Minecraft Earth should be the first AR Killer App

And Microsoft should build a cheap AR headset just for it

Summarizing a tweetstorm from 5/17/2019

I'm legit excited about Minecraft Earth and I think it is a killer app for consumer augmented reality (AR) hardware. It feels like it's going to be the first mainstream AR lens that has a chance at serious staying power, as it has great mindshare, is creative and social, and gives power to community (vs hardcoded pokestops). Microsoft has also been a great steward for the Minecraft brand and isn't likely to make amateur mistakes on it.

Unfortunately, Microsoft's HoloLens strategy is not aligned with Minecraft Earth right now. It's about pushing tech to max field of view + resolution which adds serious bulk and expense, and it's aimed primarily at the corporate and developer communities.

Consumer AR hardware is in a weird spot, as I think Google has the right hardware approach (Google Glass size/cost) with the wrong software (nothing of note), and Microsoft has the right software approach (Minecraft) with the wrong hardware approach (HoloLens size/cost). This is symptomatic of there not being a mainstream killer app yet for AR.

The situation is understandable. When building hardware sans killer app, you kind of get stuck with serving many (hypothetical) masters, as you imagine many use cases that in reality are years away from being addressable. This is sort of the HoloLens situation - bulky hardware attempting "general AR".

Meanwhile, with a killer app you gain exceptional focus - you only need to do the minimum to enable that app. For example, the original Apple Watch killer app was notifications (and maybe heartrate). That's about it, it was otherwise super slow and pointless. But that was enough.

In AR/VR, "immersion" is the default goal sans a killer app, and field of view (FOV) is what delivers that. But big FOV = big hardware. With a killer app like Minecraft though, people will want anything that delivers the AR experience, even if the hardware specs aren't cutting edge.

With the launch of Minecraft Earth, there's now an opportunity to create a small $199 purpose-built, no-input headset with postage stamp FOV and Minecraft. I think this should be Microsoft's next move.

Minecraft Earth is something that would get kids to wear a cheap headset around on the daily just to be connected to what their peers are doing. The network effects on this are strong as physical space gets built out and community forms around it. We've seen a hint of this from Pokemon Go, which is just a game and completely lacks the creation that makes social networks so compelling.

For kids without the means to get the headset, they can still use their smartphones to access Minecraft Earth. This means the addressable market remains large enough to benefit from network effects, something that new hardware rarely has (this is a variant of the "cold start" problem, often seen with new video game consoles).

No tweetstorm about AR is complete without mentioning input. A $199 device in 2019-20 would purely be discovery-oriented, letting you see what's happening in world without pulling out a smartphone. Basically notifications for place-based content (see the parallels to Apple Watch?)

But, just like Apple Watch with notifications, an always-on cheap AR headset is great for discovering content in Minecraft Earth - much better than the smartphone that's in your pocket. And just like Apple Watch's tethering to iPhone, when you come across content in Minecraft Earth that you want to interact with or create, you just pull out your smartphone!

Over time, input tasks will at least partially move over to the AR headset. As I mentioned in my last AR tweetstorm, gaze tracking with standardized input patterns is the long term solution. But with Minecraft Earth as a killer app, a read-only version 1 is probably good enough. Here's to hoping Microsoft sees this as an opportunity.