The twenty-teens

Around this time of year for the past few years I have written a blog post listing what I expected to occur during the coming year. Since this new year marks the start of a new decade, I thought I would start a new tradition and write a post on my expectations for the coming decade. 2020 is a long way away, so I’m sure most of this will miss the mark. Hopefully at least 48 year old me will be amused by what 38 year old me had to say.

Please note that just because something is on this list does not mean that it’s something I want to happen, only that it’s something I think will happen. Anything that’s missing from this list is probably just something I didn’t think of.

I would love to hear your thoughts on any or all of these.  Please comment below.

General Technology Trends:

  1. Moore’s Law will continue to operate for the entire decade. That means a given form-factor of computing device will be approximately 100x the power of the same form-factor today.
  2. Mobile computing will dominate. Everyone who owns a laptop or desktop today will have a mobile device that is about 10x the power of their current computer.  We may still call these “phones”, but placing voice calls will only be one tiny part of what they do. This device will replace most users’ desktop and laptop computers.
  3. Digital Distribution will be king. Only a tiny fraction of the media that’s currently consumed digitally (TV, movies, music, and software) will be purchased on a hunk of plastic. Both the subscription model (aka Rhapsody or cable television) or the purchase model (aka iTunes or DVDs) will have at least 20% market share, but one of those two models will be gradually taking over. Advertising supported media will be just as big of a deal as it now, but the user will have much more control over how they consume that media (think Hulu rather than broadcast television.) Books are on the same trajectory, but in 2020 the majority of books will still be sold on dead trees.
  4. Speach recognition will gain a lot of ground as the primary way we enter text into a computer. Offices are one place where this trend won’t have advanced very far mostly because of the noise involved.

Game Industry Trends:

  1. Total revenues from video games of all kinds (including mobile and social games) will exceed revenue from movies and television (independantly, not added together.) Games will finally learn to exploit merchandising and secondary markets as vigorously as movies do.
  2. In 2020 no one will be selling a dedicated gaming console. All computing devices in production in ten years will be about consuming other kinds of media just as much as they are about playing games.
  3. Desktop PC gaming will be all but dead, with the majority of triple-A games coming out for multi-media consoles or mobile devices.
  4. Gaming that involves exercise will be the primary way that the majority of people get their exercise.
  5. Location-aware games will be common.

Augmented reality:

  1. A growing minority of people in the developed world will wear heads up displays almost all the time. These displays will be capable of information overlays, but will mostly be about contextual information that is not overlaid on the world. These products will be on the verge of hitting the mainstream, but won’t quite be mainstream yet.
  2. Development of these displays will be by small companies (perhaps companies that are around now) but those companies will be acquired by massive consumer electronics multinationals before wearable displays hit the mainstream.
  3. Recognition of people and text in images (and video) will be nearly perfect, at least in reasonable lighting conditions.
  4. Gestural interfaces will be commonplace. Many hard-core computer users will be sad at how clumsy they are compared to keyboard and mouse.

The fate of specific companies:

  1. Google will be huge and influential. Their influence will likely peak in the 2010s, but it will difficult to see that from the ground. Google will have had some sort of anti-monopoly action taken against them.
  2. Microsoft will fail to transition to the new mobile-centric world and will be in decline. They will still be a very powerful multi-billion-dollar company, but will not own the end-user to nearly the extent they do now.
  3. A company that exists today will be the dominant social network.  that could be Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, but it probably won’t be MySpace.
  4. Apple will be huge and influential. They won’t ever be as dominant as Microsoft was in the 90s, but they will be very successful. Steve Jobs will still be running the company.

US Politics:

  1. Gay marriage will be legal in most states.
  2. Marijuana use will be legal in California and a few other states.
  3. We won’t have elected a woman president. (My wife came up with this one, but I agree with her.)
  4. The problems of illegal immigration will not be solved.
  5. The problems of providing health-care to everyone that needs it will not be solved.
  6. Privacy in an age of always-on location-aware devices will be a huge topic of debate.
  7. Silicon Valley will remain the world’s premier startup region.
  8. The US will still have troops in both Iraq and Afganistan. These will be like the troops we still have in Germany and South Korea, and will not be in combat often, if ever.

