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Robert Scoble is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. Scoble is best known for his blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technology evangelist at Microsoft. He later worked for Fast Company as a video blogger, and then Rackspace and the Rackspace sponsored community site Building 43 promoting breakthrough technology and startups.
He currently works for Upload VR — a new media site covering virtual and augmented reality — as its entrepreneur in residence, where he develops new shows, events, and works with other entrepreneurs in the Upload Collective, a coworking space for virtual reality-focused startups.
Fragments Game on Microsoft Hololens
Robert’s Challenge; Get VR. Use it to connect with others. If you don’t, you’ll be out of business.
Connect with Robert
If you liked this interview, check out episode 118 with Kevin Kelly where we discuss the inevitable forces that will shape our future or episode 111 with Kash Dhanda where we discuss virtual reality and building a digital marketing agency.
Aaron Watson: Smartphones and mobile are gonna be coming next in the form of virtual and augmented reality. So definitely a conversation that you're going to want to be paying close attention to and taking notes for. So here is Robert Scoble.
You're listening to going deep with Aaron Watson.
Robert. Thank you so much for coming on, going deep with Aaron Watson. I'm excited to be speaking with you today.
Robert Scoble: Hey, it's really, really great to be here.
Aaron Watson: We've got lots to talk about but starting off with your new podcast inside AR and VR, and that obviously stands for augmented and virtual reality.
This is a current passion for you. Something you're really sinking your teeth into over at upload VR. So, I wanted to start off with telling the story of maybe when you realized that this is the next big platform for digital. I know you've got a book coming up talking about how we're moving past the mobile generation, but if you can kind of start us off there with where that realization came from and what's got you so excited about AR and VR.
Robert Scoble: It's been a process. I mean, I, first saw VR, I don't know, 20 years ago when my friend owned a store. Flight simulators run by an STI box that takes you back, and there are a few of us old people who are around for the first wave of VR, but this new wave is being driven by mobile because mobile is providing the R and D money to work on optics on screens, on sensors, on AI and other systems that are in mixed reality glasses.
I realized this was real at web summit, when I'm Oculus, when Facebook or Oculus was showing off one of its an Oculus rift prototypes with what would become the touch controllers back then. And it was amazing, and everybody who came out of the room, you know, was amazed and used an expletive when they came out, you know, something like holy shit, I couldn't believe it, that's possible right? And yeah, that was pretty much it, that was off to the races, but the book came out of work. That's been going on all the way back to 2011. When I interviewed Mateo CTO, Mateo was the augmented reality leader back then. And apple promptly bought them after the interview.
And I believe that they're one of the teams that's working on the next day. So, yeah, that it's been a process, you know, over the last couple of years, it's just been obvious to me, but by talking to people and seeing what's coming from VR and seeing the kinds of money that's being invested in VR. That's something really important is happening.
Aaron Watson: Yeah. And you've made some exciting predictions, both about the upcoming Apple products, but just in general for the field, and you mentioned all the research and development that's going into it.
Robert Scoble: Yeah.
Aaron Watson: You're also very kind of clear about where there are still shortcomings or obstacles to overcome it. And that was kind of my impression. I've tried different versions of VR summit south by Southwest this year and Thrival, which is a Pittsburgh, similar conference. And there was the one where it actually is actually, I think McDonald's was hosting the thing, but you were painting within a virtual box and that was completely immersive.
And like that was a game-changing experience for me. But I also had experiences where it was maybe just the headset and actually got like a little sick. So can you talk a little bit about what obstacles there are still to overcome and maybe what the difference was in those types of experiences?
Robert Scoble: Yeah. There's a lot of physics for VR. I mean, today, if you want six degrees of freedom, VR, and that means you can move around and play basketball with your friends over the internet, right or shoe, or, you know, walk around things or climb in the climb. You need six degrees of freedom to do that. And to do that today, you need some sensors that are looking at you so that the system understands where your controllers are and where your head is.
And that's way too nerdy way too expensive. The headsets are way too heavy, still, you know, on and on. And, and then, you know, its early days, so there's really not a lot of really amazing content, you know, there's a little bit and certainly enough to, you know, keep you in throttled for a week playing it, but pretty quickly after playing it for a month or two.
