Interview With Ed LaHood On ARKit, Thyng 4.0 And Beyond

Apple released iOS 11 on September 12. The ARKit included with the iOS 11 brings AR to the masses since brands such as IKEA and Tesla are prepped to let consumers rearrange furniture and customize cars. With the brand new ARKit app Thyng 4.0, you won’t be confined to pre-built brand experiences and will be able to create virtually any augmented experiences.

With the help of Thyng 4.0, you can create Thyng AR experiences by selecting their own photos, videos, and 3D objects, and attach them to any surface. Thyng is a great way to experience AR firsthand and actively, instead of passively.

Thyng founder Ed LaHood has big ambitions for his highly scalable AR platform. The main reason is that it provides support for both target-based AR and surface-based AR. In an exclusive interview with Anand Narayanaswamy, Ed LaHood examines the usefulness of ARKit, Thyng 4.0 and its impact on the real world scenario.

Can you share with us the advantages of ARKit?

ARKit is big news first and foremost because it brings augmented reality to the masses. Previously, AR was not built into the operating systems of popular devices. That meant that anybody who was building AR apps had to write custom code and use their own proprietary libraries. This was tough to do and only a few brave souls took on the challenge. Now, thousands of developers and companies will be joining Thyng in our efforts to create killer AR apps and platforms, taking advantage of ARKit.

Each entrepreneur, each venture will be carving out their own unique space, whether that’s in gaming, in tourism, in beauty and fashion or any other number of potential application areas. We have our own unique area of focus at Thyng, but when it comes to AR, a rising tide lifts all boats. The more people who are working on bringing AR into the mainstream, the more likely it is to go mainstream. Apple doesn’t have to singlehandedly create a killer app for AR. All they need to do is allow one smart person to come up with the killer app for AR, and, odds are, given the power of AR, there will be many such killer apps. Thyng intends to be in the hunt to be one of those killer apps – we’ve been laying the groundwork for that for the past four years.

Taking another perspective on the advantages of ARKit, it’s important to look at the numbers. When iOS 11 hits its inevitable stride, we will be talking about a massive number of devices in the market that was built by Apple, by some of the top engineers in the world, with a primary goal of enabling great AR experiences. Angelo Zino, a senior equity analyst at CFRA, predicts record iPhone shipments of 241.5 million in the 12 months following the iPhone 8 launch.

The numbers are going to be out of this world. People forget that Apple sold 13 million iPhones in the first weekend that iPhone 6S and 6S Plus were available back in September 2015. Apple stopped releasing weekend sales numbers after that, but on September 19, when iOS launches, the number of people who can tap into the power of Thyng, and the power of AR more generally, is going to start to skyrocket. For folks like us, you couldn’t ask for anything better.

Plus, this only puts more pressure on Google to up its AR game. They’ve launched ARCore which hopes to mainstream AR onto more than two billion active Android devices. Already, they have a specific plan in place that they’ve announced to get ARCore onto 100 million devices, working with Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and other manufacturers.

With Google and Apple both pushing AR so hard, it greatly increases the likelihood that AR will enter the mainstream. For us, that’s great, as we’ve already been developing Thyng for both platforms – Apple and Android – and have been working on our core platform for a long time, while other people are just now getting started with AR.

To be clear, we knew this was coming and we started working on our AR platform knowing that Apple, Google, Intel and others would solve the platform issue for us at some point. Our projection was this would happen in 2018 so we are a year ahead of what we projected, which is great. We’ve been waiting for AR to go mainstream, and thanks to ARKit, we are finally at that point.

People don’t yet fully understand the extent to which AR is going to revolutionize our world. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, a huge AR fan, recently said “You want to watch TV? We could put a digital TV on that wall and instead of being a piece of hardware, it’s a $1 app, instead of a $500 piece of equipment.” We’re already doing that with Thyng. Think about what that does for companies like Comcast, for the movie industry, for companies like Panasonic and LG that make TVs – it’s mind-boggling, and that’s just one application of AR.

What are the benefits of Thyng 4.0?

For many people who try Thyng 4.0, the main benefit is that they are going to experience AR in a hands-on way that will be fun and enjoyable. There are going to be a ton of AR apps that come out over the next few weeks, but what is unique about Thyng is our authoring capability. With a few clicks here and there, you can create AR experiences – interactive 3D environments right on your living room coffee table, for example – that incorporate your own photos and videos. You can take your wedding videos and view them on a virtual TV screen hovering over your table at the local bar. Watching people do it for the first time, it’s amazing. We’ve done with people of all ages, and everyone loves it.

