fish. Underwater maps existed, but he wanted to be able to see without using his hands.
I wondered if we could spatially anchor the underwater maps in glasses so you could see the terrain underwater as if you’re in a glass-bottomed boat.
We started off using Unity, a 3D game engine. We got the maps from ArcGIS, which is a spatial company. We made a mockup using glasses called Nreal, which are now at Verizon stores.
We started prototyping the magic moment of seeing through the water. It was pretty compelling, but the more we used it, the more we realized that the glasses really weren’t the way to scale this and get it to market.
We talked to a company called Freedom Boat Club that has a boat membership model for new boaters who don’t have a boat or for people who are going to boat in a new place. We figured out that the best way to image the world around you was to put a camera on top of the boat. We used computer vision with a 360-degree camera system that sits on top of the boat. It uses computer vision to see everything that’s around you that might be a hazard, and then it mixes that with cartography, so that the screen that’s sitting next to you when you’re driving the boat shows you ideal paths, safe passage tracks so you won’t run aground, other vessels, or other objects in the water.
It took a lot of learning to do this project. Product innovators need to be dauntless in their ability to learn and quickly prototype.
We learned a lot from America’s Cup, which is work done by Stan Honey to use augmented reality to make sailing more accessible for normal people to watch and understand. He made the race look like a football field with little virtual flags to tell you how fast the boats are going.
The innovation lesson for product managers is use familiar metaphors. Make your big innovation look incremental. Stan Honey could have done a lot, but instead, his incremental innovation was to make sailing look like football. As product managers, even though we may have big, bold ideas of how to remake something in a totally new way, it will probably get more adoption and understanding if you use a familiar metaphor, iconography, or naming.
[18:28] What changes in the real-world metaverse or trends in technology should product managers expect?
The tools that are coming out that allow you to manipulate 3D models and reduce the weight of both making 3D models and putting 3D models into the world are a huge change. There are now asset stores like Turbo Squid, CG Trader and stock photo sites that sell 3D models. There are tools like Polycam that allow you to use the LiDAR on every iPhone to digitize a space. The ability to scan and image things is a total game changer.
For teams wanting to get into prototyping in AR quickly, I recommend Adobe Arrow, which is a no-coding environment, and Reality Composer.
Snapchat is probably the most successful AR product out there. Three hundred million people, ten or twelve times a day share pictures of themselves with face filters and face decorations. There’s rabid adoption of AR for the front-facing camera and for applying decorations or virtual layers to the real world. If you want to get into that, you could play with Snap Studio, which is a low code wiring-up environment.
A lot of people see those Snap decorations and think this is just a toy. However, when I worked at Warby Parker, AR was an opportunity to help people select which glasses would fit them and look good. With that confidence, people don’t need to try on the glasses in a store. If you have a virtual try-on that is really convincing, people will make purchase decisions from that.
Action Guide: Put the information David shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Learn more about SuperSight
- Check out EnchantedObjects.com
- Learn more about the Clear Water LookOut system for boaters
- Watch a LookOut demonstration video
“Prototype the magic moments first.” – David Rose
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and leaders. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.