It's 10 years in the future, and you're headed to work. Instead of sitting down at your computer monitor, you put a small headset over your eyes — the size of a thin strip of glass — and gaze at four jumbo screens superimposed over your normal field of vision.
Then you reach inside one of the screens and pull out an object you're curious about (say, a model of the human brain you're using for research) and spin it around a bit.
This is the future envisioned by Meron Gribetz, the founder of augmented reality company Meta. Gribetz demonstrated the latest version of the Meta platform at February's TED conference in Vancouver. After his talk, I had the chance to demo it in person. It's not quite ready for the mass market, but don't be surprised if you're using Meta — or something like it — in the coming years.
Augmented reality is a technology that puts a virtual layer on top of the real world. Instead of completely taking you out of real life like virtual reality, it adds a new hologram-like dimension to the everyday.
As Tech Insider's Steve Kovach previously noted, augmented reality is basically the "ultimate gadget," projecting whatever you want right in front of your eyes.
Founded in 2012, Meta is one of a handful of notable players in the space (others include Microsoft's HoloLens and Magic Leap). The latest iteration of Meta, known as Meta 2, is geared towards developers. Priced at $949 for pre-orders, the developer kit is set to go on sale in the third quarter of this year.
Gribetz says that Meta's big differentiator is its focus on bringing the technology into the workplace. "Anyone doing something in their professional lives to make the world better will use our applications to make that a kickass experience," he tells Tech Insider. "We care very much about making this a tool used in every office in the world, every art studio in the world."
Gribetz's vision is to make Meta a collaborative device, allowing people to share information without being "hunched over rectangles and fumbling with buttons," as he said in his TED talk. Architects will be able to collaborate on 3D models of buildings. Office workers will work together on giant interactive spreadsheets.
During my demo, I got a taste of what Gribetz is envisioning. After being fitted with the headset, he guided me through a series of experiences. I walked around a super high-resolution model of a 3D globe, watched TV on a thinner than humanly possible screen, typed using a real keyboard as text showed up on a computer screen only visible in augmented reality, and made a 3D Skype call with one of Gribetz's colleagues.
No matter how closely I peered at each object, the resolution never became grainy.
Meta was also intuitive. When I wanted to pull a sneaker seen on Amazon.com out from the screen to inspect it more closely in 3D, I only had to make a fist, stick my hand "inside" the object, and pull. Manipulating objects was a simple as touching and moving them to my desired location. This didn't always work perfectly, but by the end of the demo, I was confident in my ability to use Meta.
Still, the technology is not quite ready for everyday use. The headset is just too heavy. It's so heavy, in fact, that I couldn't imagine wearing it for a few hours, let alone an entire day.
While competitors like HoloLens and Magic Leap are standalone devices, Meta has a tether that needs to be connected to a PC. You can think of it like the Oculus Rift, which requires connection to a powerful computer, as opposed to the Gear VR, which is a standalone device powered by your phone.
Gribetz knows that Meta's form factor is a barrier, but he's more focused on software than the actual hardware. The headsets, he predicts, will eventually be replaced by those thin strips of glass I mentioned earlier.
"You can begin to replace traditional computers three years from today, and shortly thereafter your phone," he says.
It's an ambitious timeline, but after experiencing Meta in its early stages, I want to believe.