What is the state of play for augmented reality now and in the coming year? Augmented reality, alongside virtual reality, 5G, and Artificial Intelligence have been touted as the emerging technologies most likely to have a transformative effect on our lives and work in the near future.
Augmented reality is having a good run. There is a rapid growth in the exploration, investments and adoption of solutions that allow us to immerse ourselves into computer-generated worlds and overlay graphics onto our real-world field of view.
Augmented reality solutions are growing ever sophisticated and they are also finding real-world, value-adding practical uses in diverse use-cases ranging from design to manufacturing, medical applications, training and retail. We are also seeing traction on the hardware front. Manufacturers are not only building more powerful and capable hardware that can relay high quality visuals but they are also reaching for the mainstream. With increasing innovation on this front, we are moving towards an immersive ecosystem where there will exist more intuitive ways of exploring and interacting with the virtual space. What does the short-term future portend for augmented reality? Here is a look at some of the top things to keep in mind on the augmented reality ecosystem.
Augmented Reality Continues to Expand
Augmented reality is on a steady trajectory of growth lately. According to the Venture Reality Fund, the number of AR companies has increased by 33% over the past year. Many companies, including startups and the more established players are moving in to launch augmented reality hardware and software technologies.
Mobile AR is Rapidly Growing
While augmented reality hardware is yet to hit a threshold that will appeal to mainstream users, mobile AR is becoming the default entry point for users that want to have AR experiences.
Two major developments in the past two years have gone a long way in democratizing mobile augmented reality development: the introduction of Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit software development kits (SDKs). These have standardized the development tools and expanded the scope of mobile AR creation. Their introduction doubled the number of mobile AR-enabled devices and tripled the number of active users over the past 1.5 years.
ARKit has enabled Apple to secure the AR market leadership, a position that it is set to entrench with the introduction of its augmented reality headset set to be released in in the first half of 2020 according to analyst predictions. The recent advances have placed mobile AR experiences on the same pedestal with headset-based AR, something which is likely to contribute to rapid AR adoption given the sluggish pace AR headset development and uptake.
Both ARCore and ARKit platforms are growing rapidly. While ARKit still enjoys some market dominance, ARCore has seen a tenfold growth in absolute figures. The installed base of ARCore-compatible devices stood at 400 million devices as of May 2019.
The Rise in Augmented Reality Shopping
Augmented reality is slowly creeping into the shopping experiences. Retailers are implementing some novel AR solutions to aid the shopping experience ranging from the AR-based “try ons” to augmented reality projections of products in their immediate real-world surroundings.
According to a Gartner report, some 100 million consumers are expected to use AR-enabled shopping experiences in 2019. Moving into 2020, this is bound to be one of the biggest retail trends with many retailers hopping onto the bandwagon and implementing AR shopping solutions.
Many of these experiences are likely to occur on mobile AR. There is already an upsurge in AR-enabled mobile devices and as more consumers discover the various cool augmented reality things that they can do with their smartphones, they are likely to employ these in their shopping experience. The mobile AR technology is maturing and becoming more robust and developers, retailers and consumers are leveraging its potential.
For retailers, there will be a good imperative to embrace augmented reality. A recent BRP report states that 48% of consumers will likely purchase from retailers that provide them with augmented reality experiences. Only 15% of retailers are currently utilizing augmented reality in any form. Some 32% of retailers plan to implement VR or AR solutions within the next three years.
The Rise of Enterprise AR
AR deployment is proving to be most successful on the enterprise front. Many companies across a vast spectrum of industries ranging from healthcare to automotive are integrating AR into the processes. AR is also finding its way into military applications. Some of the manufacturers embracing AR for the enterprise include Microsoft’s HoloLens which now offers end users improved battery life, wearability as well as more processing power. In fact, the US Army signed a $480 million contract with Microsoft for the supply of the HoloLens Mixed Reality headsets and platform.
A Forrester report states that some 14 million US workers will be regularly using smart glasses in their jobs by 2025.
One of the expected top drivers for the adoption of augmented reality technology will be the industry 4.0 applications that integrate AR. Many enterprises are embracing augmented reality to help in streamlining processes such as training and self-help to employees through augmented reality overlays capable of delivering information from manuals.
Enterprises such as Tyson and Walmart are already moving their traditional training into mixed reality format. Their immersive training settings enable workers to have access to new ways of learning about safety and compliance issues in a more practical and engaging format.
In the future, the integration of these technologies with other emerging workplace trends such as gamification will end up compounding the returns that these augmented reality and mixed reality solutions will generate. By 2022, AR-based training applications in enterprise will have grown into a $6 billion industry, according to ABI Research.
This trend will also spurn improvements in testing, prototyping, troubleshooting and quality control, allowing workers to make quick comparisons of real-world products against available specifications and documentation. Jobs that rely on automation can tremendously benefit from augmented reality integration.
Consumer AR Content Continues to Register Strong Growth
The emergence of AR-enabled mobile devices has created vast possibilities for millions of people to experience augmented reality for the first time. The growth of consumer AR has been strongest on the mobile devices. There is the success of mobile-based AR experiences such as Pokemon Go, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and the upcoming Minecraft Earth experience. In the social space, augmented reality effects on platforms such as Snap and Instagram have grown from the fun and gimmicky to more functional marketing uses.
Head-Mounted Display are Undergoing Transition
Hardware manufacturers are now through with the first-generation of augmented reality hardware and are transitioning to a new generation of hardware. Some of these have seen moderate success while others aren’t seeing much traction. Some of the early players such as ODG and CastAR have even closed shop.
In spite of the lack traction in the industry, hardware manufacturers are still attracting investments. Both RealWear and Magic Leap are still raking in millions of dollars in new funding. Microsoft is also investing in a new generation of augmented reality headset with the HoloLens 2 Mixed Reality headset which is likely to have a positive impact on enterprise VR uptake.
It is not just the enterprise market that is seeing some movement. The consumer market is also seeing new investments and products such as Bose’s spatial audio AR sunglasses, Focal smartglasses by North and Form augmented reality swim glasses. The big players such as Microsoft and Magic Leap are still concentrating on the enterprise market and are yet to unveil any consumer AR glasses.