Augmented World Expo 2024 Leads with Spatial and AI, but Lacks a Clear “Next Big Thing”

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 3Q 2024 | IN-7437

Augmented World Expo (AWE) remains a key show for the Extended Reality (XR) industry, and a split focus between consumer and enterprise offers a holistic market overview at the expense of a concise overall takeaway. Many are in a wait and see pattern, expecting big movement in the next 12 to 24 months without a clear idea of what exactly that movement will be.

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Hot: Spatial and AI; Not: Metaverse


For the past couple years, the headline at Augmented World Expo (AWE) was the metaverse; for 2024, the metaverse was all but eliminated in favor of two buzzwords: spatial and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Under the main tagline, AWE is a healthy mix of all sides of the XR market: enterprise and consumer, hardware and software, and creators and users. This held true once again for AWE 2024, with a few headline sponsors in end-to-end (Meta, Qualcomm, and Lenovo), hardware focus (Magic Leap, Sightful, Pico), enterprise enablement (Hololight, ArborXR, and Campfire), and more. Some key names in the past were not publicly showing anything, rather absent or limited to private rooms (XREAL, Microsoft, and Google most notably).

“Spatial” felt more like a filler buzzword than a consistent product capability. With Apple coopting the spatial computing term for its Vision Pro efforts, and much of the market joining in, spatial became a sort of catch-all term for anything XR-related. Some of the expected capability was present, like Three-Dimensional (3D) immersive content, mixed reality devices, and machine vision; it did not, however, feel like spatial was a true messaging focus.

AI, on the other hand, certainly was a focus. This was expected, considering the AI craze continues across industries and the XR space has often looked to AI as an ideal enabling technology across the board. Companies touted AI as ambitiously as a full-replacement tool for immersive content creation with generative AI, to a more realistic value add for existing portfolios. While nothing stood out as revolutionary, the mix of short-term and long-term thinking was expected.

The enterprise side of XR felt similar to previous years. Companies are indeed actively using XR for a number of use cases, but scale is still small on average. Some of the AI bleed-in to enterprise took the form of low-touch value add to existing use cases; for instance, using machine vision for reliable step and process verification, or lightweight generative AI for workflow creation and optimization. Rather than completely replacing existing content creation capabilities with AI, it is AI enhanced.

Consumer was more of a mixed bag; some interesting hardware was on display, such as Sightful’s XR laptop, but there was no standout hardware announcement or reveal this year. The consumer software and content side trended toward retail and digital monetization, with some studios showcasing 3D model customization improvements for e-commerce portals and others showing immersive, purpose-built experiences in Fortnite, Roblox, and similar offerings.

Following in Mobile's Footsteps


While Spatial and AI won out for messaging buzzwords, one common takeaway independent of these seemed to be clear: XR in 2024 looks very similar to the smartphone market, pre iPhone. There are a few large companies investing in ecosystems, hoping to become a cornerstone. This takes various forms, from chipsets and Operating Systems (OSs) to content creation and distribution. Apple is positioned to be one half of the market, and the other half is everyone else. Notably, Google has still not announced anything official around Android and what Android/Google XR ecosystem could look like. Everyone agrees it is coming, but the absence still in 2024 is notable. Once Google is supporting the Android side, and Apple continues to expand VisionOS and associated hardware, it completes the dichotomy seen in the smartphone market between the same companies. Even large companies are holding off for a more concrete competitive landscape, such as Qualcomm—show announcements were limited, but they promised forward compatibility between its Spaces platform and any future efforts from Google.

Apple positioned its iPhone launch as a combination of three important, existing segments: music, web, and phone. While the Vision Pro launch was not as simple as that, the idea still applied with a handful of use cases targeted: productivity and immersive media primarily. Vision Pro has the benefit of launching into a content-rich ecosystem, though, and one that is basically engrained in the potential user base.

In the smartphone market, the general “shape” hardware should be standardized pretty quickly post-iPhone, with hardware advancements more iterative than revolutionary—displays, battery, and cameras all improve, but the silhouette remains the same. XR will likely follow a similar trend, with some caveats. As we have not yet seen the “iPhone of XR” (Vision Pro was never meant to be this), that final shape is still to be determined.

There are still two quite distinct hardware markets in XR. Immersive-focused devices target display quality, tracking accuracy, and compute power (whether on-device for standalone or through a tethered device). Simpler smart glasses devices, those that will quickly move to AI-first marketing over the next 1 to 2 years, favor comfort, usability, and design. The smartphone equivalent of these device types will first be smart glasses, as the more universally appealing and usable device type.

What's Next Is Equal to What's Now


There is a natural relationship between short-term and long-term planning. The strongest long-term plans may never come to fruition if the runway is not long enough. Short-term wins are not inherently sustainable and repeatable. AWE 2024 had a mix of short-term and long-term plans/product on display, but overall favored long-term with a general wait and see approach prevailing. XR especially has been a victim of misaligned short- and long-term goals; Microsoft and Magic Leap targeting consumer first and quickly understanding enterprise is more viable, for example. As the competitive landscape slowly but surely solidifies—looking like the smartphone market should trends continue—there will be a stronger focus on short-term products, which will better dictate what long-term roadmaps are feasible.

In the meantime:

  • Identify Key Use Cases for the Target Market: Enterprise is more straightforward, with previously proven use cases remaining valuable: training, remote assistance, data capture, etc. Consumer is less clear, with no track record to look to; targeted hardware strengths will mostly dictate initial efforts: AI first glasses will lean on virtual assistants, machine vision, and integration into existing systems to add value (e.g., notifications, social media). Immersive devices need to find a well-balanced go-to-market strategy—many understand the potential value of the content, but are unconvinced due to a combination of perceived value, ease of access, and long-term potential. Key content partners will help here, so early alliances with major content stakeholders will be necessary.
  • Focus on User Experience: Do not try to sell new experiences just due to their novelty. That novelty is beginning to wear off, despite not yet hitting mass market levels of adoption. “A solution in search of a problem” is very common in the tech world and remains so in XR. This presents a danger in waning brand recognition and trust, as well as limits the addressable market. Enterprise XR has mostly figured this out already, and tends to target known high-value use cases, with modest additions/enhancements over time. For the consumer market, or large-scale operations in general, this still applies.
  • Consider the 5-Year and 10-Year Roadmap: It’s easy to get caught up in the short-term roadmap for a relatively nascent technology and market. However, having a longer-term roadmap and clear go-to-market strategy makes short-term marketing stronger and easier. Rather than having to convince potential customers of value over and over again for each product launch, value can be instilled at a brand/ecosystem level. No one expects Apple to stop at the Vision Pro and abandon XR—the same cannot be true of Google and its XR plans.


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