This week's Magic Leap Lumin OS update contained a number of goodies, including iris authentication, and a way to stream to Twitch from the device.
But one new feature really stood out to me, and that's voice control of the system's interface.
With the increasing popularity of voice-controlled virtual assistants and smart homes, we've become much more comfortable with voice interfaces as a way to speed the process of interacting with our devices. Therefore, it only makes sense the most cutting-edge mobile devices -- high-end augmented reality headsets -- would offer the same ease of use.
I've already tried the voice control functions on the HoloLens 2 and while most the system's interface is geared more toward gesture control, its voice features are powerful. So how does the Magic Leap One stand up in this category? Here's what I found during a brief test.
I was somewhat surprised that the voice prompt for the system is "Hey Lumin" and not something a little more mainstream and, dare I say it, cute. Sure, Lumin is an easy and short name to say, but, at this point, only a small group of developers are really familiar with the name.
It seems like this was a missed opportunity to begin branding Mica, the company's incredibly impressive virtual assistant. Hey Mica, rolls off the tongue just as easy, if not easier, than Hey Lumin, and it would allow Magic Leap to begin training users to get used to looking to Mica for help.
To get the voice control feature working, you first need to upgrade to Lumin OS 0.98.0. Once installed, you need to go to Settings, then to the System page, and then to the Speech page to turn the feature on (it's turned off by default).
Currently, the voice commands don't cover every single operation available in the interface, but what's available is a good start. Right now, you can use your voice to open apps, move apps and virtual objects, close apps, begin and end video recording of your session, snap a photo, raise or lower the volume, and open the main menu (known as the Launcher).
Before I get into specifics, I just want to say how much I love the feedback audio prompt that follows "Hey Lumin." When you utter the phrase, you're quickly met with the system's audio response "Yeah?" There's also a visual indicator in case you didn't catch the snappy reply. The audio response is generally fast and, somehow, encouraging, and thus makes using the voice interface a lot more fun.
Now for the downside, that same helpful voice, which is clearly meant to help train you to use the voice controls, frequently talks over you while trying to tell you how to use it. So, once I familiarized myself with the voice controls and wanted to move fast, I couldn't because I was often interrupted by the voice of Lumin giving me guidance on an operation I'd already learned. If there's a way to turn this off, I couldn't find it.
Assuming I didn't miss something, in a future update it would be good to provide a non-training wheels option that lets us do away with the guidance help. That said, when you're first getting used to using the voice controls, I'll admit that the voice guidance was very helpful.
The voice controls in the updated Lumin OS let you combine voice commands and gaze tracking, which means you can perform a kind of AR magic by issuing a verbal command and then finishing that command off with just a look in a certain direction.
For example, you can say, "Hey Lumin, open Helio" (Magic Leap's web browser app). And once the app is open, if it's hovering in an inconvenient area in your workspace, you can say, "Hey Lumin, move this," which will make the app moveable. Then, just by looking at a particular area while in move mode, you can say, "Put it there," and the object will lock into that new position.
Similarly, if you have a number of windows open at the same time, you can simply say, "Hey Lumin, close everything," and your workspace will be cleared. You can do the same thing with a single app by saying "Hey Lumin, exit this," while looking at the app in question.
These controls also allow you to mute or raise and lower the volume of the headset, which is particularly helpful when attempting to interact with the spatial computing environment versus the real world at the same time.
So far, I haven't encountered too many downsides, but there are a couple worth mentioning. First off, I did notice a bit of a lag at times when issuing commands. That could be due to a number of factors, but, in general, the lag kind of erases some of the advantages of using voice control in terms of speed and efficiency.
Thankfully, the lag wasn't persistent or particularly pronounced during my sessions, but when it happens, it diminishes the experience.
The other issue regarding voice control relates to its interface limitations within apps. Smoothly moving between apps via voice control is pretty fun and powerful, but some apps that don't require delicate, Control-based operations would be even more powerful if voice control extended deeper into the app's functions.
Needing to switch from voice control to using the handheld Control device to manipulate an app's internal interface is a less than optimal way to work, especially when you're really enjoying the freedom and ease of voice control.
If you're a Magic Leap gamer or casual user, I'm not sure the voice controls will be a huge difference maker. However, if you're an enterprise user of any sort (medical, factory floor, industrial design, etc.) using the new voice control functions could make multitasking far easier. Still, this hands-free, Control-free method of controlling the Magic Leap device will only truly reach its potential when more apps are designed to allow for full interface control via voice.
Nevertheless, this initial voice offering is a great beginning to what could eventually surpass gestures and Control-based pointing as a more natural way to interact with the device.