Spatial, Originally a Social Augmented Reality Platform, Expands to Virtual Reality and Offers a Free Version During the Pandemic

When I first wrote about Spatial back in October of 2018, it was a social augmented reality (AR) platform which only ran on the first generation of AR headsets available for purchase by consumers: the much-hyped Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens.

(By the way, if you are looking for definitions of terms such as augmented reality, I have compiled a handy list of definitions for my blog readers.)

Since I wrote that first blogpost, Magic Leap has struggled, laying off about half its employees in April 2020, and choosing to focus on enterprise users instead of chasing the consumer market. (It is interesting to compare the recent troubles of Magic Leap with that of Sansar and High Fidelity. In all three cases, the lack of the previously-confidently-predicted massive consumer uptake of VR/AR/MR/XR headsets led directly to their downsizing and restructuring.)

Well, VentureBeat reported on May 13th, 2020 that the company is making Spatial available for free during the pandemic, and they are now supporting the Oculus Quest standalone VR headset:

First, the company is offering multiple months of free access to its premium-level Spatial Pro enterprise service, including support for users without full-fledged AR or VR devices. Businesses will be able to share any Spatial room with team members using just a web link, enabling desktop, laptop, and small device users to join meetings with a web browser, no download or headset required. Spatial’s headset UI has been carried over to the web, enabling 2D screen users to easily observe the 3D spaces.

Second, Spatial is making an Oculus Quest app generally available today, including a “much improved experience” compared with the prior private beta. Although Facebook hasn’t announced sales figures for the hybrid standalone and PC-tethered headset, Spatial characterizes the repeatedly sold-out Quest as “the most widely available XR device today” and says it has refined its user interface to make the experience easier for new users.

Here’s a screencap of Spatial’s pricing page, reflecting this change:

Spatial is free during the coronavirus pandemic!
Spatial is now available on the Oculus Quest, Microsoft HoloLens 1 and 2,
Magic Leap One, and Via Desktop/Flatscreen Web and Mobile Devices

Now, choosing to expand to include the popular Oculus Quest wireless VR headset is a smart move. Facebook does not disclose sales figures for the Quest, but some have estimated (based on game sales) that the company has sold approximately 425,000 Quests in 2019. Contrast this with the poor sales reported of the Magic Leap One:

The Information‘s Alex Heath is reporting that Magic Leap managed to sell just 6,000 units of its $2,300 Magic Leap One headset in its first six months on sale, a figure made worse by CEO Rony Abovitz’s internal claims that he wanted the startup to sell at least one million units of the device in the first year, a goal the report states he was later convinced to rethink — Abovitz later projected the company would sell 100,000 units in the first year.

Of course, such sluggish sales were one of the reasons that Magic Leap essentially gave up on trying to sell to the consumer market, and focused squarely on the corporate market. (Microsoft is a little more forthcoming with its HoloLens sales figures, but at roughly 50,000 units reported sold in 2018, they also are dwarfed by Quest sales.) It only makes sense for the company to add a headset which beings more potential customers—and, hopefully, enterprise sales—to the table. Spatial already boasts Ford, Mattel, T Mobile, Purina and Pfizer among its corporate clients.

Here’s an 11-minute YouTube video demonstrating how Spatial works on the HoloLens 2 AR headset, from 2019:


I happen to own an Oculus Quest, and normally I would leap on an opportunity to test-drive Spatial, except for one small problem: the large space I cleared in my bedroom for my Oculus Quest is now piled high with my pandemic stockpile of non-perishable food, Lysol disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper! So obviously, that’s not going to happen. So I am going to have to rely on second-hand reports on how well Spatial works with the Quest (I am rather curious to know what differences would appear in someone using Spatial in virtual reality as opposed to augmented reality.)

In a separate VentureBeat article, reporter Jeremy Horwitz waxes rhapsodic about his experience using Spatial on his Oculus Quest:

I’m not often at a loss for words, but as I re-entered the real world after my second holographic media briefing this month, I realized that I was struggling to speak or type. Mentally, the sensation was awe — my sincere belief that I had just experienced the future of remote work and meetings…

The breakthrough here is Spatial, a collaborative workspace app that just became available for the popular Oculus Quest VR headset. It’s not hyperbole to say that Spatial has unilaterally reignited my enthusiasm for the Quest, which has recently gathered dust on my desk, as the potent pairing enables me to quickly participate in 3D group meetings filled with multiple realistic participants. Instead of using cartoony avatars or floating video tiles, Spatial users appear as “holograms” with real faces, motion-sensed head and hand movements, and even lip motions keyed to their live voices.

The text under the three smaller pictures along the bottom of this image, which is a bit hard to read here, says:

– Create your 3D-realistic avatar from a single selfie in second
– Your avatar comes to life as you talk, move and interact
– Shake hands and high-five each other

So, if anybody out there wants to try the free version of Spatial on their Oculus Quest, and write up a review, I would be happy to provide the blogpost for a guest review! Thanks! I hope somebody takes me up on my offer.

If you want to learn more about Spatial, you can visit their web page, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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The Immersive Learning Research Network Partners with Educators in VR to Host the iLRN Conference in Virtual Reality, June 21st to 25th, 2020: How You Can Attend for Free!

