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Interview with Oculus' Jason Rubin - Part 3: Augmented Reality

I sat down with Jason Rubin, VP of Content at Oculus, on the Sunday before GDC 2017 to chat about the challenges the company faces in bringing virtual reality to the mainstream. In the first part of my talk with Rubin, he talked about how the company views its relationships with third-party developers. Part 2 focused on the challenges Oculus faces in building a viable standalone untethered VR HMD. Part 3 of this interview looks towards the future of headmounted displays with a focus on augmented reality. 

One area that Oculus has not entered yet that I think has a tremendous amount of upside is augmented reality. How do you look at it from a content perspective? Last year, we had Pokemon Go come out. Which by all definitions is not a great app. 

Nor is it augmented reality, it is location-based camera passthrough.

It is barely AR, marketed as AR, and not even that fun of a game. Yet millions of people have downloaded it, and it has gotten AR into the public’s mind’s eye. Oculus has been developing for stereoscopic imaging and all these things that could be used in AR, how is the company looking at AR from a hardware and a content perspective? I know Mark Zuckerberg is interested in it from a Facebook perspective, how is Oculus approaching AR in 2017? Where do you think AR fits on the Oculus timeline?

As you said, Mark has announced that he and Facebook are very interested in it. Right now, Oculus is focused on pushing VR to the largest amount of consumers possible. What I would say about AR is that the potential is incredible. We’re all excited for it. It’s definitely coming, but if you look at the hype curve that VR just went through to the trough of disillusionment where we now realize that it’s going to take a little bit of time for that hockey stick take off, which we’re all still very confident is coming. AR has an even harder challenge to get through that, so the hype is there right now because they are not out. Where VR was 3 years ago with the hype, they are now, but their trough is going to be even deeper because what it takes to get AR working walking around city streets and also not looking dorky, which is a big challenge that we don’t have because you’re generally sitting in your home or somewhere in privacy, is massive. Oculus is not focused on that right now. We are fully focused on bringing VR to the masses and we think in the near future VR is where the masses are going to be. 

I think that the challenge that you are mentioning with AR is that no one has cracked the nut on form factor. When it comes to Rift, I think Oculus has created the most comfortable VR HMD. The decisions you have made with materials, the headstrap, and where the cable goes clearly had a lot of thought put into them. As someone who just likes tech in general I would like to see Oculus try to do something in AR, but I understand given the limititations that you guys see why you just keep doing what you’re doing.

When you dive into the challenges of AR, it makes VR look easy and VR is not easy to get right. I am absolutely positive that AR is a big part of humanity’s future, but right now we’re focused 100% on VR. I also think that when AR is a thing and it’s doing really well after it’s gone through its trough of disillusionment and is kicking in, VR is still going to be a big part of that future because people will say “okay, I know when your birthday is and I am getting all my maps” and all of the amazing things AR can do which I don’t want to underplay. People will still want to get out of life. They are still going to want to go to a dungeon or watch something like Henry in the future or a Pixar movie. They will still want to step out. That’s just AR without any transparency. VR and AR are really one in the same and eventually will interplay with each other.

It feels similar to Gear VR and Rift. The products are currently evolving in parallel and eventually they will converge.

They will absolutely converge.

It also feels like AR and VR are also evolving in parallel and eventually they will converge as well. Sadly, I seems like we are in a millisecond culture, where it’s not “what have you done for me lately?” it is “what have you done for me in the last millisecond?” In that environment people want to know what’s coming next especially when we look at augmented reality. How far away do you think we are from a true convergence device?

That is beyond my scope. That is probably something for Michael Abrash to talk about. Somebody who is at the cutting edge. My world is not today. My world is very “what can I do in the next year to push VR forward?” I know there are very smart people out there who are looking decades into the future. I have my opinions, but they generally relate to the things that I am doing on a day-to-day basis. So I’m probably not the best person to ask about that. There’s a lot of technical challenges that I don’t fully understand about AR because it is just not part of my day-to-day work.

I don’t think anyone fully understands AR.

Well that’s probably true too.

No one has really cracked that nut yet. We don't know the definitive hardware solution for AR.

We don’t even have a good screen answer to get greater than a little TV screen in front of you. It is far away. Think of how many years before the Rift came out. We had the DK1 that people could buy online, take home and do what they wanted. There’s no such thing right now, there just isn’t such a thing in AR. There’s Hololens for $3000, but again it’s just a subset of what you would want for an AR device. So I can’t even give you an answer in AR. It will be awhile. My daughter, who is 3 and 1/2 years old, I am sure it will be in her life but I will be quite old by that time and say “I don’t need that.”

We’ll be so old by that time that we may say we don’t need the brain implant for AR.

Yeah, like my grandma never got to email, I may never get to AR, but we’ll see.


The conclusion of our interview with Jason Rubin will hit the site tomorrow. In the meantime, check out Part 2 of our interview about the challenges of untethered VR and Part 1 about Oculus' unpublisher relationship with third party developers.

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