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Why data privacy will kill AR before it even starts

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Dear UX designers and futurists - PLEASE (for the love of God) do not force us to wear AR glasses at work! I'm here on a mission to present a viable alternative. And maybe data privacy (of all things) might be one thing we're missing? Before I talk about the "Personal Cloud", lets talk shop....


I'm sensing hostility; I'll explain. Of course I see the potential of AR....

A man waves across a crowded cafeteria,
I don't recognize him at first, but a summary of our last conversation is pinned to his chest with his nametag.

or maybe...

I run through Central park, hugging the corners of a virtual racetrack,
grabbing gold coins from advertisers that'll pay for a coffee later that evening (because I left my wallet in the hotel).

Sure, that's compelling. But after the Zoom-pocalype of 2020, I'm don't want ALL my time to be spent in an holographic future.

I want real people at my birthday party, damn it, bluer skies - not more blue light. I want to interact with technology on MY terms, and have it disappear when it's not useful. AND I DON'T WANT TO WEAR GLASSES FOR 8 HOURS A DAY AT WORK ... after eye surgery I deserve to go contact commando.

But maybe as data privacy evolves, so will our concept of the future?


In 2018, I was working on an innovation project at the SAP Apphaus in Heidelberg, a tragically-hip red brick building where a team of brilliant designers were discussing the future of UX.

We sat on beanbags, drank craft soda, and tossed around the idea of a digital "passport" that stores all of your data, including...

  • What apps do you have access to?

  • What permissions do you have to view / add / delete / modify data?

  • What data libraries do you require to run specific apps, things like save files, personal files, lists, reports?

  • How do you want your profile personalized? How much information do you want advertisers to have.

This passport would be your DIGITAL TWIN, across all your apps, a collection of everything digital that makes you unique.

I didn't know it at the time, but ideas were in motion to create a new era for SAP, a massive pivot to the cloud, and the formation of the the Business Technology Platform (BTP) - the idea that our data shouldn't really live in a single app, that it can exist in a larger ecosystem where our software works together in the cloud....

The OS for business in the cloud is, without a doubt, the Business Technology Platform (BTP - more on that later)....

So, if we're building an alternative to the AR headset, we need to pick up two other technologies. First, eye tracking.

Adobe's Character Animator software accurately tracks my face in real-time

Next, we'll need authentication. We can login to our accounts with Apple Face ID and Window Hello. As a society (as much as it makes us nervous) we're coming to trust facial recognition (as long as we trust the software vendor providing it).

To recap....


Recipe for your own Personal Cloud

Mix together the following technologies

  1. A digital passport (containing all of your personal app data)

  2. Eye tracking

  3. Face recognition

You won't need to login, to turn anything on, there no keys, no credit cards...

The cloud knows who you are, what you're looking at, and what you're looking for.


As we augment our landscape (instead of our faces), our Personal Cloud tracks our gaze and identity.

  • Youtube videos play in the window pane of your train window.

  • You're late for a meeting, icons indicate your ETA and travel directions on public signage as you pass.

  • You sit at a public computer and the screens shift to your desktop, all of your software ready to go in an instant.


We have screens and transparent surfaces everywhere. What happens when we can apply intentional design to every pane of glass? every car windshield, every glass-top desk surface?

How will the Personal Cloud change the way we design user experience?


Don't believe that users can have a good experience with cloud compute?

Even now, we see cloud gaming on shared servers overtaking user owned devices. Google Stadia is a next generation gaming platform that streams to thin-client devices.

Everyone thought Stadia was a joke, until Cyberpunk 2077 - the most infamous game of 2020 - ran better on Stadia than commercial gaming consoles.

Cyberpunk 2077 was too power-hungry for consumer devices, but Stadia owners played happily on Smart TVs and iPads.


Stop and imagine ... a single GUI for everything that matters in your business.

Need a wholistic view of a customer? BTP gives apps access to your CRM pipeline, from contracts, your production data, procurement parts on order, engineering changes, field data, survey data, government databases, and external data sources like Twitter and LinkedIn.

And with a front-end like SAP Analytics Cloud, you can answer new questions, like...

  • If we have to change a product, how does that impact sales?

  • If the customer asks for changes to products, process, or quality, have we implemented them? Is it possible to implement them, and what will it cost?

  • What will be the impact of sunsetting a product? Will they be happy with a replacement?

  • Even something that SHOULD be simple ... have any of our employees gone to work for them? Who? Will they put in a good word?

SAP clearly leads the world in two things: data integration (as validated in the Forrester Wave) and process expertise.

This has been their vision of the future all along. Their strategy was priescient when you de-constructed traditional PC architecture with HANA (removing memory / processor write constraints) and even moreso with the pivot to cloud.

If a company consists merely of compute and storage, then any solution would suffice. But a company is more than ones and zeros.

When you want to make a science out of business process execution, SAP is the one studying processes of the best run businesses. If you want an OS to run your business on, a stable enterprise architecture where you're free to run a hybrid landscape of Best of Breed solutions, SAP is the clear leading integrator.


But what does this mean to the future of UX (and AR, to be specific)?

AR's technical hurdles are the least of our worries. With wireless transmission and edge computing , 5G's low latency will move most of the compute to the cloud, where the processor's workload will only be screen rendering and sending gyroscope signals. The real constraint that we're all ignoring is the human inside the glasses. What do they need to be more efficient?

Finally, what else can happen when a UX exists in the cloud? Imagine multi-screen scenarios:

  • I drive to a fast-food takeout window and the screen on my dashboard synchronizes with the digital signage.

  • My podcast follows me around the house.

  • I can start an email tapping on a window pane, start a predictive algorithm in a cloud container, and go have lunch. The cloud finds me when the predictive job completes, and asks me if I want to send the email.

  • I have four transparent tablets. Each represents a company function - like HR, finance, or customer quality. When I stack them on top of each other, the screens act as transparent layers, and the graphics adapt to show different stories, with cross-functional data (by our powers combined!!!).


As a culture, we'll decide how much data companies can access. We'll need to think about what types of authentication we need, what devices can access data (and how), and the rules of engagement.

At the same time, humans are fundamentally afraid of the unknown. How much autonomy are we willing to grant the cloud (and the companies running it) in return for a better experience?

In the end, our relationship with technology is unclear. It's complicated. But we can see clearly enough to know there are ways to augment our world without glasses. Perhaps with intelligent design methodologies we can play with AR where it makes sense.

But we want a greener world, no car keys, no credit cards, no screens getting in the way of old-fashioned, human eye contact.

In the end, maybe we really can cut cords and leave all of the tech behind; it can be unobtrusive, available when needed, but otherwise fading into the background. I mean ... the cloud's not going anywhere.

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