International Politics:

  1. Carbon emissions will be at approximately their peak in 2020.
  2. Oil production will also be peaking around 2020.
  3. Most other countries will be ahead of the US in terms of switching to renewable energy.
  4. Most of the rest of the world will have consumer-friendly privacy regulations in place. Those countries will scratch their heads at the debate raging in the US.

Things that will not happen:

  1. We will not have flying cars, jet-packs, or most of the other things promised by Sci-Fi in the 50s.
  2. There will not be peace in the middle east.
  3. Africa will still be the poorest continent.
  4. Brain-computer interfaces will still not work very well. No one will be uploading themselves into a computer.
  5. We won’t have a human equivalent AI.
  6. We won’t know how to reliably unfreeze people.
  7. World War Three won’t have happened.

How did I do with my 2009 predictions?

Year end prediction posts are tons of fun.  Let’s see how I did with last year’s post.

  1. Correct. Champions and Free Realms both launched. Those were both smaller than the big launches of 2008 (Age of Conan and Warhammer), and I expect they will end up being smaller than next year’s Star Trek Online launch.
  2. Wrong. The console version of Champions Online never came out. I hear it’s because of difficulties working out revenue sharing and certification details with Microsoft, not because of any technical challenge. We’ll see if it actually comes out in 2010.
  3. Wrong. Has there been a single large MMO announced in 2009?  Carbine, Trion, Red 5, 38 Studios, and Zenimax certainly haven’t announced anything.
  4. Wrong. Nope. Nobody bought Turbine. Atari did buy Cryptic, which is almost the same thing.  Maybe I should be more vague in the future.
  5. Correct?  Upper Deck University launched, but hasn’t had much traction. Are there other kid’s MMOs that launched in 2009?  Wizard 101 from King’s Isle launched at the end of 2008 and had an excellent year in 2009. What does that mean for my prediction? No idea.
  6. Correct, sort of. Both Microsoft and Sony decided to launch gestural control devices instead of whole new consoles. They are trying to get some more mileage out of their investment in the current generation. Project Natal has had a lot of buzz, but no dev kits have shipped as far as I know. The PS3 motion controller has been a little more under the radar.  Both of these devices are expected to ship in 2010.
  7. Hard to say. Maybe we’ve hit bottom, maybe we haven’t.  Ask me in two years.
  8. Wrong. Oh so astoundingly wrong.  Between Layar and Junaio’s launches, tons of marketing campaigns, and lots of concept and research videos, AR has had a year full of hype. Those see-through displays I was so excited about in January didn’t happen, but on the smartphone/magic lens front there has been quit a bit happening.
  9. Hard to say. Did Microsoft start an MMO in 2009?  They didn’t announce anything.  Wonder if they’ll announce it before they cancel it.
  10. Wrong. At least I haven’t heard of one.  Lots of indy games made lots of noise in 2009, but none of those were XNA games.
  11. Correct?  iLike’s firesale to Myspace is one.  Metaplace.com going away is arguably another, though Metaplace lives on as a company, at least for a while. Geocities counts too, I guess.  The trouble is the “have heard of” qualifier. Most web startups are completely unknown outside of Silicon Valley
  12. Wrong. There has been no SOE reorganization fallout visible from the outside. The Agency lost the head of its studio, but the game seems to live on.  DC universe is going fairly well from what I hear.
  13. Correct.  Mythic merged a bunch of servers.  Then they laid off a bunch of people. Then EA kicked out Mark Jacobs. Then EA laid off more people.  It has been a tough year over there. I hope everyone lands on their feet.

So for the year, that’s five correct predictions, six incorrect predictions, and two unmeasurable predictions.  Not such a good year to see the future.

The biggest thing I missed is the way mobile is heating up.  The App Store is a couple years old at this point, but it really exploded in 2009.

What about you?  Did 2009 turn out like you expected?

