Alibaba Is Using AR To Change The Shopping Experience

Do What He Says



Ever since Bill Gates started talking publically about Microvision last summer, one of the most valuable sources of content and inspiration for me and MVIS Blog has been Bill's Home Page on microsoft.com.

Bill's site contains a huge number of transcribed speeches in which he discusses Microsoft's strategy, his vision for the future of personal technology, the importance of software to increasing productivity on a massive scale, and some really spectacular insights into things that you can only get from being, well, Bill Gates.

I think it's constructive to revisit Bill's initial comments on Nomad and Microvision technology that were published in the Detroit Free Press back in May 2005.

"This [Microvision Nomad] is a very cool thing," said Gates, who, despite a conservative dark-blue business suit and tie worn to fit in with the auto execs, seemed every bit the geek at heart as we talked about gizmos and gadgets.

Called the Nomad Expert Technician System and marketed by a Microsoft partner company called Microvision, the device uses the same technology found on Apache attack helicopters.

"This type of heads-up display is a great aid in giving you an informational overlay for complex procedures," Gates said. "It can even be miniaturized further so that you don't have to wear a contraption. The whole thing could fit on, say, a pair of glasses."

"If we look at a 5-year time frame," he said, "we can use the heads-up display in the car itself so that when you're driving and need a map, you are not looking down but it's imbedded right in the windshield, like it is on the Apache."

It also could be used with mobile phones, Gates said, as a sort of wearable computer that provides what he says is "glanceable information."

"The cost still needs to come down before this can be imminent, but if somebody's calling you, this could show you on the heads-up display who is calling," he said. "That would sure be better than going into your pocket and pulling out a phone."

What Bill is saying is that a pair of Microvision scanned-beam display eyeglasses, designed for use with mobile phones, would be a killer app.

Now let's plug in some of his very recent comments on where mobile phones are going:
Of course, we've all seen the incredible explosion in mobile phones. These mobile phones are changing from just being voice oriented devices to being very, very software driven. The ability to browse information of all types, to get your e-mail, to organize your schedule, to check any information about the customer you're going to see, all of that is becoming substantially better. And this software centricity actually plays into the strengths that Microsoft has because we can bring these functions to life.

If we think of a cell phone even four years from now, it will have many new capabilities. It will be able to show you a map of your current location, not just a map in the traditional sense, but even a picture of the buildings, show you the routes that you want to go on, virtual reality indicating the current traffic conditions, indicating if there is any of your colleagues who are in the area that you might want to be in touch with, a sense of how long it's going to take you to travel there.

Although he did not use the term itself, it is clear that what Bill is talking about is consumer augmented reality, in the year 2010. He is talking about Microsoft being focused on delivering consumer mobile applications that really require a personal head-up display.

So it is interesting to me to see this convergence between Kurzweil's vision of 2010, which is basically completely about Microvision as the human-computer interface, George Gilder, who has been advocating the 'teleputer' as a device with retinal scanning displays, and now Bill Gates who is talking about a pair of eyeglasses connected to your cell phone that will tell you who is calling you, provide 'glanceable information', as well as performing transactions and accessing location-based services, in particular, augmented reality services.

Here is the most successful businessman in the history of Planet Earth essentially giving Microvision the recipe for superstardom: Massive, unprecedented success awaits Microvision when they can produce low-cost scanned-beam display eyeglasses connected to a cell phone for AR services.

Now, it's also of interest to me that Bill Gates could probably buy Microvision outright for maybe a week's worth of interest on his checking account and so far that hasn't happened, which is a little mysterious. But I imagine he has probably been pretty busy. (I know a guy who used to work for Bill & Melinda's Foundation -- and giving away all that money takes a huge amount of time, effort and due diligence. I imagine actually buying something would take a while too...?)

Microvision has been accused of pursuing too many different applications for its technology and not putting down bigger bets on those applications most likely to have a big impact. I do not know what better validation there could be of a market opportunity than to have the world's greatest business success essentially declaring that one particular application of your company's technology will completely revolutionize both the mobile phone and software industries.

He can't say it any more plainly than he has. Scanned-beam electronic eyewear connected to a mobile phone, as a channel for AR services, is going to change the world as we know it, within the next four years.

So, let's not try to outsmart this guy. 'Cos they don't come any smarter than Bill Gates.

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