From Magic Leap to Magic Cheap

The cardboard headset hoping to thrust mixed reality into the mainstream

When spectators at the 2014 Google I/O developer’s conference were presented with a piece of cardboard as their exclusive gift, eyebrows were raised. However, the tech community soon realised the sheer brilliance behind Google Cardboard. The DIY headset has been instrumental in bringing Virtual Reality to the masses, requiring only a smartphone and costing $15. Businesses quickly began to create their own low cost, easily distributed cardboard headsets, and suddenly VR was taken out of the hands of developers and placed firmly into mainstream society.

VR benefitted massively from cardboard viewers, and now a new $30 headset is hoping to do the same for Mixed Reality. The Zapbox, produced by AR and VR experts Zappar has launched on Kickstarter and in the words of Zappar’s CEO Caspar Thykier, will turn MagicLeap into Magic Cheap.

What is MR?
We all know what VR is, and thanks to the success of a certain augmented reality game most of us have heard of AR, too. Mixed Reality, however, is another story. It’s easy to get confused between the three terms, but the distinguishing feature of MR is that it enables real time interaction between virtual and real content. It’s received far less attention than AR and VR, but it looks like this is all about to change. Microsoft is perhaps the biggest tech firm to use the terminology ‘Mixed Reality’, marketing HoloLens as an MR device that lets the user interact with holograms in real world environments. HoloLens sounds great, but it’s got a hefty price tag. Pre-orders currently sit at $3,000 per unit, which is more than a little costly for most people. That’s where Zappar’s new headset comes in – offering Mixed Reality that is accessible and affordable. It’s exactly what MR has needed in order to break into mainstream culture. Costing around the same as dinner at a decent restaurant, ZapBox is something that the majority of people can afford. You’re not just getting a headset, either – the product comes with two handheld, cardboard controllers and a set of ‘pointcodes’, which are placed around the room. The ZapBox app recognises the points and places virtual objects on top of them which the user can then manipulate. Just like Google Cardboard, the headset works in conjunction with a mobile phone. Considering the sheer number of people who now own a smartphone, that’s a huge potential market.

How disruptive is MR?
At the moment, ZapBox is about entertainment and catching society’s eye. Zappar’s company aim has always been to bring AR and MR to the masses, and through its cardboard invention this goal could be realised. As fun as ZapBox may be, Mixed Reality isn’t all about playing virtual golf in your living room. Through accelerated adoption curves and funding to match, MR could do brilliant things for certain industries.

First of all, there’s the training aspect. Imagine if you could help an inexperienced surgeon by overlaying the patient with a synthetic guide during an operation. The technology could also be applied within manufacturing, production and construction, as employees use digital plans to create products and structures more efficiently with less margin for error.

When it comes to a marketing perspective, if ZapBox takes off, businesses are going to want a piece of the action. Companies will create their own headsets to offer customers brand-inspired MR content. . . and that will only extend MR’s sphere of influence. For AR companies like Blippar and the eagerly awaited HoloLens, Zappar’s cardboard headset could be both a blessing and a curse. For one, Zappar have beaten their rivals and created a cheap consumer item that will extend their influence. However, at the same time the headset enables the expansion of MR and AR as a whole – which is ultimately a good thing for companies looking to push Mixed Reality into wider adoption.

In short, Zappar has given MR the chance to break into mainstream culture by giving consumers an affordable, easy-to-use Mixed Reality experience via ZapBox and a smartphone screen. MR has potential in entertainment, healthcare, manufacturing, production, and in training as a whole. Even if ZapBox itself isn’t particularly successful, it’s created much needed buzz around the term ‘Mixed Reality’. The product will officially launch in April 2017, but for those desperate to get hold of the cardboard, Zappar are offering a developer’s program that gives prospective designers access to the ZapWorks platform.

How could your business use Mixed Reality? Have you experienced Mixed Reality? How successful do you think ZapBox will be? Comment below with your thoughts.