Pokémon GO! put Magikarps in quiet parks, and Charizards near national monuments. It also brought augmented reality (AR) to the masses. By mid-July, the game was more popular than Tinder in Australia. By late July, its number of daily users in the US surpassed Twitter.
AR + VR = MR?
While initially overshadowed by virtual reality (VR), AR is now a hot topic in the tech world. Why? As opposed to VR – a closed and entirely artificial environment in which users are fully immersed – AR inserts itself into everyday life by altering current reality. Accessed via a smartphone screen or a headset, it overlays artificial objects into the real world, giving users a partly immersive experience with limited interactive capabilities. There’s also a convergence of VR and AR, called mixed reality (MR), which offers more interactive options.
Who’s leading the pack?
Until Pokémon GO!, AR largely inhabited an industrial realm, allowing architects to visualise building projects in situ, or doctors to test surgical procedures. Then, in 2013, Google released Glass: a $1500 face guard that came…and went…leaving a trail of futuristic trendsetters in its wake.
Glass might not have been the answer, but Google indicated the potential was there. So in 2014, the company invested $542 million into Magic Leap, a Florida tech startup working on a new kind of AR dubbed ‘cinematic reality’. This form of AR places common daily applications (like emails and games) in your peripherals for an enhanced real-world experience. Magic Leap are notoriously secretive in their process, however their staggering $4.5billion capital suggests whatever is under the hood is worth getting excited about. And for any Star Wars fans, LucasArts is on board too.
Facebook, Samsung, Apple: all the usual suspects are working on competing AR technology, but Microsoft deserves a special mention. HoloLens is an AR headset that sits somewhere between Google Glass and Facebook’s Oculus Rift. Unlike Magic Leap, Microsoft chose to make HoloLens headsets available during development. For US$3000, wearers can see and interact with holographic images within their environments – be it decorating a living room or building a Minecraft fortress on a kitchen table.
Why the hype?
It’s the potential day-to-day integration that makes AR so exciting. Unlike VR, AR doesn’t necessarily need expensive hardware to function, and is far more portable. According to a 2015 study by Digi-Capital (revised early 2016) AR/VR has the potential to disrupt the mobile and tablet market, and could hit $120 billion in revenue by 2020. Goldman Sachs released its own positive appraisal of the industry, predicting revenue of $80 billion by 2025. The potential of AR to disrupt or, at the very least, integrate into the smartphone and tablet market is fuelling the appraisals.
We’ve reached a point where public perception, appreciation, and expectation of AR is shifting, and its technical capabilities are starting to hit the hype. Gaming, retail, real estate, health – AR’s potential applications are vast and the next 12 months will likely reveal its direction. But one question still remains: exactly how many pairs of goggles are we going to need?
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