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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UPDATED! Social: The First Social Augmented Reality Experience for the Magic Leap One

We’ve talked a lot about social virtual reality apps on this blog, and looked at numerous examples of social VR. But this one is a first: a social augmented reality (AR) app has been announced for the brand-new Magic Leap One headset!

Social 9 Aug 2018.png

Just announced via twitter by Savannah Miles, who is leading the social and avatar chat team at Magic Leap, Social is the name of a newly-announced Magic Leap One experience that is coming sometime later this year. According to the product page:

Build Connections

Share experiences, follow your friends and join other creators to explore this new frontier together. Build, personalize and accessorize your own custom avatars with a suite of creation tools. Soon, you’ll be able to hangout with people from around the world in the comfort of your home.

Make Magic Together

Spatial computing is meant to be shared. Soon, Cast will let people in the same room see what you see, when and where you see it. Plus, since with Avatar Chat you’ll basically be in the same room, they’ll be able to see the same content and applications, too.

Express Yourself Like Never Before

Coming this fall, Avatar Chat will take full advantage of Magic Leap One’s perception features such as 6DoF, headpose, eye tracking and hand tracking to create a feeling of real presence. So wink, wave or throw a high five because you’re going to meet some super expressive avatars.

Social 2 9 Aug 2018.png

UPDATE Oct. 13th: The Road to VR website reports that the Social app (renamed to Avatar Chat) is scheduled for release next month:

Magic Leap is slowly broadening its app offerings, and as a part of the company’s next steps to move forward to a fully-fledged consumer product, the company today announced at L.E.A.P. Con, the company’s first developer conference, that Magic Leap One is getting a bit more social in the next few months.

Savannah Niles, Magic Leap’s Designer Lead of User Experience, took the stage today at L.E.A.P. Con to announce that the company will be rolling out “a suite of products” to enable multiuser experiences on Magic Leap One—something that’s been missing up until now.

The opening gambit: Avatar Chat, an AR chat app that allows multiple users to connect remotely, with the ability to be represented by customizable avatars.

Image courtesy Magic Leap

In the quick clip of Avatar Chat, we saw Magic Leap One detecting gestures, eye blinks, and the ability to manually select emotions, represented by emojis.

UPDATE Nov. 17th: Magic Leap has just released a new promotional video for Avatar Chat, which shows us a few more of its features:

Magic Leap One: Why Reviewers Are Disappointed with the New Augmented Reality Headset

Magic Leap One.png

Magic Leap has generated a ton of media buzz and hype over the years. We’re finally getting our first independent hands-on looks at the product.

Magic Leap invited The Verge to Florida for a one-hour, hands-on demo of the Magic Leap One, an augmented reality (AR) headset that projects 3D images into reality. And the reviewer was disappointed in what she saw:

And the Magic Leap One, which is now available for sale in the United States only, is extremely pricey for new technology: starting at US$2,295, it’s easily more expensive than an entire computer set-up for the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive VR headsets. And, as the reviewer states in the video, there’s little content available for it, and what content there is demonstrates the drawbacks in the platform, such as the restricted field of view.

Another mixed review by CNET points out another serious drawback to the Magic Leap One, at least for me:

There’s one huge drawback to the entire experience of putting a Magic Leap One on my face: It doesn’t work with glasses. My handlers asked for my prescription before I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, and pop-in prescription lenses were supposed to be provided for my demo. But it turns out my prescription broke the mold. I’m -8.75 in one eye, -8.25 in the other — too strong.

The verdict? Interesting, but it’s probably best to check back in a year or two, unless you’re a fanatical early adopter. I’m quite content with my Oculus Rift headset, and I’m in no hurry to upgrade/switch.