I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think Augmented Reality is that big, it’s huge. I get excited about the things that could be done, that could improve a lot of lives.” Apple CEO Tim Cook spelt out his company’s vision for Augmented Reality in a recent interview with The Independent. It confirms what tech observers and trendspotters have been saying almost since the end of 2016. Augmented Reality could be the ‘next big thing.’ A report released by IDC in Q3 2017 predicts that the total spending on AR/VR products is expected to soar from $11.4 billion in 2017 to $215 billion by 2021. That’s a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 113.2 per cent!
I remember my first experience with the HTC Vive, at the company’s shiny HQ in Taipei in 2015. I was blown away with the experience and yet couldn’t help feeling boxed up with the VR headset, cut off from the real world around me. It’s why I think Augmented Reality with its ability to blend the real with the virtual is likely to outshine Virtual Reality. It’s probably why Pokemon Go became one of the decade’s biggest phenomena.
In early 2014, Londoners got a taste of AR in the unlikeliest of spaces – a bus shelter. Pepsi Max transformed the glass of the shelter into an AR window. From tigers to space ships, the street had a bunch of objects that surprised and occasionally terrified commuters waiting for their double decker to show up. It was an early taste of how mixed reality could elevate consumer experiences and how brands could leverage from it. Apple’s iPhone X and 8 launch was the strongest endorsement of AR. A few months before this launch Apple had released its AR Kit that saw developers fall over each other to craft engaging AR apps and experiences.
All our current experiences and interactions – like ‘pinch to zoom’ with devices are largely two-dimensional. It’s why the extra dimension that AR will bring is going to shake things up. Google Lens is a great example of how AR is transforming our interaction with images. I first encountered Google Lens and its potential while testing the Google Pixel 2 for THE MAN. It gives you contextual references to the food or place images that you snap. Google Lens cleverly integrates Google search to match the image you scan from your gallery and gives you more background. It was rolled out to more Android devices in the first half of this year.
While speaking at the 2017 Google I/O Developer Conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that Google was at an inflection point, saying that computing is evolving again. “We now have voice and vision as two new important modalities for computing.” It’s a paradigm shift for Google that once didn’t look beyond text, but now sees it as an integration of text with the visual. Google began with its Tango Platform that we saw on AR-enabled devices like the ASUS ZenFone AR, some of these AR experiences through its ARCore platform are being rolled out to other premium devices and very soon AR apps and games will be available across millions of Android devices.
Consumers are giving mixed reality a big thumbs up. Research data from DigitalBridge (a UK company in the computer vision and machine learning space) suggests that 69 per cent of consumers now expect retailers to launch AR apps in the immediate future (within six months). User insights from Google reveal that 34 per cent of users would like to use AR while shopping and 61 per cent would prefer shipping at stores that offer AR. In fact, 48 per cent of consumers in the 35-44 age group are unhappy with the current technology available in retail. We could soon see AR being the bridge between physical and digital retail.
Whether it is games, brand experiences or education, AR is completely shaking things up. Our theme looks at how brands are harnessing the power of AR. We list out some cool AR apps that will give you a taste of AR and wrap up with a wish list. AR is the toast of the town, but it’s still a work in progress and needs device manufacturers and mobile platforms to quickly make improvements to truly unleash its potential and go mainstream. By all accounts, that might happen sooner than later.
Read Next: The Next Big Thing