You go, man, I'm bored. I've played all the cool stuff and there isn't any more to play, you know? And that's a function of headsets. Right now, you know, the HTC Vive is sold around a million. The Sony PlayStation sold a few million, maybe three or four like the Oculus rift is sold around a million.
The Samsung Gear VR sold a little bit more than a million. And Google's given away a bunch of Google cardboards. I'm sorry. That's not enough headsets to get Hollywood excited because Hollywood gets excited when there's hundreds of millions of potential viewers, and they're just not the potential viewers out there.
So Hollywood is not going to throw a hundred million dollars into a film for this yet. It's not there, but what we do have is pretty damn amazing and I believe that Apple solved the headset problem by the end of 2017. And, and if apple solves it, everybody will copy apple and therefore we're off to the races, you know?
And then we'll see who really comes out with it. A brilliant design or a brilliant software, because a lot of this stuff is software and that's something, I don't know what Apple's doing. Right. I have some guesses, based on who they bought and based on how many engineers they have, they have 600 engineers working on just the 3d sensor, that kind of thing.
But, yeah. It's still too expensive, too big, and too dorky, and normal people haven't had it on their face yet, so they don't even know what's going on. They hear about VR and go, “wow, that's something free for kids”. You know, the average person hasn't had a chance yet to even give it a try. So, that should all change by the end of a year from now.
Aaron Watson: Yeah. A lot of entrepreneurs listen to the show Robert and one of the things that I'm fascinated by is there's clearly the avenue for immersive experiences, whether that's gaming or other, you know, where you're fully locked in having that singular experience with virtual reality.
But there's also the augmented reality or mixed reality side of things which you know like you're saying what would move somewhere beyond a headset and maybe be a set of glasses. We see like the very, very early stages of this with Google Glass or Snapchat spectacles. And I'm curious, you know, I can remember barely when the first time we started talking about Amazon or these kinds of online e-commerce platforms and the discussion of, well, eventually this is gonna be, you know, most of the commerce that's going on.
It's still not the entirety of it, but you-- my family spent most of our Christmas shopping on Amazon, as supposed to being in the mall. And I'd imagine that there's kind of a similar future coming where a lot of the holiday shopping or shopping, in general, would be in a virtual reality platform. So can you speak a little bit to what maybe is on the near horizon with that and how you see that changing commerce and advertising in the future.
Robert Scoble: Oh man. First of all, everything's about to change. The technologies that are coming at us are a bigger change for the tech industry than we've ever had. End of discussion. What we're getting with mixed reality and Microsoft HoloLens is the first, you know, real credible effort here.
It is a glass that puts stuff, puts virtual stuff on top of your real world. So, if you walk into a shopping mall, you're gonna ask it, you know. Hey, I hate Siri or Hey, Cortana, “where’s the blue jeans in this mall?” And for blue jeans will appear in the air, different brands and different brands underneath of who's selling them.
You know, maybe Nordstrom's is selling, I guess, jeans, maybe a Levi's and selling Levi's jeans and stuff like that, where the gap is selling Levi's yet jeans. And so let's say I need Levi's jeans. I clicked on it with my finger or my eyes because there's eye sensors. And, say, take me there. And all of a sudden, a blue line appears on the mall floor taking me there and I follow the blue line and it takes me exactly to where those jeans are and at the gap, that's how everything's gonna work.
You're gonna go to you know, sporting event and you got to see stats on top of the players. As they run down the field, you're gonna go to a museum, and you're gonna see videos about the artists next to the art that you're looking at and on and on. Everything is gonna change and everything about entertainment’s certainly gonna change.
And that means there's gonna be a new kind of advertising. I believe every brand is gonna have a virtual component to it. Virtual articulation about what that brand is and what it stands for. And we're already seeing that Sephora is already building augmented reality makeup and their augmented reality makeup works and works today on an iPhone.
You can get their app, download it, look at your face, put pink lipstick on your face, on your lips, and see what it looks like. And the virtual makeup, the augmented makeup is color-matched to the real makeup. So if you buy the real product, it matches what you saw on your face, with the virtual product, right?
