PARTNER INTERVIEW: Ahead of a keynote speech at Mobile World Congress 2018, Cher Wang, chairwoman of HTC, updated Mobile World Live on the progress of the company’s strategy around VR and 5G.
MWL: Where are we on the journey of AR&VR into the mainstream?
Cher Wang: Our HTC VIVE is already delivering on the promise of virtual reality – it is powering many medical applications in wide use today, and at the heart of many enterprise applications, such as design and development collaboration, used by global car companies and many more. Companies are rapidly recognizing the potential of the technology for enhancing business processes, especially those involving transnational teams.
And there is no doubt that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will become mainstream for consumers too; they will become ubiquitous like smartphones are today, but even more deeply ingrained into our everyday life. In turn, AR and VR will become the must-have portal to information and experiences.
It took time before everyone owned a TV, then a PC, then a smartphone, but when it happened, everyone had one and our life changed. I see the progress of transformational technology as a marathon; we are getting there steadily.
I believe that 5G will accelerate wider adoption of AR and VR, as it will enable devices to access artificial intelligence (AI) and super computing power in the cloud to unleash all kinds of new possibilities.
5G will be a critical component of Super Reality – what we at HTC call VIVE Reality – which is the convergence of AR, VR, AI and high-speed connectivity, as well as other exponential technologies, which will unite with humanity to unleash human imagination.
What do you think will be the biggest applications of VR/AR?
That’s like asking, “What is the biggest application of a smartphone, or a personal computer?” The answer is everything! Work, learn, play, connect, and just about everything else. It is how we will access all our information and experiences.
But AR and VR will bring even more. Human senses are 3-dimensional. So, a fully immersive interface will enable even more applications than what is possible today. There are so many potential applications that it is impossible to highlight a single killer app. The key to driving any new platform is compelling content. While consumer apps like gaming tend to grab the headlines, there’s a whole world of content out there that allow us to explore our planet, that provide immersive training environments, and that set free our creativity. The ability to interact with people all over the world in multi-player applications will be invaluable in broadening our perspective and developing greater understanding and appreciation of other cultures.
From classrooms to hospitals to shops to museums, AR and VR are starting to make in-roads in our lives, with apps that enhance our experience and bring real, practical benefits to people’s lives.
In what ways will the worlds of AR&VR converge?
We believe that AR and VR belong to the same virtuality continuum, so the future will be about providing the technology appropriate for each use case. Future headsets may have the option to block out reality to enable VR when you are indoors, and once you step outside, become fully transparent to enable AR – all on the same device.
Overlaying reality or replacing it with a digital view allows one to start with a broad view and go deeper. For instance, surgeons or product designers may have a collaborative discussion in AR, then enter deep VR simulations to show detail or practice in a more immersive environment.
The technologies are evolving in parallel as well, with external cameras, wireless design, inside out tracking, lighter form factors, and 5G as important factors.
Content creators for AR and VR will be able to leverage their knowledge in either field to make compelling content in AR and VR as the hardware and software technology continues to converge into a unifying mixed reality device.
Where does AI fit into the AR&VR landscape?
AI will help our devices know us better than we know ourselves. It will act like a trusted assistant who truly understands what we need and provide instant help. AR and VR will be the ultimate portal to access the power of AI. At home, at work, at school and all around us, AR and VR will interact with AI to provide the most appropriate environment and information for us.
For example, AI in schools will be like an experienced teacher, fashioning individualized lessons for each student, by truly understanding their needs, strengths and weaknesses. AI will enhance productivity at work, reliability and quality in the factory, efficiency in our transport systems and security in our home and workplace. Healthcare is a huge area for AI and big data, both from a medical perspective – from diagnosis and treatment to doctor training – and a consumer perspective, helping us keep as healthy as we can through fitness and the monitoring of our vital signs.
AI will add intelligence to all things and people. It will be integrated into our everyday life.
What will 5G bring to AR&VR that will enable the next generation of immersive experiences?
The power of huge bandwidth and ultra-low latency of 5G will be transformational. With speeds in the tens of Gigabits per second, we can access information and experiences at the blink of an eye. No more waiting for downloads, video buffering, or undesirable latency. No need to stay within wifi range. 5G will set us free of connectivity restraints.
Our devices will be able to leverage super-computing power and data in the cloud, reducing the need for local computing power. This means cloud-based VR and AR with real-time, deeper, more engaging, and unlimited applications, as well as longer battery life as we reduce on-device processing.
5G-enabled cloud computing will make every AR/VR terminal the most powerful device in the world, providing more immersive experiences than ever.
What opportunities will technologies such as VR&AR&AI present for mobile carriers?
In the era of 5G, mobile carriers will increase their value share in connectivity-enabled services. With super bandwidth and mobile Edge computing available on their data transmission infrastructure, carriers will be able to provide incredible VR/AR/AI experiences to mobile users around the world.
With AR and VR on 5G, we can seamlessly access all kinds of content: multiple-player VR/AR games, streamed media, super high quality video or VR calls, or instantly access information databases. This represents a huge demand for data transmission, and a sizeable business opportunity for carriers. Also, multi-Gigabit download speeds will largely negate the need for public Wifi, further increasing data transmission opportunities for mobile carriers.
Why is HTC positioned to be a leader in this market?
HTC is uniquely positioned as a combination of VR ecosystem leader and a mobile innovator with a strong, proven track record. There isn’t another company like us.
We have 20 years of deep expertise in mobile innovation, including a proven record of industry-leading implementation of wireless technologies such as the world’s first 3G phone and first 4G phone. Next is 5G and we will continue to lead.
In our two decades, we have developed leading capabilities in ergonomic design, optical and acoustic application, hardware and software implementation and integration, leading wireless technologies, manufacturing quality and fulfillment flexibility. We have also built up strong global channel management and carrier relationships.
In three short years, we have established ourselves as the global virtual reality ecosystem leader, through our best-in-class HTC VIVE systems, global VR experience store VIVEPORT, our VIVE Studios in-house content team and the leading VR/AR accelerator, VIVE X. And we have a clear vision: to unite technology and humanity to unleash our imagination.
As we merge our capability as a VR leader and a proven innovator in mobile and wireless technologies, you will see a stream of innovations that will push the boundaries and deliver the promise of VIVE Reality: where VR, AR, AI and high-speed connectivity converge to unleash our imagination, and make the impossible become possible.