Augmented reality (AR) became more widely known after the success of Pokémon Go in 2016. Investors have since been scrambling to back the next big AR hit. In 2016 alone, there was over $1.6 billion invested in the development of display devices based on AR.
It’s a sign of the times. The leaders of tech juggernauts like Apple, Google, and Facebook have been making aggressive moves into the space while publicly endorsing the world-changing potential of AR. Here are five CEOs that have stood out recently in their optimism for AR’s future, all positioning themselves to ride this revolution in spatial computing.
Apple CEO Tim Cook
It may be a surprise you that among a list of innovative tech leaders, the company that created the iPhone has only begun diving into AR. This month, Apple launched ARKit, a new AR development kit that has already produced some interesting experiences. During ARKit’s launch, software chief Craig Federighi said Apple has overnight become “the largest AR platform in the world.”
While Cook is tight lipped about Apple’s specific plans to utilize AR, he is quoted as saying: “I regard [AR] as a big idea, like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market–it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big. It’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives, and be entertaining.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has shaken the company up since arriving in 2014. His most prominent impact at Microsoft thus far has been to move the company into cloud services and products, such as Office 365. It would seem that Microsoft is once again on the cutting edge, after a long period of Ballmer-induced stagnation.
In typical Microsoft style, their flagship mixed reality product HoloLens tends to cater to the enterprise market. “The ultimate computer, for me, is this mixed-reality computer, where your field of view becomes an infinite display, where you see the world,” said Nadella. “And you see virtual objects and holograms. That’s definitely what we are building today with HoloLens.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Zuckerberg and Facebook have made some bold moves into spatial computing, particularly with their acquisition of Oculus and the launch of Facebook Spaces, their VR social platform.
Facebook has more recently ventured into AR by launching their Camera Effects developer platform, suggesting that they plan to grab market share beyond VR.
To Zuckerberg, however, this is just the beginning. At Facebook’s annual developer conference, he said: “I think more people are going to be doing work and spending more of their time…connecting with people and expressing themselves and doing art. And that I think dovetails very well with an AR world where a lot of what we’re going to be able to do is just about creating ideas and crafting them and sharing them. In AR, paint is free.”
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel
Snap has been an AR company for a while, even if barfing rainbows doesn’t feel cutting edge and state-of-the-art to you. Long confined to smartphones, Snap is branching out by launching their own hardware – namely, their Spectacles product that launched to a mixed reception.
The announcement of Spectacles on Snap’s website read: “Imagine one of your favorite memories. What if you could go back and see that memory the way you experienced it? That’s why we built Spectacles…We’ve created one of the smallest, wireless video cameras in the world, capable of taking a day’s worth of Snaps on a single charge. And we integrated it seamlessly into a fun pair of sunglasses–available in three different colors!”
Snap’s bold move into consumer AR is notable because, unlike Google Glass, it’s been able to sort of retain a coolness factor inherent to Snap’s culture. In contrast, urban geeks donning Google Glass were branded “Glassholes” amid a cultural backlash and increasing privacy concerns in the general population.
While Snap Spectacles probably won’t lead the pack in sheer tech prowess, we expect that it’ll help significantly in introducing the social norms and expectations around AR wearables in public. Snap has also made strides with their AR lenses that we are currently see play out in a heated battle with Instagram.
Disney CEO Bob Iger
To give consumers a more immersive theme park experience, Disney is looking at immersive experiences. Surprisingly, Disney seems to think that AR, and not VR, is the path forward.
According to coverage of a recent speech Iger gave at USC Marshall, Iger said that reality-destroying headsets would be “ersatz” at his stable of parks. The report added: “He’s ordered his team not to even think about it…[he] instead talked up the possibility of launching high-tech augmented reality attractions. Those will still probably involve headgear, but the devices will blend the real and digital worlds.
Iger noted he spends each Tuesday afternoon at a Disney imagineering lab sporting a head-worn device that enables him to hold a lightsaber and duel with a Stormtrooper. We’ll have to see how exactly Disney implements AR in its plans, but we hope to see the concept take off in its parks.