Augmented Reality
IT & Services

On The Brink: 4 Breakthroughs For AR Companies

John Sommer
August 23, 2018

Although AR already represents an installed base of 900 million units, it remains an elusive concept for many businesses and consumers. This is largely due to a handful of barriers that still stand in the way of full implementation. Once new advancements and clear communication surmount these barriers, the floodgates will open, and the industry will make a mad dash to implement AR capabilities.

Installed AR user base is projected to reach 3.5 billion by 2022, representing $85 to $90 billion in revenue. Poised on the brink of this explosive growth, it’s useful to take a look at four remaining barriers about to give way to the progress of AR companies:

1. The Device Requirement

Right now, AR is interesting, but not practical — especially in an industrial context. Users always need to be holding a device in their hands, looking through a small window. This window, which is just a few square inches of the user’s physical surroundings, doesn’t reach the threshold of a truly different reality.

ARKit and ARCore – One Big Leap for AR

When Apple released ARkit in 2017, followed within hours by the rollout of ARCore for Android, new doors opened. These powerful frameworks allowed app developers better access to and exploration of augmented reality development.

ARKit provided three main innovations:

  • Location tracking: The device (usually a smartphone) uses camera tracking and motion sensors to identify its location in the real world.
  • Surface detection: Devices recognize nearby physical surfaces such as walls, tables, etc.
  • Rendering: 3D models export from a 3D editor and rendered more realistically.

ARKit 2, released in June 2018,  enhanced these core capabilities with facial recognition, multi-user experiences, persistent maps, some 3D object recognition, and the ability to render environmental texturing.

The Promise of HoloLens is Still Emerging

The 3D scanning that Microsoft’s HoloLens offers is still defining its applications, and the technology it requires is sophisticated. Hololens’ target market is more at the enterprise than the consumer level, but even with enterprise resources, this emerging technology cannot evolve faster than the supporting hardware. Gesture and voice controls are still being developed, and the practical uses for HoloLens are tied to these associated technologies.

Hands-Free is AR’s Future

Although ARKit and ARCore broke new ground in terms of sensing, AR won’t achieve its full potential until becomes entirely hands-free. Similar to virtual reality, untethered is the necessary destination. Instead of the user staring at a small screen, they’ll be looking through smart glasses at the whole world, with an augmented overlay.

A survey of consumers in England, Germany, and the U.S. found that the lack of additional hardware is one of the highest barriers to their ability to view AR advertising. Apple is rumored to be planning a rollout of AR smart glasses in 2020, and many analysts tie that development to the explosion of the AR industry.

2. The Need for Contextual Content

Content will be King for AR companies. In order to offer real value, it’s vital to have a library of objects and items to tag. That sounds easy enough, but, right now, access and organization of this content is lagging behind. In a 2018 survey by Perkins Coie, respondents listed limited content offerings as a significant difficulty they face in adopting AR.

Furthermore, AR content (XR content, in general) is different than content intended for traditional websites or app platforms. This content has to be created especially for the augmented reality environment, which is driven by more complex sensory and spatial factors.

Fortunately, adequate contextual information is on the horizon. Although the content library requirements for AR are massive, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will be able to deliver solutions.

3. A Lack of Industry Adoption

As all sectors of the economy recognize AR’s benefits, they’ll leverage it for an expanding range of purposes. Right now, the device barrier causes AR to be adopted in a slow, patchwork fashion. Each industry also has its own established approaches and processes. Innovation takes time to break through this conservatism. AR has exceptional potential for K-12 education, for example, and yet the lack of funding, hardware, and curriculum that incorporates AR elements all pose major obstacles.

Early Adopters of AR in Industry

Augmented reality has early roots in gaming. As it moved beyond Pokemon Go and other entertainment successes, AR has been embraced more by a few industries where it was an intuitive fit. These include:

  • Automotive: AR is deployed across manufacturing, training, sales, and vehicle operation.
  • Healthcare: Wearable technology is used for patient monitoring as well as visualization aids for training practitioners. Google Glass and other AR setups have been used by surgeons since 2013.
  • Retail: In their scramble to stay in business in the age of Amazon, retailers are exceptionally open to innovation. Endless aisle and interactive in-store experiences gain in popularity.
  • Real Estate: The Matterport 3D camera allows 360-degree walk-throughs of architectural spaces.

Accelerating Business Objectives with AR

The specific new functionalities that AR offers will appeal uniquely to each industry. Some of the foundational pillars AR adoption will build upon fast and furiously include:

  • Customer insight: AR can make customer data more impactful for businesses. Each customer will have a wider range of interactions associated with their profile, giving the company a deeper understanding of how they make decisions and establish preferences.
  • Training: More interactive training allows hands-on experience and 3D visualization of the subject matter. Enhanced reality experiences satisfy a variety of different learning styles, encouraging better absorption.
  • User Experience: AR provides novel, creative, and intuitive ways for users to engage with brands. The sense of delight can naturally stimulate consumers to take action or change their perceptions.
  • Information Transmission: The ability to visualize complex data will bridge the information gap in areas like personal finance, stock trading, insurance, government contracts, and more.

4. No Clear Leadership

Outside of entertainment, it’s hard to say who currently leads the charge in AR. The technology doesn’t yet have a true ambassador. In the absence of a unified pro-AR voice, negative videos around intrusive AR content are given disproportionate weight.

Depictions of AR as a channel that delivers overwhelming retail experiences, for example, present a false future. These videos don’t reflect reality because no individual provider can push all their content at users at once. But with no visible leadership message promoting the benefits and positive impact, it’s easy to cast a shadow of doubt.

Global Services Require Caution

There are, however, some areas of concern for AR that can’t be ignored. Where the AR experience could actually become overwhelming is with location-based apps. If Google maps, for example, delivered a constant stream of geo-spatially targeted ads as the user navigates, that could create pushback. To counterbalance this potential for drowning its consumers in too much information, AR companies must increasingly customize and curate their apps to foster user experience best practices.

AR is Worth it.

While AR is not yet widespread throughout industries and the Internet of Things (IoT), its approaching impact is enormous. The installed AR base is still small enough to force serious contemplation regarding heavy investments of time and resources. But the vision is getting closer and clearer every day. Digging in and driving ahead to deliver bottom line-impacting, user-delighting AR experiences will be 100% worth it.

AR companies face the challenge of anticipation and preparation, but for users, the world of experiential delights awaits. AR, and XR in general, often goes back to its gaming roots to progress in efficacy. As collaborative AR games like The Walking Dead: Our World, and other engaging entertainment applications emerge, consumer excitement builds. Savvy brands, worldwide, will take notice, applying AR to enhance their story, sell their products/services, and create new value for their customers.