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Monday, April 15, 2024

Augmented Reality Isn’t Quite There Yet

While augmented reality has long been billed as "the next big thing," it hasn't quite arrived. Some pretty basic logistical problems get in the way. The headsets are too clunky, there aren't many decent apps, and the setup process can be a mess. But companies like Microsoft, Google, and (potentially) Apple are working on these problems, with the ultimate goal of creating consumer-level mixed-reality devices. AR is coming, whether people are willing to wait for it or not.

This week on Gadget Lab, we talk with WIRED digital director Brian Barrett about the future of mixed reality and when we'll all be wearing AR glasses.

Show Notes

Read Lauren’s story about mixed-reality headsets and Microsoft Mesh here. Read more about the HoloLens 2 here. Read about the AR “Mirrorworld” here. Follow all of WIRED’s AR coverage here. Read Lily Hay Newman’s story for Slate about how baths are better than showers here.


Brian recommends the novel A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet. Lauren recommends taking a bath. Mike recommends the mobile game Really Bad Chess for iOS or Android.

Brian Barrett can be found on Twitter @brbarrett. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

If you have feedback about the show, or just want to enter to win a $50 gift card, take our brief listener survey here.

WIRED Brand Lab is a creative studio from the publisher of WIRED. The WIRED newsroom is not involved in the creation of Brand Lab content.

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Michael Calore: Lauren.

Lauren Goode: Mike.

MC: Lauren, you've played a video game in AR, but have you ever listened to a podcast in AR?

LG: What is that? Is that spatial audio? Maybe? I'm not sure.

MC: Well, we'll have to fix that. Put on your headset now, please.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music]

MC: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Michael Calore, a senior editor of WIRED.

LG: And I'm Lauren Goode, a senior writer at WIRED.

MC: We are also joined this week by WIRED's digital director, Brian Barrett. Hello Brian.

Brian Barrett: Hi guys. Thanks for having me.

MC: Of course. Welcome back to the show. Today we are talking about AR, also known as augmented reality. This week, Microsoft showed off a new augmented reality platform called Microsoft Mesh. It's designed to let people in different locations, meet with each other in a space that blends a real environment with virtual avatars. Microsoft isn't the only company thinking that AR is going to play a big role in the future. A few other big name companies are working on AR glasses too. And sooner or later, you might use one of these headsets to attend a virtual birthday party while you do the dishes, or sit through a PowerPoint presentation while you stroll around your neighborhood. Doesn't that sound nice?

LG: You've really sold us on those use cases.

MC: Well, we're not quite there yet, but the technology has a ways to go and what's available now is a little janky. So later in the show, we're going to talk about AR more broadly. But first let's step into the Holozone. Lauren, you met with Microsoft this week to talk about it's big news, and you had some firsthand experience with the new HoloLens software in the process. How did that go?

LG: Right. So this new software is called Microsoft Mesh. And I think the important thing to note is that HoloLens has been around now for several years, and it's in its second iteration. That's the hardware. But Microsoft already had a mixed reality platform that would run on both the HoloLens and in VR headsets. And it connected to Azure, which is Microsoft's cloud service that it talks about a lot. That was just called Microsoft Mixed Reality, and this new thing called Microsoft Mesh feels like the next step in this software.

So I've had a few AR and VR demos in recent months with other companies that are doing this kind of thing too. I've written about a company called Spacial. I've written about a new company called Arthur. And then some of you might be familiar with Facebook Spaces, where you wear an Oculus headset and you're sort of interacting with other people. And that's the whole idea, right? You're interacting with other people in VR, in real time. And in some cases you might also be able to do that on an AR headset.

But what's interesting about Microsoft Mesh, in my opinion, is that it kind of points to this future of AR glasses. Because right now we're mostly talking about these big bulky headsets that no one is going to want to wear as they're walking down the street or doing the dishes or attending virtual birthday parties. But a lot of people are talking about glasses, more lightweight glasses, like the Google Glass kind but more advanced, as the kind of future of this. And I think what Microsoft was trying to show off was software that will get us there. I should also probably note that my experience trying both HoloLens 2 headset and an HP … what is it called? Sorry. Reverb G2 VR, I think. Did I get that right?

