Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are among the most popular and growing trends in IT today. According to Digi-Capital, the AR market could be worth 90bn USD by the year 2020. And VR is projected to reach 30bn USD in the same timeframe.
While VR requires specific hardware - namely a VR headset - and exists in an increasingly saturated market dominated by some major players, AR is not burdened by such barriers to entry.
At its base, Augmented Reality merely requires a smartphone, and it is not yet firmly in the crosshairs of those previously mentioned tech giants. Does this mean there’s something of a vacuum to be filled when it comes to AR?
I believe so. What’s more, I think Apple could be just the company to fill it. After all, Apple CEO Tim Cook, speaking back in July 2016, said “AR can be huge”.
And when you consider just how busy Apple has been in acquiring AR companies over the past few years, it looks like he means it.
Metaio, an AR tool developer was purchased in May 2015; Flyby Media, who specialize in social applications, was acquired in early 2016; and I am aware of at least one other AR acquisition given the go-ahead from Cupertino.
What are we trending towards?
As the CEO of a software development company that specializes in VR and AR development, I can unequivocally say that VR is very much on trend, and verticals such as Tourism, Hospitality, Education, Architecture, and Automobile Manufacturing are the obvious early adopters of this technology.
That being said, the market is still in its infancy.
I’d estimate that, worldwide, there are around 1m to 2m VR users, max. Next year we’ll see this number grow tenfold, and in two years’ time there could be upwards of 50m VR users worldwide.
Many companies are investing a great deal of money and resource in VR, and for good reason. The level of experience and engagement just cannot compare to anything else currently available.
AR, on the other hand, is much more ‘down to earth’, and has been adopted by a number of enterprises and games companies. Verticals such as retail, marketing, publishing, and interior design are developing innovative Augmented Reality applications and products. Unlike VR, a good AR app can reach tens of millions of users very quickly, as we witnessed this year with Pokémon GO.
The hugely popular mobile game ended up in the hands of 45 million daily users at its peak. And before the Pokémon craze, Snapchat was - and still is - comfortably introducing the concept of AR to a mass and engaged audience thanks to its ever changing roster of filters.
However this does prompt me to ask:
Is AR as we know it “broken”?
I believe the real issue when it comes to widespread adoption of AR is that in order to share new experiences with users, they must download each specific Augmented Reality app for their smartphone.
Only then will their phone’s camera be able to identify the relevant 3D models or data that they’re interested in viewing. And this subsequently creates an obstacle to enjoying AR.
But what if this two-step process (download, then use) could be simplified to just one step? What if it was possible for your smartphone to identify an AR marker without requiring a specific application to prompt it to do so?
Theoretically, it is possible. And I expect Apple are well on their way to making it happen.
“AR can be huge”
Returning once more to Cook’s words, I expect Apple are preparing to integrate an AR feature into the iPhone’s camera, making iOS the preferred platform for AR developers the world over. This will mean developers will have one SDK (software development kit) to work with, and access to around 20% of the worldwide smartphone user base.
If iOS does indeed become the standard for AR, then I would suggest that advertisers and big brands will follow fast. Just imagine a company such as IKEA offering a more rounded AR experience, displaying furniture in a user’s home via their smartphone camera, and all without having to prompt them to download an additional app. This would add so much value to the iPhone’s user experience, and offer almost endless creative opportunities for smarter, more engaged marketing.
This could be Apple’s opportunity to monumentally disrupt the AR market. And their recently filed US Patent No. 9,488, 488 - ‘Augmented Reality Maps’, a patent which describes a mapping app capable of tapping into the iPhone’s advanced sensor - certainly points to AR in their future.
Will Apple succeed where Google failed with Google Glass? Will they become the dominant force in the world of Augmented Reality? Only time will tell.
However, one thing’s for sure - 2017 is going to be a very interesting year indeed when it comes to both Augmented and Virtual Reality.
Written by Mr. Yariv Levski, CEO and co-founder of AppReal-VR, market leader in VR and AR outsourcing software development. AppReal-VR is an Israeli company with strong R&D team based in Ukraine and was ranked among top 10 Augmented Reality companies in the world. Prior to AppReal-VR, Yariv managed Second Opinion Group and was Board member in 3 Israeli Startups – TVTak (acquired), Appforma and Tekioa.