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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Pandemic Diary: April 19th, 2020 (Please Do Not Worry About Me)

This morning, I am reading a story from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune newspaper, about an Ironman triathlete in his thirties (clearly healthy by any standard, and fitter than most people) who very nearly died from COVID-19.

Coronavirus survivor Ben O’Donnell (source)

If this is not a warning that the young and healthy are not immune to COVID-19, I don’t know what is. And, as someone who is not-so-young and definitely-not-so-healthy, it is worrisome. I cannot get this virus. I will not get this virus, even if I have to self-isolate in my apartment until there is a vaccine (which is estimated to take 12 to 18 months, if things move at hyperspeed).

Many of you who are reading this blog have reached out to me to express your concern. I want to assure everybody that I am coping as best I can under the circumstances. Yes, it means that some days I will not lie and say that everything is fine, because frankly, some days are rough.

But I will continue to do the best I can to take care of myself, and reach out for help when appropriate. I check in with my psychiatrist who prescribes my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications biweekly, and I have now entered into a second counselling relationship with a friend of a trusted friend, who has experience with peer counselling in a healthcare setting and has worked as a volunteer at a crisis hotline.

If things get bad (and by “bad”, I mean that my chronic clinical depression makes a serious and long-lasting resurgence), then I will do what needs to be done, go back on sick leave from work, and focus on getting better again. I know the drill; I’ve had it happen to me before and I will get through this. The last time I went on sick leave for depression, I was away for two-and-a-half years, but I fought my way back (with the help of virtual reality, which I firmly believe got my neurons firing properly again) and I have every intention of fighting just as hard if the blackness and bleakness descends upon me again.

Back then, I wrote:

I’ve been under a doctor’s treatment for depression since my mid-twenties, and I probably would have benefitted from seeking treatment even sooner than that. At times, my episodes of depression have been so severe that I have had to go on extended sick leaves from work. I’ve even been hospitalized twice when I was at my very worst. I have had to work very hard to crawl back from the edge of the black pit of despair, more than once in my life.

I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.

I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!

Some would no doubt argue that too much use of a VR headset is isolating, which I can understand if you are only playing solo games, or spending innumerable hours immersed in VR. However, in many games, and especially in most social VR spaces, you are often interacting with other people, which would counteract the isolation aspect somewhat. I also strongly recommend taking the time to build up your tolerance to VR, starting from sessions as short as 10-15 minutes, and building up slowly from that. I am a little concerned when I hear about people who boast logging 5, 6, 7, 8, or even more hours at one stretch in VR. Everything in moderation is the key here.

And when you’re too depressed to set foot outside your front door, it can sometimes be easier to slip on a VR headset to visit people and places! No need to get dressed up, or to put on your “happy face” to face the world. There have often been times in the past when I have felt extremely anxious, and I was able to load up the Nature Treks VR app in my Oculus Rift and relax on a calm, sandy beach lined with swaying palm trees, listening to the pounding surf, or just put myself within a mountain-ringed meadow of wildflowers, watching birds and butterflies. Much cheaper than an actual flight to a vacation spot! And you can revisit any time you like, with very little fuss.

I do find it ironic that the empty space I cleared in my bedroom to use my wireless Oculus Quest VR headset is now piled with canned goods and other pandemic preps! However, I still have my trusty original Oculus Rift VR headset, which I still use almost daily. In fact, I even brought home the Oculus Rift and Touch from my work computer (purchased for my suspended research project), sitting in its original box in the middle of my messy living room, and I can honestly say that I have an emergency back-up unit in case any part of my current Oculus Rift/Touch setup fails on me! (The cable attaching the Rift to my high-end gaming computer seems to be the thing that gives out first, according to various user reports.)

When I went to pick up my upholstered office chair last week to soothe my raggedy ass (link is quite safe for work), I also took home my work PC’s ergonomic keyboard and wireless mouse, in case either of those on my personal computer goes kaput on me while in self-isolation, Yes, I have worn through a couple of keyboards and mice in my day. At the moment, I have literally rubbed off the letters on some of the keys on my Microsoft ergonomic keyboard! Good thing I am (almost) a touch typist.