BB: Rolls off the tongue.

LG: I had those both sent to me by Microsoft to try this new software. And my experience was, shall we say, mixed. But that is the gist.

MC: What kind of problems did you have?

LG: So setting up the HoloLens 2 actually wasn't too problematic. The thing with wearing a headset is that whenever you set a new one up, you're sort of losing the agency that you're used to when you set up new products or applications on a laptop or a mobile phone. You have to like enter in your email and enter a password and just authenticate and then start downloading things. And the way that these headsets work is that you're using your hands kind of either floating in the air or you have hand controllers. And then you're like painstakingly punching in key by key on a virtual keyboard.

So just that, to get started, is just typically a pain in the ass. But in this case, the HoloLens 2 worked pretty well. I was meeting with Alex Kipman from Microsoft and an app called Phoenix. That pretty much went off without a hitch. It was once I got into the VR headset, the HP whatever it's called headset, that it just required a lot of updates. And that of course has to be plugged into a laptop, and laptop has to have the right kind of processing power in order to support these virtual experiences. And we had to go into like a zip drive and extract new bits and install them. These things you have to charge, and then, of course, you have to fit them to your face and make sure that you're not creating an experience for yourself where you feel nauseous in the headset. And I couldn't find the volume control. And when I tried to launch an application for volume control, it crashed.

It was just like, I ended up spending about a total of four hours in headsets or setting ups headsets, trying to understand what this new Microsoft Mesh experience would be like. And it really was not a great experience.

BB: I guess, Lauren, what I wonder too is, even after all that, which sounds terrible, but assuming people go through that and they get it done, did you find the experience of actually meeting with someone in AR or VR to be a better experience? Or did you have that nagging sense in the back of your head, this could have been a phone call to talk about the VR. Because I wonder about that. this push towards let's meet in these virtual realities, I'm already so tired of Zoom. I can't imagine having to worry about my avatar or the sort of like presenting myself in a virtual manner and having that sort of weird aquarium background or whatever. In my head all VR backgrounds are like weird aquarium backgrounds, I don't know why. But you know what I mean? Was there any benefit to it or was it just like, well, we're doing this for its own sake and we'll see what happens next.

LG: That's an excellent question, because we, as journalists, when we take phone calls, we are often really concerned with taking notes. And it sounds like a really simple thing, but a lot of people who are sitting in meetings are, in fact, taking notes so that you can record the information that's being exchanged and then maybe do something actionable with it. And it's really hard to take notes when you're in VR or AR. AR is a little bit of a different experience because you do still have awareness of the real world surroundings around you. Like, I could look through HoloLens and I could still see my computer screen on my desk. And theoretically like a notepad, I could have been jotting down. But VR, you're just, your face is completely immersed and sort of don't know where to stand and what to do with your hands and it can be really disconcerting.

So in, not just the Microsoft demos I did last week, but in prior demos with VR companies, the one of the first things I ask is, "How are we going to record this call? How am I going to get access to my notes?" And then they say, "Oh, don't worry. We'll record it and send you the notes." But even that is not great because then they send these files afterwards and they're different file types and I still have to go through the process of transcribing them. I'd really rather just take my own notes during a meeting. That seems like a really simple thing that somebody needs to solve.

But then in terms of did it capture my attention? Maybe I was a little bit more present with Alex Kipman standing as an anime avatar in my living room than I would have been if I was just looking at him through Zoom or, pardon me, Microsoft Teams in their case. But it was still a cartoon and at some point he said his own team is collaborating on the next version of HoloLens while wearing HoloLens. And he kind of said, nevermind that they may be cartoon avatars. The point is that they're collaborating. So he sort of wanted me not to pay too much attention to the fact that we were both cartoon characters. He wanted me to be just to sort of be aware of the fact that he was doing what he referred to as HoloPortation. So I guess I did feel like I had to be a little bit more present because this person, or caricature of a person, was standing there in my living room, but I didn't feel like I grasped the information that was being shared maybe in the way that Microsoft had hoped.

