Augmented Reality Is Piquing the Interest of Marketers

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Augmented reality, which layers digital information on top of live video or the user’s environment in real time, is being investigated or already in play at 75 percent of companies, according to a B2B technology survey by ABI Research. The survey found that 25 percent of companies actively operate the technology right now. 

Among the use cases for companies, providing remote assistance, also dubbed “see-what-I-see,” where a user on the ground transmits imagery from his point of view to someone remotely, is among the most common, says Eric Abbruzzese, principal analyst at ABI.

In this scenario, a lesser-trained employee on location might relay data and video to an expert who isn’t there, cutting down on travel costs and time commitment, he explains. 

Some markets have been quicker to adopt the technology than others, the research found. For example, more than 40 percent of respondents in manufacturing state that they currently use smart glasses, with just 4 percent saying that they have no interest in implementing the devices. 

“Specific to manufacturing you start to get a little more into guidance, step-by-step instruction, and things to improve safety,” Abbruzzese says.

But augmented reality will likely really gain traction through the devices we already carry with us. “A lot of times when we speak of augmented reality, smart glasses are the first thing that come to mind. For smart glasses…we don’t anticipate much consumer uptake within the next two or three years,” Abbruzzese says. “Where we anticipate augmented reality coming into play more for both enterprises and consumers is on mobile devices.”

Big-name companies are leading the way when it comes to further developing the technology. In June, Apple announced its ARKit which, according to the company’s website, “allows you to easily create unparalleled augmented reality experiences for iPhone and iPad.” Around the same time, it established a partnership with Ikea focused on the technology, which Abbruzzese says is “the first big-name partnership we’ve seen.”

“Anything with Apple gets picked up very quickly, and now that Apple has an augmented reality kit I expect we’ll see a lot more of that,” he adds. “This is the first voyage into the market for Apple, so we’ll see a lot more from them and the other big guys going forward.”

Another potential area of development is around the convergence of augmented reality and virtual reality. According to Abbruzzese, “The best accepted difference [between the two] is that virtual reality completely obscures the user’s vision and augmented reality maintains it.” 

There is, however, a middle ground developing around mixed reality and merged reality. 

Mixed reality is augmented reality, where the user maintains vision, but 3-D content can be added in, and users can interact with it in a three-dimensional way as they would with virtual reality. Merged reality is taking virtual reality and bringing in some components of the real world, but it’s still by definition virtual reality because it’s obscuring the user’s vision, Abbruzzese explains.

Microsoft famously coined mixed reality with its HoloLens, an untethered holographic computer and head-mounted display introduced last year. Samsung and Asus have extended an offer to Microsoft to help produce their own mixed-reality products. Intel pushed merged reality with its Project Alloy virtual reality headset, introduced last year. 

Yet despite the presence of some big names in the market, Abbruzzese notes that at this point, augmented reality is primarily an enterprise venture, while virtual reality is primarily a consumer venture. “We’ll start to see that overlap more and more, and there’s a lot of talk of these two categories basically becoming one,” he says. “Right now price is an issue, content is an issue, and general accessibility is an issue, but with any new piece of technology, those issues are figured out over time.”