I’m not sure how I missed it, but the Immersive Learning Research Network is among the many organizations that have decided to completely move their real-world conference this year into virtual reality (here’s the press release):

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN) has made the decision to host its IEEE technically co-sponsored annual conference for 2020 fully online and in virtual reality (VR), supported by a number of other software platforms. iLRN will offer this conference, now in its sixth year, in conjunction with Educators in VR, the organizers of the highly successful Educators in VR International Summit that was held in VR in February of this year, which included over 170 speakers and attracted over 6,000 event attendees.

The iLRN Annual Conference is the premier scholarly event focusing on advances in the use of VR as well as augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and other extended reality (XR) technologies to support learners across the full span of learning—from K-12 through higher education to work-based, informal, and lifelong learning contexts. iLRN 2020 had been slated to take place at the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, California, USA from June 21 to 25. The conference dates remain the same despite the shift to the virtual format, though the deadline has been extended for work-in-progress academic papers as well as for practitioner presentations, workshops, panels, and special sessions to April 19, 2020.

And, as Educators in VR reminds us in this tweet, early-bird registration for students, faculty, teachers, and educational administrators is free! But you have to register by April 19th, 2020. Here’s the form to get your free tickets via EventBrite (please note that you must use an email address associated with your educational institution to take advantage of this offer).

Immersivt Issues an Updated English List of Social VR/AR Products for Virtual Meetings

Niclas Johansson of the Swedish company Immersivt (whom I have written about before) has just published an updated, English version of his report titled The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Meetings with VR/AR.

Niclas and I have one thing in common: we both are absolutely ruthless in hunting down social VR and AR products for our respective lists! In his updated list, I notice he mentions the following products, which I have not heard of before:

  • SculptrVR
  • Masterpiece
  • ARCall
  • IrisVR Prospect
  • Agority/Spinview
  • Flowtropolis
  • Alloverse

So, this means I get to do some more exploring and reporting! Watch for new blogposts about these products over the next little while. The marketplace for social VR/AR/MR/XR is indeed getting crowded!


Thanks to Vytek for the heads-up!

Editorial: It’s Time to Reorganize My Comprehensive List of Social VR Platforms and Virtual Worlds

Classifying Social VR/AR and Virtual Worlds:
“One of these things is not like the others…”

My comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds is starting to get rather unwieldy, with almost 130 separate entries! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would grow to this size, after only two and half years of blogging!

So I am going to have to spend some time pondering how best to break down this list by category. In effect, what I am trying to do is establish some sort of taxonomy of social VR/virtual worlds, hardly a task for the faint of heart! So, it’s probably going to take quite a bit of time to do this, and I will probably do it in stages.

The first and easiest breakdown would be to form three groups as follows:

  1. virtual worlds which do not support virtual reality and augmented reality (e.g. Second Life);
  2. social VR and other virtual reality platforms (e.g. Sansar);
  3. social AR and other augmented reality platforms (e.g. Avatar Chat for the Magic Leap One headset).

According to a recent report from The Information which was widely re-reported by many mainstream tech media news publications, Apple’s plans for an augmented reality headset (something similar to the Oculus Quest) have been pushed back to 2022, and they don’t expect to release a real pair of AR glasses until 2023. It’s going to take significantly longer for new and improved augmented reality goodies to reach consumers, but we can expect that trickle to turn into a flood of products by the middle of the next decade. How that will impact existing VR products and platforms is unknown. Nobody can say for sure how VR and AR will co-exist as consumer products.

Virtual reality is much better established, but still facing a bit of an uphill struggle to attract more end-user consumers. As I have said before:

So, it would appear that those social VR platforms that do have in-world economies can’t attract large numbers of users, and the ones that don’t have in-world economies might be popular, but obviously can’t keep running indefinitely without a means of generating profit. It seems like a Catch 22, a rather hopeless situation at this present point in time.

Add to this the fact that the 900-lb. gorilla in the room, Facebook, is planning to launch their own social VR platform in 2020, and you’ve got a situation that must be keeping the CEOs of these various companies up at night, pacing the floor, wondering how, when and where it all went wrong.

The bitter truth is this: most of those 130 products on my list are NOT going to survive, thrive, and grow into profitable companies. A lot of companies rushed into the marketplace and built these platforms with stars in their eyes, but building a platform is only the first hurdle in the race. You also have to know how to promote your product, which means you have to have a clear understanding of what market need it is meant to address—something which some companies have thus far neglected to address. The adage “build it and they will come”, as major metaverse companies such as High Fidelity and Linden Lab have come to realize to their chagrin, is simply not going to work on its own. Even mighty Facebook has stumbled in previous social VR attempts, such as the godawful dud of Facebook Spaces.

I look at failures to launch, such as MATERIA.ONE (formerly Staramba Spaces), which had such a ludicrous concept to begin with: virtual worlds linked to celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan. I for one was hardly surprised when they suspended project development. I have even heard that some of the people who invested in their cryptocurrency now want to file a lawsuit. This example is typical of many of the blockchain/cryptocurrency-based virtual world projects that I have seen so far, where greedy investors leaped in before doing their homework, expecting instant profits. Caveat emptor!

Those companies that choose to focus on a niche audience (e.g. ENGAGE in education), and those companies which have small, nimble development teams (e.g. NeosVR), are going to fare better than the big boys in this interim period. Every company is going to have a Plan B to get them through the leaner-than-expected next few years.

And, in the meantime, I will reorganize my list to make it more useful for my readers. Any suggestions would be appreciated, thanks!