MC: I think the cartoon avatar thing is a problem because it sort of sends a mixed message. Like we all know that VR, and AR in particular, have been widely adopted by the gaming community. So all the news that you see about VR and AR, most of it anyway, is about games. And in order to make it work in a business setting where people are supposed to be meeting and collaborating, the easiest thing to do is just sort of translate that and give somebody sort of like a video game style simulacrum of a room and of the other people in the room. But it's like, HoloLens in particular in Mesh, these are not products made for gaming. They're not made for consumers. They're made for like collaboration and businesses. Right?

LG: Right. It's kind of like having a serious conversation with someone when they're presenting themselves as Memoji like we do on iPhone or something. So one thing I wanted to ask Brian is that Niantic, which makes Pokémon Go Pokémon Go, was a part of this week's AR news from Microsoft. They brought Niantic CEO, John Hanke on stage to demonstrate how Pokémon Go could be used in Microsoft Mesh. And Brian, you've talked to John Hanke recently. I did as well. But you had a pretty interesting conversation with him about the future of AR glasses. What can you share about that?

BB: Yeah. It's interesting. You would see how Niantic would be really excited about AR glasses because it gets people off their phones, necessarily. It makes it more immersive. Like instead of having to see a Pokemon through holding up your phone, you can just see it by looking straight forward. But he was saying, at earliest they're expecting AR glasses to be workable and feasible in three years max. Probably more like four and probably longer. So this is a pretty long timeline given how important that's going to be to his company and to AR generally. Which is why I sort of believe it, it feels like it would be at least that long. Interestingly, especially with reports of maybe Apple coming along soon and people assume that'll sort of speed things up a little bit.

So if we're looking at a timeline where we have AR glasses that work the way they kind of do in scifi or the way that we all sort of imagined that they might in their heads, where it's seamless and it's on board and you sort of integrative, I guess I still wonder, even then, and let's say assume like they move past the avatar problem because Microsoft does want to have, they want to be able to show an actual representation of you, I think, at some point. They want more of a Princess Leia coming out R2D2 situation then. Although, I will say as a tangent, if in Star Wars, they had chosen to make the Princess Leia hologram message more of like a goofy anime avatar, I think that would have been hilarious and wonderful. But be that as it may, I'm just saying, just think about that. OK.

(Mike and Lauren laugh)

BB: So that being said, even then does that make it almost weirder to have, especially if it's someone you don't know that well, like a Microsoft executive showing up in your living room talking to you about his latest product. I don't know. And I feel like I'm being too much of a Luddite about this, but for some reason I feel like the space that we have between each other in meetings that are on video or on the phone is healthy and good and lets people sort of not have to be totally zoned in all the time. Which I think, even if you have glasses and even when you have real representation of people, all that does is sort of force your attention even more on that one thing instead of leaving you open to let your mind think about other things. I don't know. So it's going to be an interesting sell. I'm sure it'll be great for productivity, if and when it ever comes to fruition. But is that the best thing?

MC: All right. We're going to take a quick break right now. And when we come back, we're going to talk about the future of consumer AR.


MC: Welcome back. If augmented or mixed reality headsets are ever going to take off, they're going to need to take some big leaps in usability and comfort, and above all, in utility. It's not enough to just put out a cool headset. You also have to give people something compelling to do with it. Brian, please tell us why don't we live in the mirror world yet?

BB: Ah, so many reasons. Let's assume the technological reasons, like you have to fit a battery in there, you have to fit a small enough display in there, there's a lot of core tech reasons that we're not there yet. But even assuming even if you solved all of those tomorrow, which you can't, I think the bigger problem is we still don't have a, and again, going back to Niantic, an operating system for it. What's the Android of AR? Google would say, "Well, Android is." But there's this effort that Niantic and Facebook and others are undergoing, and Google, to map this virtual version of the world so that anywhere you use your AR glasses or your AR device, you have that reference and you can sort of easily incorporate any of the augmented elements into it.

I think that's a really interesting space. It's something that is still developing. And I think until you have that baseline, it's going to be hard to have the sort of universally usable applications. So I think that's an interesting thing to watch. I think Niantic has a really interesting advantage there because basically if you play Pokémon Go, you're doing it for them.

