In our review of Amazon's non-augmented reality Echo Frames smartglasses, we made the case for audio virtual assistants being the linchpin for AR wearables.
Given that premise, it's now vital to pay attention to developments in the spatial audio space, the latest of which comes from a popular little startup known as Clubhouse.
If you're not familiar with Clubhouse, you can check out a quick sample via an interview I did on the platform earlier this year.
On Sunday, the startup released an update to its app that includes spatial audio. And while spatial audio is nothing new when it comes to movies and music, the notion of using it to enhance virtual meetings is fairly novel.
Part of the reason Clubhouse gained so much traction in 2020 was due to the fact that it helped to tear down the walls of distance and separation and made many users feel like part of a regular, in-person dinner party. But if you've used Clubhouse you know that it can sometimes get a bit cacophonous with so many voices attempting to speak, especially if the moderator isn't on their game.
What the spatial audio update (available via iOS, and coming later to the Android version) does is make the Clubhouse chat feel more like an actual meeting of people in a virtual room by separating voices and placing them in different parts of your audio arena.
I've already tried it and the effect is pretty impressive. This approach to spatial audio in virtual meetings will be incredibly important to the future of mobile AR.
Developers using devices like the HoloLens and Magic Leap One already employ spatial audio to enhance applications, and some of the more ambitious mobile AR apps also use spatial audio to trick your mind into believing the experience has more substance than fleeting virtual objects.
In the same way that walking into a VR room and hearing a sound "behind" you can make the experience feel that much more real, normalizing spatial audio in mobile AR apps in smartglasses will soon be the default dynamic for giving your AR experience depth and a sense of a 3D virtual environment.
Think of the scene in Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier in which an array of holographic projections virtually meet with a real person in an office building (see above). The new Clubhouse update effectively delivers that experience, minus the stunning special effects-created holographic imagery.
Of course, with apps like Twitter and Spotify having launched audio meeting competitors to Clubhouse, these kinds of updates are expected in order for the small startup to remain competitive. But beyond the audio chat wars, what this really looks like from an AR perspective is yet another piece of the metaverse puzzle quietly falling into place.