New technologies can disrupt, but they don’t have to. It’s up to the managers and leadership of companies to plan, prepare and integrate new technologies into existing business goals.
That may certainly be the case with the exciting future of reality-enhancing or reality-altering technologies that fall under the umbrella of the terms Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). While each offers businesses and consumers different opportunities, they both provide the ability for companies to present data in a creative and immersive environment and develop new ways of interacting with users.
However, even though we’ve had applications of both AR and VR in a few industries for more than 20 years, they are relatively new technologies in terms of mainstream acceptance. And there are still hurdles to be overcome in both developing the technology to create content and the devices to experience it.
While there is almost universal acceptance that AR/VR will have a profound effect across a wide range of industries within the next five years, many companies appear unsure about exactly where and how to join the party. The landscape of AR/VR is fast-moving and the major challenge for many companies will be finding the right partners to turn to for guidance as they navigate through this exciting and evolving new world.
AR/VR is not new technology. Unfortunately, due to the high price points and the complexity of the technologies, they never found their way into the commercial world. That is changing — dramatically.
In VR, technology is delivered via wearable devices — bands, headsets, earphones — and all the engagement is through a screen in front of a user’s eyes, which in turn is powered by a computer, gaming console or mobile phone. Thanks to specialized software, sensors and 3D audio, the experience becomes a person’s reality, filling their vision, and the end effect is the ability for a user to interact with the artificial world in an intuitive way. When a VR user looks around, their view of that world adjusts the same way it would if they were looking or moving in real reality. VR creates an immersive life experience.
The beauty about VR technology is that it’s here today and businesses are already adopting it for a variety of applications. The infrastructure ecosystems, development platforms and the devices which allow people to experience VR are already in place.
AR is like VR in that it is often, but not necessarily, delivered through a sensor-packed wearable device. However, the similarities stop shortly thereafter. AR layers digital information and/or data on top of a user’s view of the real world. It might be something as simple as text notifications or Internet search information delivered through a wearable device or as complex as delivering personalized marketing content to consumers through sensors to a smart phone. An important element of AR technology is that it can travel with the user through a device or deliver content in such as a way that it leaves the user’s hands free for other tasks.
Market adaptation of AR is a little different than VR at this point, mainly because there are not too many AR devices on the market. AR is extremely complex and currently the price point is high. Ecosystems around AR-VR are not yet mature. Companies are still facing implementation issues and there’s not enough expertise in the market yet to provide the kind of services required on a large scale.
Now, more than ever, product companies in every industry must reframe how they design and create products, market and manage their supply chains. What are they doing to prepare for AR/VR? What are the barriers? And, what are the expectations of the people in the trenches making day-to-day decisions about AR/VR adoption?
Recently, Jabil sponsored an Augmented and Virtual Reality Trends Survey, to better understand the experiences, challenges and trends brands are facing during their AR/VR adoption journey.
AR and VR just might become the next great technologies, but at this stage the AR/VR market is still in its infancy. As a result, there is hesitancy for companies to commit resources to planning and investment in AR/VR.
In fact, the uncertainty is reflected by the fact that only 29 percent of respondents say that their company has a plan or framework at some stage of development and only 7 percent of those companies are executing on their plans today. As is often the case with new technology, there is a lot of hype surrounding AR/VR, and it appears that many companies are willing to let things play out and wait for the future to come to them.
Another reason driving company hesitancy is that there appears to be no general consensus as to whether business application or consumer use will become the driving force behind widespread adoption of AR/VR technologies. Sixty percent of respondents believe consumer use will lead to greater acceptance, while 40 percent think it will be business or enterprise use. In both cases, it seems respondents on both sides of the aisle are waiting for the next great app - the Uber, Square or Duolingo of AR/VR - that will incorporate everything a typical user might be looking for, and deliver value based on what the user needs.
Respondents also appear to agree that greater innovation and investment are still needed in the technology before the impact of AR/VR will be felt. Sixty-one percent of respondents believe there is a need for greater innovation and investment in AR/VR technologies and devices before wider acceptance can occur. Again, this is not surprising. There is typically a lag between concept and application with new technologies, and AR/VR is no different. Even when the applications are out there, they haven’t caught the attention of the mainstream, and businesses have not been able to seize upon the tremendous market opportunity that AR/VR promises.
Where should that innovation and investment occur? Sixty one percent of the respondents say that technology innovation is needed to create the content that will be delivered through AR/VR devices. And while thirty-nine percent reported that further innovation is required in the AR/VR devices currently coming to market, a large majority believes companies should invest heavily in products that deliver content.
How exactly will the AR/VR impact our lives? Will it be in a fixed environment, like the holodeck presented in Star Trek: Next Generation or the experience projected through a wearable device, as is the case in The Matrix. In fact, when queried on where the evolution of AR/VR is leading and what they expected the typical AR/VR experience to most be like in twenty to twenty-five years, just less than half predicted a “Minority Report”-style augmented reality. In that film, Tom Cruise's character investigates a crime using many holographic computer screens, controlled by simple hand motions. He is able to call up and manipulate information using a gesture-tracking device, in his case a glove using motion sensors. As is often the case, fiction is the forerunner of the future.
Without a killer app to generate the next “must have” device or service on the market or even a consensus on just what industries AR/VR technologies will revolutionize, it is understandable that companies are waiting and watching as developments unfold.
As a result, the overriding consensus appears that companies value adaptability over setting a hard course in terms of AR/VR planning. Ninety-nine percent of respondents from companies with existing plans say those plans are flexible and 69 percent of those companies report that they fully expect current plans to change in reaction to the extremely fluid AR/VR market. Even more indicative of the uncertainty for many companies is the survey’s finding that 82 percent of respondents expect that the innovations in AR/VR will occur so rapidly, that the ideal approach is to figure things out as they happen and remain open to rapid adaption to meet the opportunities that will arise.
If there is any consensus regarding the future of AR/VR, it is that there is still work to do before the technologies gain general adoption and acceptance.
On the device and delivery side, 99 percent of respondents believe that innovation in AR/VR must meet the challenges presented by the high cost of manufacturing, limitations with AR/VR specific devices and consumer technology limitations before gaining widespread acceptance. In terms of content creation, 97 percent of participants see the major challenges being high content expenses, limited hardware and inadequate software.
Despite these challenges, confidence is high that through innovation and investment, the potential promised by AR/VR is on the near horizon. More than two thirds expect AR/VR to become mainstream within the next five years and there’s even a small contingent of believers say that AR/VR is already an accepted feature of modern life.
An online survey was sent to AR/VR stakeholders at product companies to capture hard data on trends the adoption of AR/VR. A range of questions was asked about adoption and future expectations about AR/VR. A total of 201 individuals from around the globe completed the survey. All participants had responsibility for AR/VR decisions and were very knowledgeable about the topic. Participants included a mix of job levels in decision-making, company sizes and regions.