MC: Sorry. What you're talking about is like a location marking system that allows all of the different AR platforms to be interoperable?

BB: I think that would be the idea, but I think right now they're all competing. So if you're not Niantic, for example, they want to get like a 3D map of as much of the geographical regions that people inhabit as possible. So not just where things are, but what they look like. What's their depth. In the same way that street view sort of tracks every road, a map of the AR world of the, of the mirror world, would sort of show you how big are the rocks and the trees. And just you create this sort of digital version of the world that you can lay anything on top of. So when you add an air element to a space, it can interact with those things because it knows where it is and it knows what size they are.

Whereas if you just pick up your phone in Pokémon Go right now, it's just the Pokemon appears without really caring whether it's on a lamppost or whatever. Which again, would be a cool place for a Pokemon to be, like swinging from a lamppost, that would be great.

LG: I think Brian's point is a really important one because it's essentially what is the killer app. And what we see happen with any kinds of new computing platforms or paradigms is that you could nail the hardware, but you have to have an application or some kind of experience that really draws people in. And this is not quite the same thing, but look at something like wearables or folding phones. We now pretty much have embraced … And by wearables I mean wrist wearables. Like we've embraced smartwatches … But they haven't really quite panned out to be the third party app platform that we thought maybe they would be five to seven years ago. It's pretty much the native experience that you have on that device is the one that you're going to use.

And then folding phones, sure, there've been some fits and starts and some hardware problems, but ultimately it's like, are there apps that make sense? Do you want to run three apps side by side on a mobile device? Or does it make sense to open one app and then sort of swipe it or unfurl it into a larger screen? So what I think we're going to experience with smart glasses is that like, sure, at some point, people are going to figure out that you just … They're going to figure out the waveguides or whatever technology they're using, projection technology they're using, to actually get the image in front of your eyes. But what is the thing that's going to be in front of your eyes that's interesting?

What's unique about this too, is that this is on your face. The face or the head is one of the most personal areas of the body. And not only that, but it's our center for sensing things around us. So asking people to wear something on their face and also to sacrifice, potentially, some other kind of spatial awareness so you can see some AR cartoons at this point is still asking a lot.

MC: Yeah. And in order to get that spatial awareness, you need to have cameras on these things. And I think that's been a very big issue with any sort of face worn wearable in the past. Like with Google Glass and the things that have come out recently like Snapchat Spectacles, Snap Spectacles, regardless of the fact that everybody's walking around pointing their phone camera at everything around them and taking pictures of strangers all day long, the fact that you're putting it on your face and you have cameras pointing out at the person that you're looking at, is much more invasive to people. And I think that's a sort of a psychological hurdle that we are probably not going to be able to clear as a society until a lot more happens.

BB: I think unfortunately, some tech companies have already cleared that hurdle without really checking with anyone else. Buzzfeed reported the other week that Facebook executive, Andrew Bosworth, was planning to suggest that you could put facial recognition, build those into your AR glasses, without maybe thinking through the repercussions for people who don't want to be able to be identified by strangers on the street. Or worse than strangers, people that they have a bad relationship with, or have reason to fear. So I think there's a lot of ethical and practical thinking through of these products that there's not really an indication so far that the companies at the center of them have given full weight, which is another sort of yikes moment.

LG: What would both of you say has been the most compelling AR experience you've had so far? Because over the years I've gotten a lot of furniture demos. Note to which I usually say like, "My dude, how often do you think I buy sofas?" Because I think I've maybe had two sofas in the past 10 years. And then maybe a little bit more recently, the demos I've received have been about workplace collaboration and that sort of thing. But then we've already kind of illustrated what some of the drawbacks are of that. So when you guys think about that AR app that you've had a really cool experience with, what is it?

MC: For me, it is the measurement app, where you can point your camera at an object and see how deep and wide and tall it is. I'd say that's probably the single practical use of augmented reality.

LG: It sounds pretty straightforward.

BB: This is telling, because that is also my favorite use of augmented reality. And darn you, Mike, for going first. But it's the-

LG: What have you actually used it for? What have you measured?

BB: Honestly, you know what I do? When I get out of cake pan and I'm not sure if it's eight inches or nine inches, I grab my phone and I check it and I'm good to go.

