The world we see with our very own eyes is going to change significantly beginning in 2016.
Since 2007, smartphones have started becoming more mainstream and affordable. Now the world is inundated with them. They're the first thing we pick up in the morning, and one of the very few things we can't leave our homes without. Smartphones can only get so much lighter, faster and bigger before we're no longer really wowed by them.
Next year is going to be the year when we start saying things like "cool" and "awesome" about technology again, because 2016 will be the year of virtual and augmented reality.
There is a difference, however, between virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality (VR) immerses users in an artificial world where, for example, they can be taken to the desert lands of Mars. Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, incorporates objects and environments from the real world so users could battle hostile Martians in their very own living room.
The possibilities VR and AR open up are huge. Even Mark Zuckerberg, who spent $2 billion of Facebook's money buying VR company Oculus, says, "We're working on VR because I think it's the next major computing and communication platform after phones."
As AR and VR are competing platforms, proponents of AR point out that the stereoscopic 3D inputs in VR that are fed into a user's eye-brain system are "incorrect." Rony Abovitz, CEO of AR company Magic Leap, says these near-eye stereoscopic 3D systems "can cause a spectrum of temporary and/or permanent neurologic deficits."
Between the two, however, AR keeps it as real as possible and we'll focus on that as we look into how AR could reshape the way we use technology in 2016.
Fun With Print
The print industry has been in decline as we've spent more and more time in front of screens. That could change with FUNN Magazine, the world's first "100 percent holographic magazine." The company behind it says they've "backwards-engineered a brand new futuristic-style of magazine."
Compatible with smartphones and tablets, every page of FUNN has been programmed with holograms, videos and buttons floating above each physical page.
It's a good first step into the world of AR, and it is, in fact, quite cool. Think of the old-school pop-up books we read as kids layered with technology that literally makes those glossy magazine pages come to life.
Catch 'Em All, For Real
What if Pokémon could actually be caught, trained for battle and traded in a real world environment? That's the mission in Pokémon Go, the first Pokémon game for smartphones coming out next year.
Pokémon fans both old and young alike can use their smartphones to "capture" any Pokémon they might happen to find while traveling in the real world. Being at the beach, for example, increases the chances of a player finding and capturing a water-based Pokémon.
The technology for the game was developed at Google, and was tested in Niantic Labs' game called Ingress, a game that uses a player's location and smartphone camera to battle for control of public spaces.
An All-Seeing Robot Vacuum
Perhaps robot vacuums are getting too smart, Equipped with AR controls, the LG HOM-BOT Turbo+ vacuum cleaner can clean areas identified by owners using the camera of any smartphone.
Using LG's app, homeowners can simply use their smartphone camera to point at a specific location in a room. The HOM-BOT Turbo+ will then go to that location and start vacuuming.
The LG HOM-BOT does more than vacuum, too. Its Home-Guard feature turns it into a sort of mobile security robot dog that can patrol a home and send photos to the owner's smartphone when it senses unauthorized movement in the house.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab Fluid Interfaces Group, researchers have invented an app that attempts to reprogram our physical world.
Called Reality Editor, the app makes use of augmented reality by allowing a user to map a virtual interface directly on a real world object. Using that virtual interface, a user could then control the tangible object around them.
In a world where the Internet of Things is slowly but surely invading our homes, the developers of the Reality Editor believe that poking around apps and dropdown menus to dim a light doesn't make things easier.
Just like flipping a switch, using the augmented reality equipped Reality Editor could help to reassign functionality from one object to another and help declutter both physical and app interfaces.
Going right back to where we started, Magic Leap may be the main force in making AR mainstream. The company and the product it is building are still in stealth mode but that hasn't stopped it from collecting $1.4 billion in venture capital funding.
There really is something magical about making something that wasn't there magically appear before our very eyes. A blue whale jumping out of the hardwood floors of a gym and splashing back down into it like it was water, for example, is pure awesomeness.
The video below showing the potential of AR with Magic Leap's technology says it all. The year 2016 cannot come soon enough.