Most startups with $73 million in funding would spend some of it on making sure their workers have all the usual trappings of a well-resourced office. But Meron Gribetz, founder and CEO of Meta, is planning to strip his employees’ desks bare and make them get by without computer monitors.
Meta’s staff will instead be forced to manage their e-mail and other tasks using the company’s augmented reality glasses. Gribetz has pledged to make the switch by March 2017 to prove out his thesis that switching from flat windows on a screen to 3-D objects that float around you in space lets you get more done—once you’ve gotten used to a more futuristic way of working.
“Through the first few months we’ll see a decrease in productivity,” he admitted at the EmTech MIT 2016 conference. “A few months later when people are spatializing their thoughts, people are going to become a lot more effective.”
Gribetz was named to MIT Technology Review’s TR35 list of young innovators this year. Meta’s investors include Comcast and Lenovo.
When you put on Meta’s glasses, which can be pre-ordered for $949, you can see virtual objects overlaid onto the real world and control them using gestures. The experience is similar to that offered by headsets in development by Microsoft and well-funded startup Magic Leap.
Meta appears more focused than its competitors on developing augmented reality interfaces that make people more productive. Gribetz said he’s motivated by neuroscience research that shows people are more effective problem solvers when parts of the brain concerned with motion are also involved.
Distributing information around a person in space, and requiring that they use physical gestures to interact with it, engages parts of the brain that sit idle when you’re working with a flat window, Gribetz said.
“We’re constantly doing user research and finding that our user interfaces are more effective,” he said. “I think this technology will one day replace your computer, phone, tablet, and television.”
Gribetz cites image editing as a good example of a computing task that could be simplified by augmented reality. To change the properties of a paint tool on a PC requires clicking on menus. Using Meta, you might hold a physical tool that looks like a brush through your headset. You could dip it in a virtual paint pot to change or mix colors, and change the size of the brush by stretching its virtual bristles with gestures.
Gribetz believes that prioritizing development of the interface for augmented reality gives his company a crucial business advantage. The success of new forms of computing, such as smartphones, always depends more on the interface than the underlying hardware, he said.
“The thing that provides competitive leverage is the dictionary of interaction and the operating system,” he said. “It didn’t take other companies long to make hardware with touch screens like the iPhone, but it took Google years to replicate the user interface.”