MC: Yeah. I bought picture frames.

BB: So that is what AR has done for me personally. It has saved me five minutes of cooking time.

LG: I think we're really losing our street cred as WIRED writers right now. Our audience is probably like, "You guys are supposed to be on the cutting edge."

BB: Lauren, are we losing street cred or is AR losing its street cred?

MC: Yeah. And besides, all those non-technology journalists are just using tape measures, and that's the past. We're living in the future.

LG: Right. So then the obvious follow up question is, do you need a $2,000 or $3,000 pair of glasses to have that experience? Or can you just continue to using these really boring bricks we hold in our hands 20 hours a day now?

BB: I think you mentioned the Apple Watch earlier, and I could see a scenario where AR does some of what people wanted the Apple Watch to do, and that it does to a certain extent. It saves you from having to look at your phone. Like my ambitions for AR are not super world changing. They're maybe like getting a text message and not having to pull out my phone, or looking at a building and maybe there's some historical significance that it can show me and I don't have to … So, something that saves me from, not having to, saves me from reaching into my pocket every 30 seconds just compulsively, seems like a good use case.

On the other hand, do I want my eyeballs constantly assaulted by those things? I don't know. I don't think so, probably. But maybe that's … That's where I see the most likely, especially near term, especially if Apple does introduce a set in the near term or like in the next year or two, you could see that. And then gaming would be the other use case, which we obviously with Pokémon Go 2 and some other things. But yeah, again, it's maybe a failure of my own imagination, but it seems those iterative things and those sort of time-saving, phone-saving things are they going to be the things that people like to use the most?

MC: I know a lot of people are really speculating about Apple's long rumored move into AR glasses. And I am very much looking forward to seeing what that company does with it. Like Lauren, you were saying earlier, you had this terrible experience trying to get onto the device and authenticate. If you think about the way that the Apple Watch authenticates. You very easily pair it with your phone. Or like AirPods pair with your phone. I can see an Apple headset pairing with the rest of the Apple ecosystem very seamlessly. And to me that's exciting because that's the way that company thinks about technology and that's the sort of experience that they're very good at designing. They're designing it to disappear. You know what I mean?

LG: Right. People talk about Apple owning the full stack, which means they have ultimate control over hardware and software. And also they're increasingly making their own chips, or designing their own chips. So that could be a big differentiator here too. I think Apple does have a very good chance, based on all of that, of putting out something, if they do put out AR glasses, that offer a more consumer-friendly experience. There has been a report from Bloomberg that suggests that Apple may also start sort of at the high end of the market, a $3,000 headset that's focused more on developers to start. So maybe it won't come immediately to consumers, but because of that full stack ownership, you could see it working a little bit more seamlessly than some of these other cloogy experiences.

I also want to point out that about a half hour before we started taping today … we're taping this on Thursday, by the time you hear this, it will be Friday or later so you should check back to my Twitter feed, I guess, if you want an update … But I did tweet, we're talking about mixed reality and a future filled with AR glasses on The Gadget Lab this week. What are your thoughts on AR glasses? And then I ran a Twitter poll. And so far they're just under a hundred votes, but 51 percent of people say they're cautiously optimistic. 34 percent of people said, no, get away from my face. And 14 percent of people said, "We live in the future." Now granted, my Twitter audience might be a little bit skewed towards people who are generally into technology, but it seems like the majority of respondents so far are cautiously optimistic about AR glasses.

MC: I remember covering the launch of Google Glass at Google IO. It feels like maybe 10 years ago at this point. But they showed it off and they said, here is a device that we're working on. This is what we're thinking is going to be the next great interface. And they showed Google Glass and they explained that this is not the final thing. This is just an idea of where we're headed. And when it finally arrives, it's going to be indistinguishable from a regular pair of eyeglasses. Of course, what happened was everybody just saw the thing and said, "That is ugly. That's terrible. I would never wear that." The device that they showed was not the finished idea of the device, it was just sort of like a bridge to get you to the finished idea of the device.