One final note. And I am going to put this is boldface type to make it extra clear:

I use this blog to vent.

In other words, this is an outlet for me. If I am having a bad day, you will most certainly hear about it. This does not mean that I am in any imminent danger of self-harm. It just means that I am complaining about things that are going wrong and how I am feeling, just the same as I would complain to my best friend or my Mom or my shrink about having a bad day.

Some people (in those oh-so-far-away pre-pandemic days) would go to the gym or to the bar and complain to their workout friends or their drinking buddies. I complain to my internet community: to my Discord server, to other Discord servers I belong to (and believe me, I keep bumping up against that 100-Discord-community limit all the time!), to the Second Life community forums (everybody knows Vanity Fair is Ryan Schultz, honey!), to my social networks like Twitter and Reddit…you name it. I have outlets, and I know how to use them. I’m sure you do too, if you think about it.

If what I share here on this blog concerns and worries you, and if you choose to reach out to me to check that I’m doing okay, God bless you for your thoughtfulness and kindness. But please, be assured that I know what I have to do to take care of myself. It’s been learned through 56 years of trial and error, sometimes the hard way, but I have learned.

So please don’t worry overmuch about me if I do vent here. It’s just steam and a whistle from a kettle, and the water has been boiling at quite a pace this past month.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Facebook Horizon Launches its Closed Alpha

Facebook is really moving forward on the Facebook Horizon social VR platform project, despite (or perhaps because of) the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, they launched their platform, still in closed, invitation-only alpha. More details are here.

Somebody posted the following image to the r/OculusQuest community on Reddit, and it has sparked quite the discussion:

(If you can’t figure out what this is, it is the program information page for the Facebook Horizon app, as seen within the Oculus Quest VR headset.)

Apparently, Facebook has been very choosy about who got a highly-prized invitation to the closed alpha. Even if you did receive the two emails that Facebook sent out, and signed the NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), that was no guarantee that you would be accepted:

It’s still a lottery even after you sign a NDA. I noticed in one of the Facebook Horizon groups on Facebook. A guy mentioned after he returned his NDA Facebook rejected him. So it’s the luck of the draw.

One person wrote:

Ha, there were so many people the other day saying the development stopped or failed since it was removed from the Coming Soon section. Crazy folks. Facebook is not going to stop development and it’s going to kill when it does release, I can guarantee it.

To which I replied:

Well, there’s absolutely no guarantee that people will actually *use* it. Other social VR platforms have struggled mightily to attract users (e.g. High Fidelity, Sansar).

One problem is that, on Facebook Horizon, you won’t be able to be anybody but yourself, as I wrote about here.

Lots of people use social VR platforms and the older virtual worlds to be SOMEBODY ELSE, not have it tied to their real-life identities.

Interesting times…stay tuned for further news and developments!

The Coronavirus Pandemic Continues to Impact Supplies of Virtual Reality Headsets

If you are looking for my blogposts about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, please click here


The virtual reality news website UploadVR has reported:

Valve warned us that supplies for its Index VR headset would be limited when it went back up on sale this week. And it wasn’t kidding.

Within less than an hour of going back online, the full Index kit is backed up to shipping after eight weeks. In fact, people on Twitter report that that was the case around 30 minutes in to them going back on sale. Some users also had trouble completing their orders, which may have lost them an early unit. The headset on its own ships between eight to ten weeks and Index controllers are scheduled between three to five weeks. Base stations by themselves are totally sold out, too.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S also remain heavily backordered. In quite an unprecedented situation for VR, it’s now practically impossible to buy an Oculus or Valve VR headset through an official online retailer…

Basically, if you are waiting to purchase an Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift S, or Valve Index, you’re going to be waiting for several more months. The only VR headset that has not been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is the HTC Vive, which is manufactured in Taiwan. In fact, this global public health crisis might actually lead to more business for HTC.

HTC Vive Logo