What’s Next for Augmented Reality in 2018?

January 4, 2018 - 8 minutes read

2017 has been a stellar year for augmented reality (AR) development, so it’s hard to say goodbye. But 2018 is anticipated to be an even bigger year for AR technology. By the time 2019 rolls around, AR will no longer be a novelty. With advances in both software and hardware, it will become a more ubiquitous technology utilized by businesses and brands around the world for multiple applications.

Is VR Still Part of the Future?

Virtual reality (VR) did not meet the forecasted expectations of analysts this year. At face value, experts can partially attribute this to delayed device roll-outs and shipments, as well as numerous order cancellations. But the deeper issue stifling VR expansion is the barrier and hesitation to enter the market. Throwing down money for not only the VR device but a high-powered PC that can actually support the technology dissuades many. If that doesn’t discourage you, the gigantic headset and aesthetics may.

“No matter how good VR gets, few people would be comfortable socializing in person with someone whose eyes they can’t see, and social acceptability is an absolute requirement for anything we wear in public,” says Michael Abrash, Seattle developer and chief scientist at Oculus. In order for a new technology to make its transition into the mainstream, it must feel natural and seamless; in reality, VR feels like neither right now.

While Oculus Rift ended the year as the most popular VR headset and the company is preparing for its second generation devices, Abrash knows that AR development will become a pillar technology of our lives: “We all know what we want: AR glasses. They aren’t here yet, but when they arrive, they’re going to be one of the great transformational technologies of the next 50 years.” Many companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and HTC know this and are beginning to invest more in AR than VR.

The Road to Mixed Reality

Thanks to Pokemon Go, AR experienced unprecedented exposure in 2016 that carried through to 2017. In fact, the revenue that Pokemon Go generated in its first three months was more than the entire 2016 VR market. While many debate whether Pokemon Go should even be considered a true AR app, it’s undoubtedly responsible for pushing AR into the limelight and convincing brands and businesses to focus more on the technology than before.

That’s not to say that VR will be extinct anytime soon though. AR and VR may be on different tracks right now, but eventually, they’ll converge to form a combination known as mixed reality. There will no longer be a discrete difference between AR and VR.

Abrash elaborates, “Twenty or thirty years from now, I predict that instead of carrying stylish smartphones everywhere, we’ll wear stylish glasses. Those glasses will offer VR, AR, and everything in between, and we’ll wear them all day and use them in almost every aspect of our lives. The distinction between AR and VR will vanish.”

The Era of Mainstream Mobile AR

Pokemon Go catapulted AR to the top of the mobile marketplace, and companies have taken notice. Apple and Google have both given budding AR developers software to play with in the form of ARKit and ARCore, respectively. Both companies have also begun to incorporate more AR features with each new phone iteration they release.

Other companies are joining in on the fun as well. San Francisco developers also get to benefit from Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studios and Mixed Reality Academy. Not to be left out, Facebook is also integrating AR into its platform. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of the many constraints holding VR back and thinks that AR can bypass these by staying focused on mobile applications: “The phone is probably going to be the mainstream consumer platform where a lot of these AR features become mainstream, rather than a glasses form factor that people will wear on their face.”

But one AR contender is still primarily focused on producing an AR headset. Magic Leap, a mysterious company that has been generating hype for years, is set to release its first mixed reality headset in 2018. And early pictures have surprised everyone. While nowhere close to resembling regular glasses, Magic Leap’s hardware is by far the sleekest design in both VR and AR. While other AR headsets have stumbled upon release, Magic Leap may give AR wearables the same boost that Pokemon Go gave to mobile AR.

From Novelty to Business Branding Necessity

Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore have enabled companies to commercialize AR on a whole new level. Prior to their launch, AR was largely restricted to headsets if you wanted to utilize all it had to offer. But now, organizations can reach millions of potential customers and clients through the iOS and Android development platforms. Not only has market penetration become more viable and expansive through AR, the return on investment has been optimized as well.

Expect to see numerous businesses capitalizing on this in 2018. Just a few months ago, Ikea recently made headlines with its new ARKit app that allows you to envision what different pieces of furniture would look like in your room. Called Ikea Place, the app allows you to position furniture and choose its color after you scan the room you’d like it to be in. Of course, this virtual trip to Ikea wouldn’t be complete without the ability to also purchase the furniture piece that catches your eye.

While Ikea Place is still far too young to quantify its success in terms of revenue or leads, it has already set a new bar for leveraging AR technology to revamp the consumer purchasing process. It would not be surprising to see the number of AR retail applications to increase exponentially in 2018. But retail won’t be the final frontier for AR development during this year. Construction, landscaping, energy, oil, MedTech, and FinTech all have AR apps in the works.

The Start of an AR Renaissance

2018 is going to be a groundbreaking year for AR, especially in terms of mobile app development. The technology is at the perfect stage to transition to a more mainstream role in society. It is already eclipsing VR, the long-time favorite for many years prior to AR becoming more viable.

By 2021, the AR market’s value is expected to be $108 billion. By the end of 2018, it will become more apparent which industries and applications are bolstering AR’s worth towards this projection. But don’t expect that realization to come without any surprises along the way!

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