Until the massive success of Pokémon Go in 2016 when augmented reality (AR) was catapulted into the public’s consciousness, AR was overshadowed by its cousin, virtual reality (VR). Many were more optimistic about the applications of virtual reality compared to augmented reality.
However, as AR and VR have evolved over the past year, it has become evident that AR offers more practical daily use cases. From retail to education to manufacturing, AR is positioned to drive business value across sectors.
With that, there are still several challenges that lie ahead for the mass adoption of AR in the short term. Here’s a look at three:
1. Augmented reality hardware
Today, no AR headsets are available for consumers. Microsoft HoloLens and Meta 2 have released developer versions, but they have not yet announced when we can expect their devices to ship to consumers. Even more, HoloLens and Meta still boast hefty price tags at $3,000 and $949, respectively.
The Osterhout Design Group (ODG), which has produced headsets for enterprise and military use for years, unveiled at CES in January 2017 two models of AR/VR smart glasses for consumers. Despite the announcement, a shipment date has yet to be confirmed.
Let’s not forget to mention the design of the current headsets on the market. Although the Meta 2, HoloLens and ODG units offer a compelling user experience, they are not sleek enough for mass consumer adoption. ODG’s new R-8 and R-9 models may be the closest to consumer-ready, but there is still a way to go in streamlining the design. Also, it’s notable that the Meta 2 must be tethered to a computer, obstructing all convenience.
As we wait for smart headsets to hit the consumer market, AR must be experienced through our mobile devices. The issue with our mobile devices is that they aren’t equipped with room mapping or depth sensing technology. The only phone on the market with this capability is the Tango-enabled Lenovo Phab 2.
Tango uses computer vision to give devices the ability to understand their position relative to the world around them. This allows you to not only place virtual objects in the real world, but also these virtual objects can interact with the environment. This interaction is important as we aim to create the most life-like experience for the end user and to offer them the most utility.
2. Augmented reality content
A second challenge for AR is the content. Imagine your iPhone without apps. If you have the hardware but no content for the end user to consume, it’s all for naught.
When HoloLens and other headsets ship to consumers, they must have apps and programs that enhance the user experience. Without this utility, consumers will not be persuaded to adopt the technology.
This is why companies such as Microsoft are doing their best to attract developers to build apps for their platforms. They need the content before shipping to consumers.
Similarly, organizations that want to use AR internally (e.g., product prototyping) or externally (e.g., ecommerce) need the 3D content. For instance, if a retailer wants to integrate AR to its ecommerce mobile app, it needs to secure the 3D product models of all its SKUs.
Securing all this 3D content can be both expensive and timely, but companies are quickly realizing the importance in the investment. Wayfair has built an extensive 3D model library to fuel its ongoing innovation in VR and AR. We are moving towards a reality of mixed reality, and businesses are readying themselves today to avoid being left behind.
3. Augmented reality education
One of the most difficult challenges about AR is educating the broader market. Consumers aren’t exposed to AR regularly and don’t see its wide-reaching applications in their daily lives. However, there are plenty of AR experiences available today that just lack exposure in the consumer market.
Also, it is important to build a strong pipeline of rising talent in the AR/VR community to continue to innovate and develop this technology. It is critical that students have exposure to this technology in the classroom. It is easy to be intimidated by emerging tech, but with early exposure, AR/VR can become more accessible.
France is one of the countries leading the way in giving its students exposure to AR early. In 2015, the French government announced an updated curriculum for students that weaves augmented reality into their studies. The government recognizes that teaching emerging technology in the public school system provides all students with the keys to understanding the contemporary technical environment and the skills to act.