50 Things I Learned at ISMAR 2009

The good thing about going to your first conference on a new subject matter is that you’re not jaded and certainly not level capped. So without further ado, here are fifty things I learned at ISMAR:

  1. Metaio is pronounced mehtayo, not (as I’ve been saying) mehtah-ayo.
  2. The high-end HMDs that academics buy for tens of thousands of dollars are terrible.
  3. Nokia has a very cool see-through display with eye tracking up and running in their research lab. This display may never see the light of day.
  4. There are still tons of people doing research with markers.
  5. Robert Rice and I are both 38.
  6. When using a tag-based gesture to activate a menu, users are more accurate and able to select their option more quickly if the options are presented relative to the user’s view than if they are presented relative to the marker’s original location or an object in the world.
  7. Vuzix is working on cool stuff and Paul Travers is a good guy with a passion for AR.
  8. Telepresence is creepy when it is accomplished by projecting a remote video feed onto a static mannekin head. (This was the Anamatronics Shader Lamps Avatar paper and demo.)
  9. Robert Rice really got into AR in early 2008, just like me.
  10. The academic AR community is ready to welcome industry to their conference with open arms. Apparently there were many more companies present this year than last year.
  11. Metaio’s mobile platform (Junaio) is not a clone of Layar/Wikitude in any way. They are building a much more social system based on user-provided content.  Junaio is also going to work on phone with no compass (i.e. the iPhone 3G.)
  12. X from Y is a smart dude. (Sub in any X and Y you like among the many people I met this week. I met so many smart people.)
  13. There are some professors who love the sound of their own voices. OMG, (that one guy) from (that one university) can’t seem to ask a question in less than five minutes.
  14. I believe that augmented reality is the next big technology revolution and will have an impact at least as big as the web’s impact. This will provide opportunities for tons of companies and as a result there’s no reason to start competing bitterly at this early stage.  It turns out Robert Rice agrees with me.
  15. Tish Shute is obsessed with XMPP (and a smart non-dude.)
  16. There are more AR startups out there that are flying under the radar. For instance, there are these two guys from Rochester…
  17. Silicon Valley remains completely oblivious to AR. If Robert and I are right it will be interesting to see what this means for their dominance of the startup community.
  18. The vast majority of the AR research being done in adademia is being done outside the US. I knew this going in, but it was shocking to be confronted with it in person.
  19. Georg Klein (of PTAM fame) works at Microsoft now.  Hmm.
  20. The food in Orlando is terrible.  Maybe they could move this conference to Austin…
  21. Microvision’s display technology works really well.  At least on the monocular test unit that I got a chance to look through after their talk.
  22. There is (or was) at least one PC gamer out there that has never heard of Steam. I was shocked.
  23. Qualcomm is backing AR in a big way and intends to be the hardware provider of choice for mobile AR.
  24. Venture Capital isn’t flowing into augmented reality quite yet. Most AR startups are self-funded or funded by friends and family.
  25. I am much better at networking than I was when I first started going to game conferences.
  26. It is far too early for meaningful standards in AR. It would be awfully nice if the Wikitude content provider API used the same format that people are already providing to Layar, however.
  27. The projector part of Sixth Sense is still a non-starter. The UI parts are still very cool, however.
  28. Robert Rice and I have a creepy number of common traits.
