It is projected that the Augmented Reality (AR) market will grow to $60 to $90 billion by 2021. Other predictions place the blended market for augmented reality, virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) as an approximately $220 billion sector by 2021. Investors and developers alike are seeing tremendous opportunity as this market unfolds.
This boom in the AR market isn’t an overnight success story. It has been a long time in the making, and now that people are seeing real value in both wearable and mobile technology, AR has hit an inflection point for accelerating growth.
How did AR go from a free, novelty game like Pokémon Go to a $90 billion commercial battleground? Pokémon Go was the eye-opening event that showed the viability, engagement and feasibility of AR for everyone.
A Race to Capitalize on the AR Opportunity
In April of this year, Facebook announced it would be making the camera the first augmented reality platform. Facebook is building a product focused initially on their social networking platform and giving users features they are already enjoy using. This smartphone-only offering allows people to apply video filters like facemarks, style transfers and frames created by thousands of developers from all over the globe. The goal is to be able to add realistic 3D objects and other types of animated effects to videos to ultimately post to Facebook.
In a counter move in June, Apple announced their release of ARKit for iOS to allow developers to make augmented reality apps for the iPhone. Apple is taking a different approach and opening up development to a broader audience to create the “largest AR platform in the world.” This gives everyone access to create AR apps for the iPhone much like they were able to create apps with the advent of the Apple App Store. This opens up the opportunity to develop tools for healthcare, retail, advertising, gaming, education, navigation, manufacturing—the list is limitless.
It is still too early to declare a winner but Apple could have a real competitive advantage with their ubiquitous AR offering with the iPhone over Facebook. However, Facebook and Apple aren’t the only titans vying for this market. Amazon Web Services just announced the launch of Sumarian at AWS re:Invent 2017. Sumarian is a browser-based tool that allows users to create AR and VR environments without any specialized AR or VR knowledge.
But isn’t AR just for games?
The uses for AR technology are unfolding rapidly. Now that the technology has hit an inflection point, the opportunities to use AR are only limited by imagination and investment.
AR has been a growing reality for many industries. Some manufacturing and services companies are placing a bet on AR as a tool to supplement training, increase accuracy and improve safety. Some hardware manufacturers like Epson are developing AR solutions for industrial and personal drone usage. Whether a using a hand-held or wearable AR device, workers can perform tasks like accessing training videos, viewing documentation and capturing detailed logs without having to refer to a laptop or paper records.
Healthcare practitioners have been leveraging AR to increase the quality of patient care while reducing the amount of time doctors and nurses spend documenting office visits. Other practitioners are using AR to facilitate spinal and plastic surgery.
AR is also finding a growing base of supporters in education. Companies are already popping up with books that become movies with AR. There are other exciting applications like bringing lessons in chemistry or history to life. AR holds a lot of promise for educators as the field advances.
Here’s what to watch for.
It is too early to determine who will win this race, but there are opportunities for everyone—investors, developers, and hardware manufacturers. Some of the key trends we will be keeping our eyes on are:
- How standards for AR technology development and display unfold. Many of us still remember the video tape format wars of the 1980's featuring VHS and BetaMax. We need to keep our eye on how companies pick and choose what standards they will adhere to and what devices users will adopt
- Ways AR can be used to solve every day issues for companies. Companies have the capital and the drive to adopt new technologies to address existing problems
- The limits of battery life on device usage. Battery life is a main consideration. AR applications are power intensive and battery life becomes a major factor in feasibility and performance
- The future of optical devices. Early wearable AR devices were universally panned by consumers. If Ocular AR is to succeed, it needs to evolve to a point that people will be comfortable wearing them. The alternative is wearable AR devices will only expand for professional and industrial uses
Whatever the outcome, the biggest winners here will be the people who will ultimately use and benefit from AR.