I firmly believe that the things that we're seeing now, things like HoloLens, are the things that are just the bridge that are going to get us to the eventual device. And that when we do have AR glasses, they're just going to be glasses. They're not going to be big, bulky things with like blinking lights and cameras that you can see. They're just going to be maybe a little bit bulkier than a regular pair of sunglasses, but they're going to look like you're wearing sunglasses. I really think that's where we're going.

LG: Brian, did you ever try Google Glass?

BB: No, I actually didn't, weirdly enough. I do want to say, while Mike is noting, correctly, that they kind of downplayed it, they also announced it by jumping out of an airplane. So they did hype it up a bit. I don't want it to sound like they were just like, "Gaze upon our humble project. We're not sure what it is." But no, they jumped out of an airplane.

MC: Of course.

BB: So they had some marketing on it. No, I never used Google Glass. I have worn a pair of functional AR glasses that were being demoed at CES a few years ago, from not one of the major companies. And it was really good. It was neat. It was a Google Maps application that was built directly into the lens. So it was actually, it was that experience of no external hardware, just like you were just wearing a regular pair of glasses. And it was cool. It was very early days and it was grainy and you had to look in the exact right spot, but it did show sort of the potential of, OK, if I can pull up Google Maps and then I'll just sort of be able to see where I am in my eyeball. Hopefully not while I'm driving because then also get into an accident on the way to wherever the Google Maps takes me. I don't know.

So yeah, I'm cautiously optimistic as long as people are responsible about how they use them. And as long as we figure out how to not find ourselves all living in different AR worlds. The gap between iOS and Android is big enough already. If that also affects like what you see when you look around outside your window, that's going to be a strange place to live.

LG: Yeah. I tried to wear Focals for an entire CES a couple of years ago. Do you remember this, Mike?

MC: Yes, I do.

LG: Brian, you were there too.

BB: Yeah, I remember that.

LG: Yeah. I think I wore them for about three or four days. I don't remember. I did write a review of them. But 2019 feels like 17 years ago. And they were heavy. They were heavy on my face. Like they didn't seem that way right away because I think the company did a relatively good job of designing them to look like regular spectacles, but after awhile I was like, I'm very tired of these and the benefit I'm getting from them is minimal. Occasionally I'm seeing a text message come through. I also see the time of day. And then I had this experience that people have in Vegas without wearing smart glasses, which is, you've been in a casino for many, many hours and then you step out to the street, the real world, and you're like, "Aah, blinding light."

And I just couldn't see the display as well once I was outside. So the times that I had to walk from casino to casino outdoors, I actually didn't find the turn by turn directions to be at all helpful because I could barely see them. But anyway, I think they did a good job, considering they were a startup, scrappy startup out of Canada. And then they ended up getting bought by Google. So maybe at some point we'll see Focals reemerge as a new kind of Google Glass.

MC: Great. And then we could all use it to measure our cake pans.

LG: That's right.

BB: I also, I think I do remember sharing a cab with Lauren at CES that year and having her suddenly go and stare off into the distance for a minute as she got an incoming text.

LG: That's right. There was something going on with like, you were telling me something and I was like, "Oh, this thing is happening at the Golden Globes," or something like that. It was ridiculous. And you were like, "What?"

BB: Although I did appreciate the update. I am a big Golden Globes fan.

LG: I think it was the Golden Globes. It was something like that.

MC: I can't wait for our technology to make us even more distracted than we already are.

LG: Right. I think Brian was probably telling me some really cute story about his family, and his wife and kids, and I'm like, "Uh huh, uh huh. Ooh, news alert on my face."

[Brian and Mike laugh]

MC: All right. Let's take a break and then when we come back, we'll do our recommendations.


MC: All right. Welcome back. Brian, you are our guest. What is your recommendation?

BB: I am going to recommend a book again. I like to recommend books. It's called A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet or Millet. I am sorry that I don't know if that has a French pronunciation or not. It is terrific. It is a real gut punch. It is a climate change parable for the modern age. Everyone should read it, and it really sticks with you.

MC: How long is it?

BB: It's not that long. It's a quick read. I read it in a day and I am not the fastest reader.

MC: Nice.

LG: Is it a new book?

BB: It came out last year. So new-ish, but not hot off the presses. But it takes place in modern times. It's very allegorical in spots, but not in a way that makes you feel like you're in AP English.