  29. Disney Imagineering makes extensive use of AR.
  30. Peter from Metaio suggests that if you want to get anything done in the AR space you shouldn’t spend any time worrying about whether or not what you’re doing is AR or not. I agree with him. There’s not a clear line between AR and not AR and there probably never will be.
  31. See-through glasses at a reasonable price point (and field of view) are probably more than a year out. This is frustrating to a great many people, including me.
  32. Layar isn’t going to ruin AR. I went into the week with a fear that the GPS+compass category (which Layar is currently leading) would forever taint the term Augmented Reality by providing a fairly useless AR view (when compared to a map or list view.)  Instead I think that people will simply not use the AR view and that Layar pushes location based services forward in a huge way by providing access to multiple content providers from a single app. One day no one will remember that they started out as primarily an AR app.
  33. I prefer talks about what people did over talks about what people think will happen.
  34. For many researchers, augmented reality is a solution looking for a problem. There are a lot of gee-whiz demos and many people seem to accept cool factor as a compelling reason to use AR instead of more traditional solutions.
  35. I saw a presentation on an AR-based interface that included a user study that concluded the mouse-and-keyboard interface they devised for comparison was both more accurate and faster for users. Clearly we should not rush out and replace all UI in places where a mouse and keyboard are working now.
  36. Roundtable sessions with fifty or more people in the room don’t work.
  37. There was a company using optical flow to fake accelerometer-type UI elements back before phones had accelerometers. On a related note, promo videos from old dead-end technologies are funny.
  38. By and large academics feel that augmented reality is poised to take off in a big way.
  39. Academics don’t drink nearly as much as game developers.
  40. Nobody has solved the problem of optical tracking in arbitrary outdoor environments as a means of correcting GPS and magnetometer error. The sensor fusion presentation from Gratz was promising, however.
  41. ISMAR doesn’t treat their speakers very well. Apparently there was some question at to whether or not speakers would even get a free badge.  That’s just silly. Speakers also shouldn’t have to buy their tickets to the award banquet all attendees get for free.
  42. Some people think that “the Layar and Wikitude type apps” don’t count as real AR because they only use the camera for video pass through. Most people (including some of the people in the first group) agree that it doesn’t really matter whether these apps are AR or not.
  43. Video pass-through introduces massive latency, which can cause significant issues with perception of haptic feedback.
  44. Natasha Tsakos is happy to use the same shtick to open her talks at both TED and ISMAR.
  45. AR researchers are poor at name badge design. Badges should include company/university name. The name of the attendee is the most important thing on the badge and should be larger than everything else. The ISMAR badges had three lines of text, all the same size:
    • ISMAR 2009
    • Your Name
    • Science and Technology or Arts and Humanities.
  46. Nobody in the ISMAR community takes the various advertising uses of AR too seriously.
  47. You shouldn’t register for a conference on the day registration opens. Apparently the regonline account was still in test mode for the first day or so and all the people who registered that day didn’t really register (or have a charge appear on their credit cards.)
  48. There is a strong bias toward computer vision and away from other sensors among many researchers.
  49. Orlando was not made for walking.
  50. ISMAR 2009 was totally worth attending.