And every brand is going to have to do that in the next 10 months because as soon as you figure out Apple's coming with it, this kind of product, you're going to be investing, right, in innovation. Otherwise, you're going to go, you're not going to be innovative anymore. And if you don't get into this, right?
Aaron Watson: Absolutely. And you mentioned Cortana or Alexa or Siri as these virtual assistants whom we're interacting within these virtual or augmented worlds. And that is another interesting component. I bought Amazon Echos for a bunch of my family this year to-- cause there's also this movement from text-based computing to computing, where you are speaking with the computer and training yourself to be able to do that, I think is just a great skill for people to start learning.
And that kind of leads me to the next question of, as we move in this direction with more virtual reality, clearly familiarity is going to be valuable. But for someone who maybe isn't necessarily building tech or an explicit tech skillset, what skills are going to become more important or where can people build competencies now to benefit from this shift that's going to be happening?
Robert Scoble: My advice is, to brands and to people who work in strategy and stuff like that, you have to get VR today. There's not enough. It's not an option anymore. You have to get VR because VR is the stepping stone to what really is coming and it'll teach you. It'll teach you how it works. It'll teach you how to build software for it because unity is the development environment that VR and AR is going to use.
And it starts thinking, get, getting you to think about a user interface. That's spread all over the world. That in other words, it's a 3d user interface. They use your fingers to control your eyes and VR is how you are starting to get used to this and how you're learning about how customers are going to react to it.
And if you don't have a VR system like an Oculus rift or a Vive, you're not in business in this business and you will be forced to get into this business in 10 months because Apple is coming, but why not get in there earlier? Because if you want to be on stage with Apple and, you know, be a modern, innovative company you need to be in VR today.
Aaron Watson: One last question then we'll start wrapping up, Robert. It seems as though there is a general positivity to your view of this kind of new transformation that is coming. Would you say that you are generally optimistic about this kind of next stage of digital innovation?
Robert Scoble: Yeah and that optimism comes from owning it.
This is why you have to own it. You have to own it. There's no option. You can't go to make Microsoft store for an hour and think, you know everything about VR. It's not going to happen. I've had it all summer and I'm still learning a lot. And I'm certainly learning by having my friends come over and play it and watching my kids play it.
And I know it's going to be huge because of that experience. Everybody loves it. And when it gets cheap enough and gets small enough, it's going to explode and that's called an Apple. Apple, Apple, Apple. And if everybody, who wants to be an innovative company, understands that, then they're building for it already.
And they're going to be ready for when Google comes in and Microsoft comes in and magic leap because there's hundreds of billions of dollars being spent in this world. Now on this new technology, augmented reality, that's coming and it's quite stunning. You know, and here's one thing. I have a Microsoft HoloLens, which puts virtual stuff all over your space.
And there's a game there called fragments. And you have to go through and map out your room, and then it puts a murder into your room and there's rats crawling on the floor and there's stuff on the walls and that, and it's on your walls because it knows where every surface is in your room. Right.
And it's stunning. There's nothing like it. You can't do this on TBU or in movies. So there's a new world coming and it, we all know it's coming and, you know, in the next three years, Apple's coming in 10 months.
Aaron Watson: So people can definitely get ready for apple and hop on that train when it comes. But if someone is really feeling inspired..
Robert Scoble: No, you're not going to be ready if you want to be on stage with Tim Cook like if you're a let's say you're a hotel chain and you know, like Marriott is number one, right, or
Aaron Watson: Yeah.
Robert Scoble: If you want to be on stage with Tim cook saying, “Hey, we just designed augmented hotel of the future. It's like Disneyland, come in and bring your apple, a new apple phone to a Marriott property and see how cool it is.”
You have to be building now. You can't start building when Apple announces something you have to build before Apple announces something. And that means you have to have faith with Apple is actually doing something important, but Tim Cook has been telling you that he's doing something important for the last eight weeks. He's every week he's been mouthing off to the press, AR is coming.
