In the world of virtual reality and augmented reality, the latter has been perceived as the less-glamorous cousin. However, with the stunning popularity of the Pokémon Go launch, which has 20 million daily users in the U.S alone, AR is firmly in the spotlight.
AR superimposes visuals, data, and virtual objects (such as Pokémon) on the viewer’s real environment (such as street corners, or retail stores). And it is viewed by many analysts and market watchers as more flexible and potentially more useful than VR. That’s because it can be used not just in a fixed environment, but out in the real world.
Digicapital predicts that by 2020, the AR market will be worth $90 billion.
But we don’t have to wait four years to experience the value of AR. Today there are many uses that build on current smart device functions, namely GPS and cameras, some of which have been around much longer than Pokémon.
On the commercial side, leading brands have launched AR programs. That includes Coca Cola, which is using AR for better visualization as a sales tool. Meanwhile Siemens is using AR to simulate products at trade shows.
Here are a few more uses cases for AR:
On the consumer side, the number of AR apps is growing every day. And the size of the AR app market alone will reach $2.4 billion in revenues by 2019.
Some platforms have had AR components for some time. For example, Yelp launched its AR Monocle in 2009, showing restaurants and stores, along with crowd-sourced reviews. The online rating platform also launched a filter showing users when Pokémon are nearby, thus driving interest in businesses in the Pokémon zone.
In addition, AR apps available today can show a movie trailer when pointed at a poster, test the look of a tattoo before you commit, and show you historical landmarks and information about them. There are apps that show users where to find the nearest public Wi-Fi can be found. AR apps also help users identify stars and constellations.
For many years, much of the interest in AR was driven by industrial uses. The term augmented reality was coined in 1990 at Boeing before smartphones even existed. It was in the form of software to replace maps and schematics for factory workers. And it required users to wear high-tech headgear. Other industrial uses include using smart glasses in factories to guide equipment repairs, giving workers information in their line of sight, while allowing them to see what they are doing.
Going forward, there are predictions that AR will foster a fourth wave of technology, following PCs, online, and mobile, and will change how we interface with information platforms. Through the use of AR glasses or other wearables, consumers who are currently untethered from their desks by mobile will be further unencumbered by not having to look down at their devices. They will summon information not by the click of a button, but rather by pointing, or even just looking, at objects either in the real world or as part of their viewable information source.
The pursuit of these functions is driving major technology companies to direct considerable R&D both to new hardware and software. For example, companies such as Microsoft are working to capture minute movements of hands and fingers. And they are creating additional processing power for the tremendous amount of information that untethered AR will require.
Pointing a smartphone at something and seeing new data and objects superimposed, is now second nature to many people. Consumer acceptance and interest in AR will drive greater adoption of existing AR platforms and apps as well as innovation in AR software, hardware, and services.
Chris Carmichael is the founder and chief creative architect of Ubiquity Inc., a technology and media company in the AR/VR and mixed reality space.
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