I am so happy I went.  ISMAR reinvigorated my interested in AR and allowed me to meet many great people. I wonder if I’ll be able to swing a trip to Seoul for ISMAR 2010.

50 things I never need to hear at another conference

  1. Korea is the future. They are five years ahead of us and where Korea goes, the rest of the world will follow.  (I have been hearing this for at least five years. )
  2. Free to play with micro transactions is the one true business model.
  3. Client downloads are death.
  4. We must look beyond the core gamer audience and embrace more casual players.
  5. Women are 50% of the audience.
  6. Don’t trust the client, it is in the hands of the enemy.
  7. You game is a service.
  8. MMOs are hard. No, they’re really really hard. Seriously. You can’t possibly imagine how hard they are.
  9. Runescape is the second biggest MMO and is the one you should really watch.
  10. Club Penguin is huge and is the one you should really watch.
  11. Lineage is huge in Asia and is the one you should really watch. (These days it’s actually more likely to be ZT Online or some other game in China.)
  12. Flash is the best platform to build your MMO on.
  13. Web games are cheesy and no core gamer will ever play them.
  14. Rudy’s has the best BBQ in Austin.  No, County Line is better.  Are you kidding me?  It’s obviously The Salt Lick.
  15. The game industry is bigger than Hollywood.
  16. Triple-A MMOs are a dead end. WoW is impossible to compete with.
  17. Game X is going to take the top spot from WoW.
  18. Games cost so much to make now that the industry is about to collapse under its own weight.
  19. MMOs are just like MUDs and you should all learn the lessons MUDs learned X years ago.  (To be fair, I don’t think I’ve actually heard this one in a few years.)
  20. All of these things happened in UO. Why won’t you people learn from UO?
  21. The community around your game is incredibly important and you should take care of them.
  22. Your players have no idea what they want. Don’t believe anything they say.
  23. Forums are very important.
  24. Don’t believe anything you read on forums.
  25. Launch is just the beginning. The real work comes after launch.
  26. Metrics, metrics, metrics.  Record everything!
  27. Don’t record too much with your metrics. Too much data is just as useless as too little data.
  28. Some people spend CRAZY amounts of money via micro-transactions
  29. MMOs on consoles are the Next Big Thing.
  30. Casual games are going to save the PC market
  31. MMOs are going to save the PC market
  32. My background in economics tells me…
  33. WoW is a wonderful thing for the industry because of the way they expanded the market.
  34. WoW has set expectations so high that you can’t make an MMO for less than X million dollars. (Where X>=30)
  35. Person X is a jerk. Let me tell you this funny story about…
  36. Company Y is so clueless that they will never put out a successful game
  37. Fantasy is where it’s at! MMOs just don’t work as well in other genres.
  38. Fantasy has been done. Players want us to move on to other genres.
  39. There’s so much money to be made in Asia! Just make sure you internationalize your game first.
  40. Gamers in Asia demand click to move so they can smoke while they play.
  41. Players are going to trade stuff for real money no matter what you do. You might as well embrace it.
  42. RMT causes huge amounts of fraud.
  43. Gold spam is impossible to stop.
  44. Our startup is the next big thing in MMOs.  Just look at this giant pile of money we raised!
  45. Game development is all about iteration. Waterfall doesn’t work.
  46. There’s this guy named Richard Bartle who proposed dividing players into four types…
  47. You can’t use scripting languages in games. They’re way too slow.
  48. Writing all your code in C++ is stupid.
  49. Launch early, launch often.
  50. You only get to launch once.
This year it was obvious to me that I’ve hit the Austin GDC level cap. Fortunately that means I have moved on to the conference elder game and learn far more interesting things speaking and engaging in deep hallway conversations.
What about you?  What things are you sick of hearing in conference presentations?

My Layar development experience

When SPRX Mobile announced that they were opening up the Layar API back in July, I applied immediately. I wanted to learn more about publishing geo-coded data, keep abreast of what Layar was up to, and try to deliver some useful data all at the same time. Fortunately my application was accepted and I received one of the first batch of API keys to go out.

My specific project has been to take the real-time bus arrival information provided by One Bus Away and publish it on the Layar platform. I use the mobile-formatted One Bus Away website at least twice per workday as part of my commute. This data is currently only available in Seattle, but will soon be expanding to everywhere that offers a GTFS feed. My feelings about this experience have been almost entirely positive, but I still come away from it discouraged.

On one hand, the people building Layar (Dirk in particular) have been very helpful. The platform is easy to develop for and they provide good documentation and tools to make it even easier. All of the time spent on this project (which took less than 24 working hours, total) was spent figuring out Google AppEngine, the python web framework I used, the One Bus Away API, and how to filter nearby stops to a reasonable set to show to a user. With minor exceptions Layar performed very well. I have provided all 436 lines of code here so you can see for yourself how easy it was.

Marjolein and Claire from SPRX were helpful in less technical ways too.  All developers were invited to the launch event to show off their layers. They ran several conference calls for people all over the world to answer any questions on the API or about the launch. SPRX has done a great job with the launch of Layar 2.0, and I think all the positive press they have received is a direct result of that.

My discouragement has less to do with Layar specifically than it does with the entire category of tricorder augmented reality. The view through the mobile phone and its camera is less useful than a top-down map would be for every piece of data I have seen so far. For my layer in particular, the rider is very likely to know where the stop is. In situations like that where location is unimportant, both the Reality View and Map View actually get in the way.

This experience has led me to two conclusions.  First, augmented vision is pointless until head-mounted displays are available.  I already felt that way, so now I am just more firm in my belief.  Second, filtering data to a useful subset for display is actually the hard problem.  Job listing sites, travel sites, Ecommerce sites, and review sites already knew this, which is why they spend so much effort on search. Turns out the problem is the same for mobile location-aware services.

If you live in Seattle and would like to try out the One Bus Away layer for Layar, just search for One Bus Away inside of Layar.  I welcome your feedback on how I could make this layer more useful. And, of course, I would also love to hear your thoughts on the utility of augmented vision on a mobile phone.