Charlie Fink - Forbes

10 min read
Blog Author

Charlie Fink - Forbes

Blog Author
10 min read
For this 10x10 Session, the Co-Founder and CEO of Zappar Ltd (Caspar Thykier) is joined by Charlie Fink (XR Consultant, Columnist, and Author).

For this 10x10 Session, the Co-Founder and CEO of Zappar Ltd (Caspar Thykier) is joined by Charlie Fink (XR Consultant, Columnist, and Author).


Charlie is a Forbes columnist and the author of a new book, "Remote Collaboration, Virtual Conferences and the Future of Work" (May 2020), and the critically acclaimed AR-enabled books "Charlie Fink's Metaverse" (2017), and "Convergence, How The World Will Be Painted With Data" (2019). He teaches XR at Chapman University Film School in Orange, California, and is a consultant to some of the leading companies in the XR (AR/VR) world.


The Conversation:



Caspar Thykier: I'm delighted to be joined here by Charlie Fink. I've been really looking forward to this session because, frankly, if you've been in and around XR, It's almost impossible for you not to have come across Charlie. He knows more about the space than many people on the planet. So I'm excited to see how we're going to sort of condense just a lifetime of learnings into such a short period. So, Charlie, I wonder if you wouldn't mind starting by maybe introducing yourself, what you do, and how you got into the space. 


Charlie Fink: Sure. Probably the best place to begin is in the nineties. When I left AOL and I joined a location-based entertainment company that was purchased by Disney, the Simon property group was involved and we were doing something called cab-based simulation, where we were networking people together, but they were in vehicles, right. So they were looking at a monitor and seeing the other vehicles inside of the simulation, and we did that for four years. We opened 33 locations on four continents, which in retail is super fast because retail develops like at the speed of the department of motor vehicles. So that brought me into contact with AOL and they ended up hiring me and putting me in charge of content. 

After that I got involved in doing more fun stuff in show business, producing Broadway shows, but I quickly found out that producing is a sucky business, particularly for Broadway shows. So I wanted to get back into tech, but it was kind of too late. I mean here I was, a 50 something-year-old, former CEO who hasn't been relevant in years. So I had to start making up jobs for myself. I didn't really know what to do. Ageism is a real thing, but also in fairness, I wasn't that relevant anymore. That's just the fact.

So, I started writing and researching and trying to learn, and I wrote about everything I knew and was passionate about. I wrote about movies. I wrote about theater. I wrote about social media. And then I ran into Brian Biddy, who was doing VR for Honda. And he said, I am surprised you're not in VR. You were Mr. VR in the nineties, you spoke at all the conferences. Everybody knows you, who you were just go back to VR, they're waiting for you. And I said, well, that is crazy. I don't want to go. You know, the technology is different. All the players are different, you can't go home again. I don't feel like I can go back in time, but a couple of weeks later, I thought what I'm doing is not working. You know, my voice is not needed in topics like politics and social media. Those are covered by a lot of brilliant people who contribute thought leadership to that. So I said, okay, well, let me just do the research and write about it. Right?

So, I looked into what is VR today, what is AR, which I had never heard of in 2015 until I started writing that story, and I published that story. It was a ridiculously long story for being online. Journalism is 1500 words. I mean, no one reads more than 1600, 600 words at a time. And generally on their phone. So that's how people consume your writing, but I have no idea about that. Yet meanwhile, the story got way more hits than all the other stories put together. 

So, if you've ever done anything in social media or particularly online publishing or blogging, it is a huge rush, huge rush. So like most people I just repeated. And repeated and repeated. And you know, now I'm getting hundreds of followers on Twitter, all of a sudden, and the phone rings and it's a guy who used to work for a colleague at AOL who had been unbeknownst to me following me on social. And he's now chief creative officer at Forbes. He's like, you have to come to Forbes and write about XR for us. So of course, yeah, everybody knows the Forbes brand. It's very legitimizing. It's like having worked at Disney.

So, all of a sudden you can talk to CEOs, you get to meet everybody, you get invited to speak at conferences. People want you to write about them. I mean they've flattered. They send you good stuff. I mean it's great. You know, it's like all of a sudden you're the hottest girl in class. But I also got an opportunity to become part of a great community, and learn about technologies that I believed in the nineties. And I still believe to this day. 

I like to say I was there before the beginning, and it's still to be so it's great to be back. You know, I was welcomed back. I got asked to write a book, a book led to another book led to me getting a teaching job at Chapman University. I get called upon to do lots of different consulting tasks with different companies. It’s all mostly, but not exclusively, in this medium. And you know, I'm grateful to be able to contribute thought leadership to a category at such a historic moment. So this is great to be involved in. I love the people and you know, I look forward to reading about it and writing about it every day when I wake up.


Caspar Thykier: Well, that was fantastic, it's a fantastic journey. I'd like you to say, you really have that exploration. Sort of look at everything, look at all the technology, look to all the businesses, think about all the applications. And I know it's a really hard thing to do, but when you think of over the sort of, say, the last 10 year period, are there any moments that you think were really, really important inflection points or any kind of real lesson that you think of, that are really important? 


Charlie Fink: I'm looking at everything through the filter that I've developed over 35 years at the intersection of technology and entertainment. And the first thing is that technologies succeed when they take what we're already doing and make it better. You're looking at e-commerce and email and messaging. All these things were better than the old way of doing things. And there wasn't a lot of friction involved in changing or adopting the technology. There's a lot of friction involved in head-mounted displays.

