It’s A Booming Market
Augmented Reality or AR for short is a method of adding onto or ‘augmenting’ the real world with computer generated information. Popular examples of AR are the selfie filters on messaging services like snapchat, or the creatures that can be found in games like Pokémon Go, the hugely popular mobile game that was released in 2016. The value of AR is in providing an immersive world, a mix of ‘real’ and ‘augmented’ to the user, and thereby enhancing their overall experience. The technology has been around since the 90’s when the US air force developed it for their pilots, but has largely been confined to the entertainment and gaming industry since. AR has simply lacked commercial success in other sectors. That is until recently, where it’s been adopted successfully in areas such as retail, education, industrial design, tourism, medicine and construction. The spread of powerful mobile phones, and the development of AR headsets, wearables, and software are some of the reasons the industry has grown, and is expected to grow exponentially.
There’s Finally Real-World Use
AR has been stepping steadily away from hype and fad, into real-world use. It has been praised as a tool for sharing knowledge, and enabling a ‘connected’ generation to better learn through more interactive classrooms and tailored experiences. Augmented reality is also educating us outside the classroom such as; live text translation to fit language preferences, sites that depict historical scenes unfolding before our eyes, or artwork having extra layers of information like at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Archeologists have even started using AR to investigate excavation sites, using tools such as the Visual Interaction Tool for Archeology. AR is also being used in architecture and construction to view additional information on-site, like hidden installments, piping, wiring, and schematics. This way the workers on the site, and those working remotely can cooperate and share information better, and ultimately produce a smoother and more efficient building process. Harvard Business Review states that AR is boosting worker productivity, providing more economic growth and better jobs, exemplified by a technician who was guided doing a task, which improved the workers performance by 34%. Augmented reality has also become a norm within sports entertainment, with advertising being overlaid on the fields, or markers providing the viewer with augmented info, such as the ‘first down’ yellow marker in American football, or the ‘offside’ line in football. Augmented reality is also getting a foothold in the retail industry, providing consumers with the ability to preview an item before purchasing it, like IKEAS’s Place enabling users to see what furniture looks like in their home, or Amazon’s newly patented mirror that dresses you in virtual clothes. Makeup companies like Loreal and Sephora are also creating apps letting users try their products using AR.
Limitations Are Disappearing
Don’t get me wrong, technical limitations still exist, but they’re becoming less of a deal breaker, and more like manageable hurdles. Many of the problems with AR have centered around depicting the ‘augmented’ world in a realistic enough fashion; with good resolution, latency, color, and field of view. Other key issues have been on the user side, with AR previously having ‘clunky’, unintuitive interfaces, being heavy, low on power, and having an ‘ugly’ design. Producers seemingly forgot about ergonomics. It’s easy to find the many drawbacks in hindsight, as new technology is always riddled with them. AR simply wasn’t sellable outside the research lab. But allot has happened in the recent years. Google Glasses have made a comeback from its disaster launch in 2013, with their new edition getting good reviews. While Microsoft HoloLens is pushing the technical boundaries for a more utility-oriented business market. Apple has also joined the fray with patenting their own AR technology, and augmented contact lenses are being developed by Samsung. Suffice to say, we are on the verge of AR mass appeal, and companies around the world know they need to secure their place in the race. As long as we avoid living in a Black Mirror episode, I’ll be happy.
So where does all this lead? Well, Time Magazine states that in 15-20 years AR and VR will be the primary use of computers. That’s an ambitious goal for a technology that is still seen today as a bit overhyped. But I agree with their overall argument. Augmented reality is becoming much more user friendly. With enough time and development, it could replace existing solutions altogether with a more intuitive, and natural way for people to interact with technology. It’s already becoming common in industrial design, to view products before their manufactured. In medicine to guide surgery and train professionals. In transportation with onscreen information in vehicles, in Manufacturing, service, and maintenance, in tourism and in retail. The technology is continuing to become more available, and more affordable, and with that comes wide adoption. Forbes estimates that augmented reality will have a revenue of $ 36.4 billion by 2023, compared to the estimated $ 3.4 billion in 2019, and according to statista.com, the combined augmented and virtual reality market size is expected to grow from today’s value of $ 27 billion, to past $ 200 billion by 2022.
Augmented reality is in other words, starting to become a smart investment.