But the thing about Thyng is that there’s much more to it than meets the eye. The initial feature set for Thyng 4.0 is all about enjoyment and engagement for first-time ARers, but we’ve got plans to just keep adding on the features and before people know it they will realize that they are part of a very large Thyng ecosystem. We’re talking about a whole new way to communicate, a whole new way to interact with existing social media platforms, and more. It’s going to be like the fireworks on the Fourth of July. You’ll think “It has to be over. This has been amazing,” and then it keeps on going.

We have the roadmap not only for Thyng 4.0, of course, but all the way to Thyng 10.0, and most of the core code has been written. As I said, we’ve been working on our master plan for a number of years. For us, Thyng 4.0, as cool as it is, is just one step forward in part of our larger vision to create a highly scalable platform for AR that supports an AR ecosystem that will keep a lot of creators and end users engaged, happy and making money. The AR economy is coming, and Thyng intends to be a major driver in its success, along with Apple, Google and a select group of other smart companies that understand this technology’s full potential and can deliver on that vision.

Does Thyng 4.0 improve the productivity of developers?

It’s important to differentiate developers from creators. In our terminology, creators build AR experiences. They envision how real-time 3D rendering, coupled with the power of the Cloud, can create amazing things and they build them. They can do that using tools or they can write code to create. Developers, on the other hand, are coders.

We’ve developed the Thyng platform to support both Creators and Developers. Creators can rapidly assemble amazing AR experiences, and Developers can use the platform tools that we’re providing to incorporate those experiences into great apps. Thyng can accelerate development timelines by years.

What are the features of Thyng 4.0?

Key features of Thyng 4.0 include the following:

Dual support mode for target-based and surface-based AR. ARKit enables surface-based AR. Target-based AR is not part of ARKit, and no other app built on ARKit will support target-based AR. That is 100% unique to Thyng.

The ability to quickly and easily create AR experiences. There will be a ton of one-off AR experiences being announced in the next few weeks, once iOS 11 is out there. Move furniture around in your apartment, experience a car model that hasn’t come out yet, play an AR game, and more. But there won’t be many well-designed, well-executed apps for creating AR experiences on your own.

The ability to bring in your own photos and videos into the AR experiences you create. This makes the app incredibly fun. We’ll also have some cool solutions to bring in your own 3D objects through the cloud!

Those are the key features we are exposing with this upcoming release of Thyng, version 4.0. After that, Thyng 5.0 extends these features into a broader ecosystem via popular social media platforms. Other cool things are in the works for Thyng, but it’s too early to talk about them now.

What kind of experiences can be developed with Thyng 4.0?

The beauty of AR is that the applications are limited only by the imagination.

Here’s just a handful of Thyng environments that can be built, each with its own niche use case.

AR Games – Obviously, the gaming community will be building on the excitement that surrounded Pokémon Go, and you’ll start to see a ton of AR-powered games. The scalability, communications architecture and unique features of Thyng make it the perfect platform to deploy non-traditional games that uniquely tap into the power of AR. In addition, we’re seeing interest from gamers to use Thyng just to quickly prototype AR game characters and landscapes.

AR TVs – Without spending any money on hardware, Thyng can be used to create virtual TV sets that stream in videos and television programming. We’ve shown this potential in a number of our videos, but those demos just tap the surface of what’s possible for TV. When you talk about context-based TV, in which the TVs display content that is relevant to you, to where you are, to what you are interested in, to who you know

AR Commerce – Every commerce function that is currently done without AR will eventually be done with AR, and Thyng is going to be part of all of it. Think about those comparison shopping grids you can create on the web. Eventually, that can all be done in AR with Thyng and you’ll be able to actually see the products right in front of you, virtually via Thyng, to compare them visually.

AR Architecture and Real Estate – There’s not going to be a need to build physical architecture models in the future. You can just build digital 3D versions of new home designs and the like and experience them via AR with Thyng. People who are looking for AirBnB locations, hotels, places to buy or rent? A lot of that will eventually involve AR and Thyng has an important role to play there.

Fun and Social Media There’s so much you can do with Thyng that is simply fun and entertaining. You can bring in 3D models of celebrities into your Thyng experiences, and then shoot videos of yourself hanging out with the celebs. You can bring in your own videos and photos to create cool AR experiences that you show to friends and family. This is a big part of the Thyng 4.0 value proposition now, simply because the novelty effect is a good way to get people to try Thyng, to experience AR. But our ambitions are much greater than that. It’s just a starting point for us.

Next-Generation Communication – This is the big one for Thyng. A lot of people really haven’t thought it through, but AR is going to fundamentally change the way we communicate as humans. Back in 1968, the earliest pioneers of the Internet-connected computers between ACLU and Stanford and allowed them to communicate for the first time. Those smart people, as brilliant as they were, didn’t have a clue as to how the Internet would eventually revolutionize everything. That’s where we are at with AR now. It’s incredibly exciting, and Thyng intends to be on center stage for that journey.