But, I will tell you the key moments were in 2015, when I put it on a headset and I'm like, wow, VR really is back. And that was the old VIVE, one looking through a screen door at some half-baked software. You know, now it's leaps and bounds ahead of that, especially when as far as content is concerned. So that was a really big wild moment for me. And then of course, the Quest 2. Just a few months ago I was smiling ear to ear for three days. And of course you get used to it, right. It becomes the new normal. But the Quest 2 is that amazing piece of $300 technology. I know Facebook takes a loss on each one but still the bank made on this is good. The amount they're contributing is quite amazing.


Caspar Thykier: What, what other things in AR?


Charlie Fink: Well, the first thing I saw in AR was that silly thing that Balti virtual was doing in 2015, where they were selling the tattoos and then you hold your phone over the tattoos and it appears to fly off the arm and fly around the room. I just had never seen AR before. So that was the first thing I saw and I'll never forget it. It's like seeing my first iPhone, you just don't forget it. But other, Oh, well moments. Well, obviously the stuff that's happening on mobile phones is unbelievable and AR is being applied to that.

One of the things about AR right, is that it's a technology, it's not an app. I trained that to explain that to people, right? It's it. You know, it's irrelevant to people that it's augmented reality. It's just making apps that they use every day better. And that is consistent with my theme of technology, making what we're already doing better. The other thing is it has to connect us to other people, right? The reason we look at our phone 400 times a day is because that's our lifeline to other people. That's our heartbeat. That's our family, that's our friends. I'm looking for texts. I'm looking for emails. I'm looking for tweets. You know, I'm constantly reaching out to be connected to other people. There's a very, very deep human need.

And the last thing, and I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say people overestimate the short term. And they underestimate, they overestimate the short-term and they underestimate the long-term. Yeah. Amazon is a great example. Do you have any doubt that they're going to be bigger 10 years from now? So again, I'm not a stock adviser, but I'm making a point about technology sort of going from, from being this innovative thing to being just the thing we do every day. You know, we don't even call it the technology. 


Caspar Thykier: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's so, so true. And this notion of really certainly for AR it just being a camera capability and a lens and a new way of using our devices to connect with the world. And as you say, people, places, spaces, products around us, I think that's what's so exciting.


Charlie Fink: Yes. And, and I think the other thing that's worth mentioning is 5G and web XR and the end of the app store, which is the best thing that could possibly happen to AR because making people download apps is a tremendous amount of friction. Many of them download an app. They're not habituated to your app. Right. So they're only going to do it if they have to. So just finding a way to put AR in the camera short of some miraculous computer vision or a world mesh that would geo activate the content. You know, WebEx is the best answer. And it's also the answer for VR by the way. And I think 5G is really going to make all that possible. I hope it will. I think we're still a few ways of a few years away from. Reaping the benefits of that. Of course, typically for a technology company, Verizon and AT&T and others have been hollering about this for three or four years when it's still a couple of years away. So they've created their own hype cycle. Which anyone could have seen in 2017, I started calling them out for the hype cycle and I still don't have a 5G phone. And I'm in the middle of Los Angeles. I can't get 5G here.


Caspar Thykier: Well, if there's any constellation, I do have a 5G phone, but it seems to want to stick on 4g and occasionally go down to 3g just for old time's sake. 


Charlie Fink: Great. That it can do that. I understand. They're kind of heavy too.


Caspar Thykier: Yeah. Well, look at that. I love this thought that you know, that there is clearly this rising tide of technologies that are sort of helping fuel the development in AR and VR and also being so true of what you said about the quest and bring the costs down. And thank you Facebook preparing that on all other hearts to kind of make it more mass market. But when you sort of sit here, then it sort of in 21 and you kind of. Do look a little bit forward. I'm always conscious to try and live in the now because I do think the hype cycle can take over. But you know, you mentioned a few things there, but you know, what's the thing that kind of gets you most excited when you go, wow. I think that looking forward a little bit, this is why Apple has not yet played their hand.


Charlie Fink: So making predictions prior to that, It's difficult, but let me just say, in terms of head-mounted displays, AR has an uphill climb and we may end up getting there through a see-through VR headset and probably through relatively trivial applications like games over time. It can turn into something more. But you know, I think we're decades away from an all-day, every-day wearable AR experience. I think it's much more likely that we'll have better screens and better sensors on our bodies. Even though the form factor of shifting between the digital world in your hands and the physical world, you know out and about you is a terrible form factor. I still don't see the compelling consumer use case for keeping it on your head. It seems to me to be something like an enterprise or hard hat, or used personally much like a gaming console, which is a single-purpose device.

So, I think 5G phones are the real deal. That do spatial computing that does AR and VR could end up being very popular and, and a headset that people use to use VR as much as AR. I also really like potential to put up multiple monitors and for you to have a screenless computing experience. So, all of those things are really exciting. I'm not sure that consumers want that. I think I want that, but you know, let's say I paid $2,000 for it. I'm not sure I would really use it. I had no idea. So I think that that's kind of exciting and kind of terrifying, right? And you never know until your product is introduced under conditions of sale, whether people legitimately feel that it's a good value proposition. Yeah, but I couldn't be more excited. It's a tremendous advance and the truth is great. That's what makes it a great story to write about. There's so many twists and turns. Nobody knows how this is going to turn out. There are trillions of dollars at stake. The players are the largest companies in the world. Some of them, led by outsize personalities. So when you say, what am I looking forward to? I'm looking forward to the story, man. What happens in the next doc? 


Caspar Thykier: Definitely sounds like a Netflix series in the making with Charlie. That's been amazing. We are definitely, probably over time, but I think we've talked a lot in. Thank you so much. I greatly appreciate it. 


Charlie Fink: Well, the beers at South by Southwest 22 are on me. Thank you.