AR on mobile device and HMD form factors is expanding. Wider acceptability and increased content creation may be the foot in the door for enterprise use cases, which may eventually expand to the consumer side if marketing and brand image strategies are carefully planned.
No Lack of Activity
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Mobile World Congress 2018 serves as a reminder of the importance of mobile technology and devices across markets. This year, this correlates with a strong and widening push in the augmented reality (AR) markets surrounding mobile devices. A number of high-profile companies in the space, including Samsung and Google, are expanding their presence in AR on mobile. With a wider market view, AR continues to push on within the head-mounted display (HMD) form factor, with new hardware from Intel and Vuzix, along with major content partnerships for Magic Leap. This high level of activity paints a picture of a market ripe for continued growth, with increasing interest on the consumer side of the market.
Mobile Devices Central to Growth, Alongside HMDs
Last year, the launch of mobile SDKs ARKit and ARCore by Apple and Google, respectively, brought about a shift in thinking and potential for AR as a whole. Similar to the impact of mobile-reliant VR, smartphone-based AR has the potential to bring AR to millions of developers and billions of users; leveraging existing hardware, while playing in a well-understood ecosystem for both hardware and software will expand the potential footprint of AR just as it did for VR.
The impact of this is already being seen. Google launched version 1.0 of its ARCore SDK to the mass market. Amazon has rolled out its AR shopping experience now to both iOS and Android. Samsung had an AR marketing tie-in for its Galaxy S9 launch using 3D models of the new device. IKEA has experimented with AR for a number of years and is expanding the capabilities of its AR experiences on the back of these SDKs.
First-party support at the operating system level is key here. Opening iOS and Android to AR development negates some device fragmentation issues, while again leveraging these massive existing ecosystems. While VR has suffered from content starvation and decreased user interest, the introduction of these SDKs will stir developers to create AR content early in the life cycle. Looking forward, this content does not necessarily need to be mobile device-only; similar developer environments and hardware will allow much of this new AR-enabled mobile content to transition to dedicated head-worn devices. Content and content distribution methods are established, so OEMs will be less hesitant to enter the market.
The push for consumer-friendly smart glasses form factors continues, most notably with Vuzix’s Blade product hitting mass manufacture this year. The monocular display of Blade succeeds in delivering a user-friendly device size, but true consumer interest and market potential have yet to be proven. In a similar vein, Intel continues to show interest in AR, despite news earlier in the year suggesting otherwise; its newly shown Vaunt prototype glasses look to simplify the smart glasses form factor, paring down device capabilities and targeting simple use cases to keep the form factor as close to standard glasses as possible.
Next Steps are Unclear, But the Potential is Clear
While the market is heading in an incredibly promising direction, the exact layout for this growth is still nebulous. Consumer AR appeal is still untested realistically. While initial offerings have been received well, especially in retail, wider adoption is not guaranteed. Virtual reality (VR) has not really taken off as anticipated, which could be the same for consumer AR. A couple of important differences between AR and VR exist: AR promises wider applicability and early activity has been stronger in regard to content creation.
Content from prolific partners will be key to growing consumer AR, avoiding the content starvation issue seen in VR and holding on to the initial appeal of the novel technology. Magic Leap’s partnership announcement with the NBA bodes well for the company for this reason, as an early example of a major content house becoming involved with AR. The exact implementation of AR in the NBA is unknown as of now, but as stated before, early adoption and R&D will better position all companies involved.
Even if these consumer-centric pushes fall flat, the enterprise market will still benefit. The new hardware offerings can be applied to enterprise applications, just as smartphones and tablets initially meant for the consumer market have taken hold in corporate settings. The strong initial investment in AR has come from the enterprise, and this will continue with more robust growth potential as the consumer space gets involved. Content creation tools are universal, and we will see increased development with ARKit and ARCore on the enterprise side to take advantage of a wide enterprise mobility device installed base. The significant ROI promises that continuing to be shown will propel the enterprise market forward, no matter the consumer market trends.
The potential for mobile-reliant AR HMDs is strong for 2018 as well; devices like Mira, which uses a smartphone and reflector system to show AR content, promise to deliver the same benefits that mobile VR has shown, increasing accessibility and using a well-understood hardware and software environment in a novel use case. Advances in machine vision will allow ARKit and ARCore to improve, and will likely allow smartphones to rival standalone devices like Microsoft HoloLens in performance.
Seeing what the market does with these new advancements will take time. Notable consumer interest will rely on marketing and brand image, along with compelling content to drive consumers to AR content. The current state of consumer AR is mostly gimmicky, but the foundation is there to build on, and this foundation is equally relevant and important for the enterprise space