The Spatial team is not finished innovating augmented reality in 2020.
Just days after adding a mobile option to its groundbreaking Spatial virtual collaboration product, the company is releasing Tele, a new app aimed at more casual, AR-powered video chat.
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The Tele app uses the same simple avatar creation process as Spatial, which allows you to take an existing face photo on your phone and wrap it around an avatar. You can also just take a selfie and use that photo for your avatar.
Once the creation process is complete (takes about a minute to process) and you anchor it to your face using the app̵
The effect is perfect for friends who want to feel like they are video chatting in each other’s homes. Of course, with the increase in video chat, some may wonder what the use case is for this app. From my point of view, it’s simple: video chat fatigue. It’s one thing to have an occasional video chat before a big meeting, but by 2020, many of us will have learned what it’s like to have video conferencing fatigue.
Putting your computer in the right angle, fixing your hair and / or make-up, making sure that the lighting is right … nowadays a video chat (if you do it right) is like a mini TV production. That can get tiring after a while, especially if the virtual meeting is not business and is just an informal conversation if you’d rather not set up your mini-studio. With Tele you get the advantage of seeing someone’s ‘face’ while also working with them in AR in a real environment. Think of it as a small step towards those kinds of holographic sci-fi messages and conversations you’ve seen in movies Star Wars.
My only complaint so far is how the app forces you to give access to your contacts. This is a major annoyance of mine, especially with new apps and companies still building a track record of being able to be trusted with your data. In the case of Spatial, being familiar with the team, I’m pretty comfortable giving access to my smartphone’s contacts, but an opt-in option would have been much better. As it stands now, if you don’t allow access to your contacts, you just can’t use the app. (I realize this has been the trend with new apps for years and has become common practice, but I still don’t like it.)
But back to why I love this app. Purely strategic, what Spatial is doing here is incredibly smart. The primary Spatial app is clearly aimed at business customers, but why should all that development work be used “only” for business users. Tele allows casual social media users to take part in some of Spatial’s AR development without any learning curve in terms of using the app.
It was very, very smart to split this casual, more social aspect of the company’s work into a separate app. We are currently seeing how not following your audience can stunt a growing app or social network. While LinkedIn is laser-focused on business users, Twitter is all over the map with casual, social, and increasingly politically minded users, so it gets difficult to understand exactly Who Twitter’s main target audience is, and as a result, which public Twitter should work to serve.
Speaking of Twitter, the company has just started testing the Twitter Spaces audio chat feature, which resembles a clone of the popular Clubhouse app. This is just months after Twitter launched a radio-style feature that doesn’t seem to get much use, a Stories feature (aka Fleets), which is basically just a tag-me on the heels of similar features from Snapchat and Instagram, and years after the company unwisely closed Vine (which could be considered TikTok before TikTok). Lack of user focus didn’t work well for Twitter.
On the other hand, Clubhouse’s new audio chat app thrived early on as an invitation-only community focused on business. But as the community has slowly opened up and the invites are now easier to find, much of the conversation on Clubhouse has shifted to dating and entertainment rumors, a shift with some users already wondering if the app will be around for a long time to come, especially now that Twitter Spaces is coming. The point here is that focus can make or break a great app. In the case of Spatial, the launch of Tele tells me that the company’s co-founders Anand Agarawala and Jinha Lee understand that biting early and keeping an app focused and purposeful – Spatial for business, Tele for fun – is the smarter way.
I haven’t tried to push the Tele app to its limits, but so far it looks like you can video chat with up to four friends in AR, with their bodies floating in your real space. You also have the option to just interact with your friend’s avatars against a flat, colored background if seeing them in AR is a little too compelling for your taste. It’s a slick solution tailored to the challenges social distancing faces the world in 2020.
Finally, those of you with Android phones should know that this free app is (for now) only available for the iPhone, requires iOS 13 and is compatible with the iPhone 6s and newer and most recent versions of the iPad.