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AR Business World # 4: AR Transforms the Spreadsheet

In 1979, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston invented the first electronic spreadsheet, the first killer app. In the next 37 years, not a whole lot else really happened to it. Sure the graphics got better, and the power of hardware enabled the sheer size of a spread sheet to go for thousands of columns and rows and number crunching is a bit faster . But the truth today--as it was in 1979--is that a spreadsheet is just a spreadsheet.

That is enough to designate it among the great killer apps of computer productivity. Microsoft says there are 1.2 billion MS Office active users. I think it is safe to assume that nearly every Office user, be it a CEO overseeing a global corporation, or someone like me keeping lists in a home office, depends on spreadsheets to run the business.

But now, comes AR and its incredible abilities to visualize data and a small startup you probably have never heard of has succeeded in modernizing the spreadsheet for all data-dependent organizations

CEO Vision, LLC, based in Triangle Park, NC, was founded in May 2017. It has landed its first corporate customer who is benefiting from an entirely new way to visualize, understand and communicate spreadsheet data. The new AR app lets users graphically explore  the most massive spreadsheet, reducing the time required to find answers to "what if" queries.

A Call for Useful

Last week, I put out a call for interesting or useful AR-related business stories: CEO Vision co-founder David A. Smith, was the first to respond. He's an interesting tech industry veteran of about 35 years. Perhaps his most notable past hit was Rainbow Six, produced in collaboration with uber-spy novelist Tom Clancy. It was the first realistic 3D adventure shooter game. Co-founder Derek Tishler also comes out of the VR game industry. He developed VR Roller Coaster, which has sold six million copies as of this writing.

These are two accomplished geeks coming out of the world of action-adventure games, a category that I believe has more great talent than the  market requires. There are just so many ways to zap an alien.  In a previous ARBW issue, I predicted that this abundance of talent would spill over into business apps as the imminent arrival of Apple AR builds demand for them in such categories as healthcare, training, retail, real estate, travel, logistics, non-game entertainment and more.

Spreadsheets, of course, serve every one of these huge categories, putting CEO Vision in a very nice position in a nascent industry about to explode. Not only that, but the startup supports any AR platform adhering to WebVR, an open standard which makes it possible to see AR and VR in almost every browser. Microsoft, Google, Samsung, HTC, and Oculus AR and VR all run on WebVR. Anything built on Apple ARKit will run run on WebVR. I assume that Magic Leap will support it as well when it launches in December as it is rumored to do. 

I was impressed that CEO Vision, a company founded so recently and without fanfare, was already taking in revenue and was so magnificently positioned. I was a little hesitant to run with this story without getting a credible third-party who had actually worked with the software to confirm that it was as good as Smith and the demo implied. As a journalist, I pride my myself on skepticism. My first editor taught me that if my mother said she loved me, I needed a second source before I could trust her.

Smith was quick to provide an extremely credible resource, a personal friend of his who had no financial interest in the company, one with enough cred in the tech industry to fill a Super Bowl stadium.

Inventing the Future

Alan Kay is one of the most respected pioneers in the personal digital revolution. Starting in the late 1960s, he played fundamental roles in the development of object-oriented programming, GUI, the tablet, touch screen and the laptop. He contributed significantly during tenures at Apple, HP, Disney Imagineering, and most notably at the old Xerox PARC. In 2003, he received the Turing Award, technology's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.  Back in the formative days of the PC, he was friends and collaborated with Ivan Sutherland, father of computer graphics and Doug Engelbart, inventor of the digital mouse and a digital interface thought leader.

Kay, who has no commercial connection with CEO Vision, is Smith's friend and colleague. Late last year, Kay was asked to solve the spreadsheet problem by the CEO of a global enterprise with 200,000 employees. He connected the CEO with Smith, the result being the formation of CEO Vision. Describing Smith as a spiritual and intellectual heir to Engelbart, he said they both have the sorts of minds that "invent the future."

"People cannot see until they realize they are blind. But once we understand what we are missing, we invent tools to fix problems. Most people remain oblivious through life, content to do what they have always done," Kay said. "But others go on to invent the future. Those are the people who have changed the world for everyone in almost every practical domain," Kay said. 

Two of those inventors of the future are Engelbart, one who stands out from an earlier era, and Smith, one who is doing precisely the same today, in an era when the tools of technology--such as AR--can solve nagging problems of yore in new ad exciting ways.