MC: A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet. Millet. Thank you, Brian. Lauren, what is your recommendation?

LG: Brian is a wonderful guest, but I am missing Gilad a little bit this week. Gilad was on our show last week and he joined us just for the recommendations portion of the show and things got really out of hand. So in honor of Gilad not being on the show this week, I'm going to make a Gilad-like recommendation, which is, take a bath. I really like baths.

BB: You should talk to fellow WIRED senior writer Lily Newman, who wrote maybe the definitive baths are better than showers piece on the internet when she was at Slate.

LG: Really?

BB: Yeah. She is, for better or worse, she is the online presence for the baths are better than showers movement.

LG: Let's include that in the show notes, because that sounds like a fantastic piece. And I haven't even read it yet and I can say it's one I probably support. Because I've always been a bath fan, but particularly in the time of the pandemic, I really enjoy a nightly bath. I put things in the bath, things such as arnica, which is good for sore muscles, or Epsom salts or bubble bath. And the thing that I've learned is that showers are too much work. You have to stand up in a shower, and you have to move around to clean oneself. And if you have long hair, it often gets wet in the shower unless you go through the work of putting on a shower cap, which, again, is more work. Whereas in a bath, you can just put it up in a bun and it will not get wet.

So I just have to say, also you can still respond to text messages in the bath. You can read a book in the bath. You can do so much in a bath that you cannot do … If you are inclined, you could even bring alcohol into the bath. I have friends with one of these-

BB: OK. You can bring alcohol into a shower. Let's be clear.

LG: You could. That's true. That's true.

MC: The shower beer is very important.

LG: But I do really recommend taking a bath. That's it. If you have access to a bathtub. I mean, it's a criteria for me. Whenever I've looked at apartments, I've been like, does it have … Nope. Stand up shower only? Nope. I'm out of here. So, that's my recommendation.

BB: Are you excited for the smart bath?

LG: No.

BB: No?

LG: You can keep your smart bath. I'll tell you what to do with your smart bath.

BB: Wow.

LG: Mike, what's your recommendation?

MC: My recommendation is a game. It is available for iOS and it is available for Android, and it's called Really Bad Chess. It's not a new game, but it's new to me and I love it. So it's a chess game. All the rules of chess apply as you would expect. The twist is that, when you start the game, you have a very different board layout than you would normally see. So instead of the row of pawns and then two of each piece along the back row, you'll have like four queens, a couple of rooks and the rest are all knights. Or all bishops. And so the pieces can actually only move the way that the pieces are legally allowed to move, but you just have a very odd number of pieces so your strategy completely changes. And it really forces you to think about chess in a different way.

I like this game because I have never really gotten into chess apps. I never really got into computer chess, at least as an adult. I played a lot as a kid. But it's just kind of samesies these all the time. You get a little bored. You're playing against the computer and it's always beating you. And you play against humans and you feel mismatched. So this game really just gives you a way to break out of that stagnation of being stuck with boring, old chess, and you can get exciting new chess. It's also just wacky. If you've ever played with eight knights and four rooks, it's a totally different way of approaching the game. It's a lot of fun. It's sort of like a brain teaser.

LG: Do you have to know how to play chess already to start playing this game?

MC: Yeah, because you have to know how the pieces move and you have to know that the object of the game is to put the king in check and that some pieces are more valuable than others because of the way that they're allowed to move around the board. So you do have to have some of that knowledge. But once you get beyond the basics, it's accessible to just about anybody.

BB: Imagine when you can play it in AR

MC: I can't wait. I can't wait. And they could all be little Pokemon characters. All right. Well, that is our show. Thank you, again, Brian Barrett for joining us.

BB: Thank you for having me.

MC: I'm also amazed that you were able to make it through the whole show while wearing your HoloLens.

BB: I really felt like I was there with you guys.

MC: Watch out for the giant sharks overhead.

[Brian shrieks. Everyone laughs.]

MC: And thank you all for listening. If you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter. Just check the show notes. This show is produced by Boone Ashworth. We will be back next week. Until then, goodbye.

[Gadget Lab outro theme music]

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