AR - Progress
AR technology has progressed in recent years but is not yet mature. Whilst the technology works, it has yet to find the breakthrough use cases that will spur widespread adoption. The consumer side is the best example of how early we are in the technology's maturity, the approximately 3 billion smartphones in the world are mostly AR capable yet the technology's most successful application (Pokemon GO) has 65 million monthly users. 2018 is projected to be a big year for AR as a result of developer platform launches and new hardware releases from tech giants.
HEADSETS (OR HEAD-WORN DEVICES [HMD])
The first AR headset release that excited the market was Google Glass in 2012. Their design and lack of use cases would quickly disappoint. In the ensuing years, tremendous progress has been made. From a technology perspective, the most hyped company in the HMD space is the massively funded (nearly $2 billion) Magic Leap. After 7 years in development, the company will release its first headset, the 'Magic Leap One', to consumer and B2B developers later this year. Microsoft's 'HoloLens' has already shipped to developers in 39 countries but has yet to ship to consumers. Intel's 'Vaunt' smart glasses were recently announced and are an exciting development. Particularly because unlike Microsoft and Magic Leap's offerings that are unnatural headsets, 'Vaunt' looks like stylish eyeglasses and uses a low-powered laser to project images directly onto the retina. Intel will invite developers to begin developing applications for the technology later in 2018.
HMD USE CASES
These major players not having an HMD product in the market points to how early we are in the development of AR. The vision for AR, however, is grand. Initial use cases will likely mimic what is already in the market. One example is Solos, these are AR glasses for cyclists that provide a useful data through a heads-up display. ODG's R7 AR glasses, which are enterprise focused and have been used to assist technicians by providing an extra layer of information during complex electrical procedures. ODG is currently shipping a limited number of these glasses to enterprises. Games like Pokemon Go have already been ported to the R7 AR glasses. We can expect larger players to follow suit once their products are ready. Google resurrected its Google Glass project, with a focus on the enterprise, in 2017. With good reason, the enterprise will likely be the initial large market for HDM because of their cost and the almost immediate value that organizations can realize by providing technical employees with an added layer of intelligence. Given the added friction of having to purchase an AR headset, maturity on the consumer side of the AR HDM market is likely to take longer. As a result, the consumer technology progress will lag behind that of the enterprise.
As mentioned earlier, smartphones present an exciting opportunity for the AR consumer side given their ubiquity. All that is required, is a sufficiently advanced smartphone. AR applications for smartphones have existed for years but the major platforms are set to accelerate the creation of these applications by placing greater investment in the tools that allow developers to create these applications on their platforms. Google has its Tango mobile AR platform for Android applications, Apple launched ARkit in late 2017 which allows AR developers to create on iOS and Facebook has AR Studio. These massive platforms are distribution channels for digital entrepreneurs around the world. This will allow for applications with sufficient appeal, to get in front of customers, get feedback, improve and grow.
USE CASES FOR AR SMARTPHONES
At the moment, the applications of the technology are largely limited to overlaying information onto the real world. For instance, American Airlines has an application that will help you navigate through the airport slightly easier. Giphy World allows you to "stick" your favorite GIFs onto the real world so friends can see it. IKEA Place lets you see what a piece of furniture would actually look like in your home before you buy. Whilst all are fun and useful no AR smartphone applications, with the exception of Pokemon Go, have achieved breakout success. The use cases will increase, however, as they are potentially infinite. This is reflected in the projected investment in AR/VR, an estimated $108 billion by 2021.
AR is still not yet fully developed but its maturity, particularly on smartphone applications, is likely not too far off. The technology to create useful tools now exists, but what is lacking is the "killer app". A useful analogy for understanding how early we are in the development of AR is looking back at the first smartphones, particularly the iPhone. The phones were popular, but it wasn't until the App Store matured with useful applications that the market really took off.