That plays into what Scoble and I see in AR and related technologies. We would not presume to have the incredible prescient visions of Alan Kay or Doug Engelbart, or for that matter even David A. Smith, but we have spent the past 15 years trying to predict what's coming next in technology and how it will change work and life.

The spreadsheet was a killer app indeed, but it only automated the past (by making accounting a bit easier and doing a tiny amount of analysis) and only pokes into the future a little (because the future really needs comprehensive simulators). Part of its acceptance is that it was enough like what people were already doing to be seen as a convenience and worthwhile learning. In any case, all worlds seem to lead to AR dramatically transforming life and work as we know it.

Elsewhere in AR World

Are Department Stores Dead?

Declaring that the department store is already online, Warren Buffet explained to shareholders last week why Berkshire Hathaway sold off nearly all of its $900 million stake in Walmart. He went on to predict that in 10 years the retail industry will look nothing like it does today because so much retailing has moved and will continue to move online. Well, in ten years, none of us will look much like we do today, nor do we look today like we did ten years ago. Buffet went on to say that the speed of change is escalating and this is an issue that should be of concern to long-term stock and retail strategists along with the rest of us.

Walmart is an interesting case. It has struggled to create an online presence in its multiyear death struggle for retail domination against Amazon. It has done better in that migration than have most other shopping brands such as Target, Best Buy, JC Penny's or Sears. While it certainly has not pulled up close to Amazon online, it is certainly the likely finalist against Amazon.

Meanwhile, Amazon has taken the battle into retail with the spectacular surprise acquisition of Whole Foods. If Buffet is right, why would Amazon, retail's most spectacular online pure play invest billions in brick and mortar--and since you are reading it here--what does it all have to do with AR and VR anyhow?

Well to start with, there are more than a few situations where people actually do like to shop. They like to touch, taste, try on and drive before buying. Many people enjoy the social aspects of malls and stores. Groceries are a great example of where people may prefer shopping, and I'm pretty certain that the fact that Walmart is the world's largest grocery merchant was a factor in Amazon's decision to buy Whole Foods.

As for AR and VR, they are rapidly blurring the lines between tangible and virtual shopping. This is an area that is fomenting change fast, and when Apple AR comes out in a few months there will be 300 million more AR-enabled shoppers. Decision will be made in part by AR and VR marketing efforts both online and in stores. We are seeing early examples such as the Sephora and L'Oreal Augmented Reality makeup and stunning L'Oreal ads that jump out of paper magazines

Buffet talked about changes over the next ten years. I think its a good bet that you will be able to browse the aisles of you local Whole Foods through your Apple AR or some competitor's phone, and have an Amazon robot  pick up the avocado or meat selection you like, and then have it delivered to your home in a driverless truck where the Echo device connected to your smart front door, allows the delivery bot to come in and stock your shelves and refrigerator.

My point is that the issue is not tangible versus online retailing. It is tangible AND retail. Amazon and Walmart are two brands who understand this. It is the future of retailing. I do not think that department stores will die. I think they will change remarkably and that AR/VR will create newer, better experiences particularly as they integrate with IoT infrastructure.

Some of this will be driven by newer stores such as Apple and Warby Parker have set up. These stores are scrambling to keep up with the Millennials which everyone talks about, the Minecraft generation which we described in or book and the pre-school new generation that Robert and I call the Immersives, because they already expect virtual experiences for learning, playing and over time, shopping. I have no idea whether buying or selling Walmart stock right now is a good idea. I will leave that to Buffett.

What I do know is that we are in a time of rapid fundamental transformation and smart brands like Amazon and Walmart are moving forward in AR and VR because that is what their customers want. I am also pretty certain that the pace of the game has started to escalate because of Apple AR and that brands that continue to wait and see regarding AR and VR will soon be left behind. 

VR Helping Senior Citizens and Healthcare Training

We wrote an entire chapter in The Fourth Transformation about the use of AR/VR in healthcare and the training of healthcare practitioners. I am seeing an escalation of its many diverse issues. This week I found out that it was being introduced at Springfield Place, a retirement community in Petaluma, CA, where Jean Berman, my wife's 97-year-old mother resides. VR headsets were introduced to residents at a workshop, where they tried them on for their initial excursions into immersive technology. The seniors loved them and the experience generated excitement a staff member told Paula.

