At the beginning of June, the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) dominated the tech news cycle and kicked off with the announcement of Apple’s new augmented reality (AR) apps and features, as well as a new version of its ARKit. None of this was groundbreaking in itself, but the takeaway is that the largest technology company in the world is going all in on augmented reality. It’s one of the best indications we’ve seen that mixed reality — including augmented and virtual — is on its way to mass adoption.
Similar to the sudden and rapid adoption of smartphones that took off around 2007, mixed reality (MR) — also known as extended reality (XR) — is poised to make its way into our homes and onto our devices over the next three to five years. Smartphones changed our lives because they gave us access to the internet in a small, convenient device. They introduced us to apps (fun fact: when the App Store launched it had about 200 apps, now it has over 2 million) — making the user interface easier and faster than before. Mixed reality is different in that it’s not just taking something we already did and making it mobile and more efficient, it’s completely changing how we look, view and interact within the physical and digital worlds.
According to a CCS Insight report, "consumers are expected to purchase 22 million VR and AR headsets and glasses" in 2018. In 2022, that number is expected to rise to 120 million units, a nearly six-fold increase, with a market value approaching $10 billion. Virtual reality and augmented reality have made a big splash with gaming and entertainment, and as the technology and content get better and more available, it’s starting to mirror smartphone adoption with price and performance continuing to favor consumers. A notable difference is that mixed reality has at least one foot starting in the business to business (B2B) world.
Where The Magic Happens
Mixed reality is infiltrating business processes, and the momentum is fierce. Here’s why: Initial costs have been at higher price points than would be palpable for consumers, but they are still relatively inexpensive for the enterprise. Unlike consumers, who invest in mixed reality for entertainment purposes, companies leverage virtual and augmented technologies to solve problems faster, save on travel costs and innovate their go-to-market strategies, giving them a leg up on the competition.
Microsoft has recently been showcasing their “modern workspace” capabilities, including Microsoft Layout and Microsoft Remote Assist through the use of artificial intelligence and the HoloLens. This technology allows colleagues to collaborate on issues remotely — viewing manuals and screens right from the job site with image and object recognition and detection — while working faster and more efficiently. Boeing has employed the use of AR glassespowered by Skylight to help guide the complicated wiring process for technicians. In the retail industry, we leverage VR headsets, augmented reality iPad apps and computer simulations for a wide variety of mixed reality solutions. Retailers and manufacturers who want to develop, test and present new in-store concepts without the physical limitations and labor costs have seen huge improvements both in efficiency and with shopper engagement.
As people get used to the idea of these types of technologies in the workplace, the natural adoption curve will be to start seeing more and more consumer uses as well. Suffice it to say, developers will figure out all the areas that will stand to benefit from mixed reality as long as they see communities of businesses and consumers there to buy those apps and content. We’re starting to see that now. The question isn’t if augmented and virtual technology will become ubiquitous -- it’s when.