It's going to be huge. So if you don't believe Tim Cook, then you're just not a rational business person. You're just not a rational business person. You should just quit your marketing job today and go home. Right?
Aaron Watson: Absolutely. I totally agree. Having tried it out, there's definitely something cresting on the near horizon. I'm with ya. And I hope that people will hear this and get inspired to get educated.
Robert Scoble: I mean, magically we've got $1.4 billion dollars without having a customer without having a product. And why? Because they showed off credible mixed reality. And in a fantastic optic that turned out, they couldn't make it. So they're going to more standard optics, which are still mind blowing.
Keep in mind, everybody, I put a HoloLens on, this is absolutely mind-blowing. And, the HoloLens is too big and too expensive and not high enough resolution yet. And the viewing angle isn't there yet, but it's still mind blowing even with all those problems. So we're way ahead of where the apple too was, right?
In terms of kicking off a new industry and in the next year, you're going to see another version of HoloLens, which will be a lot smaller. How good will it be? We'll see the guy whose building says, you know, version two is going to be a big improvement and version three is going to be the one you want to own.
Well, that's three years away, right? So we're about to get version two and see how cool the Microsoft one is, when it is and how, and then we'll go see apple and apple is the big event because apple has a brand that Microsoft doesn't have. And, Apple is a brand that people want to wear on their face and which is a prerequisite for this new world and its, and they own, the best companies they buy.
You know, Tim Cook for the last seven years has been working on this next iPhone. Been buying a lot of companies for billions of dollars. So it's gotta be a lot of fun.
Aaron Watson: Absolutely. And you are going to be covering it both on the podcast and in the other forums where people follow you. If people want to connect with you in the digital world, Robert, where can we direct them?
Robert Scoble: The best place is Facebook and that's where I put most of my effort but coming in 2017, you'll see me spread my effort out to a few places. But you always find it on Facebook. The other places like the podcast and the newsletter and other efforts that we're doing.
Aaron Watson: Fantastic. We'll be sure to link to that in the show notes for this episode, but as we do at the end of every interview, Robert, I would like to give you the mic a final time to issue an actual personable challenge for the--
Robert Scoble: But, I think I already laid it down, get VR and tell me why I'm wrong, but you have to do it from a credible place, which means you have to play it, you know, 20 hours of VR first. And then you can tell me how I'm wrong. But so far nobody's done that. I get VR because one it's fun. Number two, your kids will love you more. It's helping me out with my kids because I am the cool parent on the block right now.
I have VR and nobody else does right and it helps you figure out what's gonna work in this new world and it will help you iterate into that new world in a reasonable way. Instead of you being forced to in three, in three years, you're going to have to do it if you're a business strategist, right. Because it's going to be so obvious that if you don't do it, you're out of business.
And three years from now, if you're going to have to hire a unity of programmers and get a software team working together and, and being creative, that's really hard to do from the, from zero to a hundred miles an hour, right? It's really easy to do right now because you have to go to 10 miles an hour this month, 20, the next month, 30, the next month, 40 in the next month, 50 the next month.
And you can figure out how to do that in a calm, measured way right now, I, if you wait you're not going to be successful and I can show you how that happens.
Aaron Watson: I love it. I think a lot of people are going to be inspired and take the challenge. And I think another thing that just kind of baked into that challenge, that was interesting was the idea that you're using to connect with your family.
You're the, got the cool house on the block that other people are coming to try it out. And really the idea that VR can be an avenue to connect and not kind of the dystopian separation between people. I think that we kind of take social networks in their current form for granted and what they can turn into on a virtual reality platform can be pretty exciting.
Robert Scoble: That's a good point. If you get VR, you understand where things are going and if you're building software and building a company that $3,000 is not going to be a major expense. You know, I understand this step is expensive for normal everyday people, but I'm not talking to normal everyday people here who are listening to that show, I'm talking about business strategists, people who are going to drive major companies, you got to get into this.
It's not going to be optional soon.
Aaron Watson: Awesome. Well, I'm sure people are gonna be inspired. Robert, thank you so much for sharing your time and wisdom with us today. We just went deep with Robert Scoble hope everyone out there has a fantastic day.