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Petaluma is less than an hour's ride from San Francisco, the epicenter of AR/VR. Yet, VR headsets are being used at the Lutheran Senior Home in Tosa, WI, a much longer drive and far from where you might expect to find early adoption. VR headsets are being used to treat patients with Alzheimer's and other memory disorders.

According to the home's Casey Bartlett, "It's like nothing we have had so far. It is impressive to see the way [patients] react to the things we are employing to interact with our residents." Bartlett said the idea is to keep residents engaged in stimulating activity programming, while maximizing their safety in a secure environment.

In the book, we talked a lot about healthcare training, going into depth on how Case Western University used Hololens AR instead of cadavers to train future doctors and about the Living Heart Project that can revolutionize cardiovascular treatments and surgery. This week, the Oculus Rift blog had a downright inspirational story about how Rift is being used to train doctors on life-saving procedures for children in the ER.

The topic of healthcare in general is in the US news these days because of toxic issues related to insurance. For me, I feel hope that, despite the current political cesspool, Mixed Reality technologies can save children's lives in emergencies and improve surgical procedures in the current ten-year period that Warren Buffet discussed at his shareholder meeting.

Mining Craft

Talk about remote locations for AR business apps, how about a Rapid City, SD, school for mining?  This is one I'd prefer to study in the comfort of my home using a headset or my next iPhone. In fact, the mining industry is very much immersed in these new technologies. MetaVRse, the Canadian-based innovation agency, with whom we enjoy a partnership tells us they have conducted several projects of mining companies.

VR for Rentals

In our book, we also talked about the enormous upside potential in commercial and residential property rentals, not to mention in building design and repair. This week I discovered that prospective tenants at the high-rise, luxury Clarendon complex in Arlington, VA, were offered VR tours to rent out units not yet built. This is the first case of what we predicted actually happening just seven months after our book was published.

I share this not to gloat, but to warn you not to sit and wait when it comes to this stuff. Like Buffet warns this is all happening very fast. If no one is doing it in your business category, you can become a thought leader today, but tomorrow you will just be another runner in the pack.

App of the Week

I am going to try to close each ARBW issue with a favorite app. Since I only plan to publish 40 times yearly, this is not actually an "App of the Week." But proclaiming my favorite new AR or VR app to be "The App of every 9.12 days" sounds kind of lame, so let's just keep it a the App of the Week and not quibble.

My selection for this app redeems Apple in one of the few areas where I have panned their products. Back in 2012, when Apple Maps was introduced after a nasty divorce between Apple and Google, its initial effort was pathetic for such inaccuracies as placing London Bridge in the middle of the English Channel. Writing in Forbes, I called it Apple's worst product since the launch of the Newton in 1993.

But now, thanks to ARKit, comes redemption in the form of a 3D world map that Upload's reviewer says "rivals Google Earth." While not often mentioned, ARKit also has VR capability and in the new app you will be able to take virtual tours inside of public buildings, where privacy is not an issue. 

One the driving factors of our Transformation is location awareness. Maps have always been important to mobile technology. Now as we enter an era driven by AR, 3D maps are unquestionably a killer app. Very shortly, you will be able to have the whole Earth in the palm of your hand--provided you are carrying an iPhone. If that doesn't make you feel godlike, then you should become a virtual atheist.

Runner-up of the week

I joke often about VR and alien zapping,but thanks to ARKit, I find myself in awe of the alien in this demo. Please note the smooth, human-like motion of the creature in this video. 

I disqualified as the app of the week because it shows no business usability. I share it here, because I hope someone out there in Readerland may look at this and get a kick-butt idea that can be a future App of the Week.

Free Copy of Fourth Transformation

ARBW is becoming increasingly important. I am motivated by the fact that subscriptions are growing. What I need most from readers is good news to share. I am particularly interested in original content and business news such as the CEO Vision story posted here. Please send a lead--or even a link--to me at shelisrael1@gmail.com. Put ARBW Lead in the subject line. If I use it, I will send a free Kindle version of The Fourth Transformation to you or to someone you like as a small thank you. If you already have a copy, than tell me who you would like me to send it to. Keep those cards and letters coming in.

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Shel IsraelComment