Branding – It goes without saying that brands that don’t start with AR now are going to be left in the dust by competitors that start exploring the medium now. We’ve called on dozens of brand managers at big brands and creative agency, and everyone wants to get started with AR. The smart ones have already, and we’re helping them to do that.

Tourism – You’ve no doubt been to museums or tourist sites where you can scan something with an app and hear about the location’s history. Thyng can enable that same experience, but on steroids. We can bring in 3D characters of historical figures. We can create virtual TV sets that display historical events. For example, you’re at Grant Park in Chicago, and you can instantly see the video footage of the Grant Park 1968 Democratic Convention protester confrontations with the police force. That’s a very powerful way to learn while you travel.

What are the differences between AR and VR?

AR overlays virtual elements into the real world. You’re engaging with the real world but 3D characters, data, video and the like are being brought into the environment, based on your actions or based on the computer code that is powering the experience. AR that’s connected to the cloud, as Thyng is, makes that experience even more powerful because you are part of a larger ecosystem that can connect people, bring in AR elements on demand, tap into cloud-based databases and computer code and much more. You can also do a lot of that via the device that is powering your experience, e.g. your smartphone. All of the other technologies you’re hearing about these days – AI and machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), RFID – can be accessed from AR, so the power of this stuff is going to just amaze people.

VR has that same power to tap into a broader ecosystem, but it’s fundamentally different from AR in that VR immerses you fully into a virtual world. You’re out of the real world at that point. Like AR, it’s going to create some killer apps that will transform the way we work and live. But because AR doesn’t require the immersive devices, e.g. a VR headset, that VR requires, it’s our expectation that AR will go mainstream first – and that’s the consensus of most of the smarter folks who have been working in this field.

Can you share with us as to why technologies such as AR and VR were not popular 10 years back?

Every promising technology has its time to go mainstream. Like water building up on a dam, you can see the potential for the dam to break lose but, with technology, all the factors for going mainstream have to be in place.

For AR and VR, what didn’t we have 10 years ago? We didn’t have the broadband connectivity we have now, the cloud infrastructure we have now, the device-based processing power and ubiquity that we have now. All of those innovations, and many things that are still emerging (AI, etc.), make this a time that AR and VR can go mainstream.

People think this stuff is all new, but every ten years or so, there’s a push to go mainstream. We were active in this space in the nineties, via a different startup that was focused on VR, and all the big companies at the time – Microsoft, Oracle, Netscape, Intel, etc. – were investing in VR, but it didn’t cross the chasm. Big companies need new tech to go mainstream because it creates economic opportunity well beyond the area that goes mainstream.

For VR in the nineties, for example, Intel needed to sell its newer faster chips, but it needed to create a vision for why people would need superfast chips. VR answered that vision, so Intel and all the big companies got behind VR. But then the Internet made it clear there were other technologies – e.g. e-commerce, social media, video streaming, etc. – that were going to create economic growth. At that point, VR funding dried up because there were better uses of capital. In other words, new technologies are not just operating in a vacuum to go mainstream; they are competing against a host of other technologies that want that limelight. One can’t be sure that AR and VR will go mainstream now, but there are a lot of powerful companies that want it to happen, so we are in the hunt again and only time will tell. At Thyng, we want to be part of the power that brings AR to the mainstream. It can’t happen without innovative companies, and though every AR company will compete for attention, it’s important to remember that we all are in it together, in terms of going mainstream.

Can you share with us why VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HoloLens are expensive?

Solar panels, TV, radios, mobile phones, cars, plane travel, space travel– if you think of almost anything, it starts out as being expensive, and then gradually the price comes down. The engine of capitalism converts luxury goods that previously were accessible only to the rich into things that are affordable available to the masses. This is likely to be the case for VR headsets too. As volumes increase, as progress is made on the components, as competition increases, the prices for VR headsets will come down. But that’s contingent on their being a mainstream market for them. The jury is still out on when that will happen. Our opinion at Thyng is that AR will go mainstream long before VR, which means it could be a long road for those headsets, even as they get traction in niche markets like gaming.

For now, unless a big company decides to give them away at a loss to build up the market or grab market share, they need to sell to wealthy individuals at prices and profit margins that keep them in the game. And, by the way, expensive is in the mind of the beholder. Thyng’s legacy and history go back to the nineties when VR was also attempting to go mainstream. Good VR headsets back then were even more expensive than the current headsets, so compared to then, one could argue that these newer headsets are relatively affordable.

Thanks to Ed for providing a detailed explanation to our questions.

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