AR Is Coming But It’s Not Here Yet

I spend a lot of my day reading in order to understand what’s going on in the tech world. Among the big megatrends that are emerging as critical areas, augmented reality (AR) is shaping up to be one of the most transformative technologies of the 21st century. But the hype is far from the reality.

I see AR as using technology, typically some sort of data feed delivered to a display device, to provide more context or information to a real world scenario. For example, a mechanic can be looking at an engine. A small camera, mounted onto a pair of glasses, recognises the engine and adds labels or presents an exploded view of the components the mechanic is looking at. Or a pilot receives a pre-flight checklist in a similar way.

Most of the major technology companies on the planet are investing heavily in AR. Google pioneered the efforts through Google Glass. Google Cardboard even brought AR to consumers, albeit in a low-tech kind of way.

Microaoft’s HoloLens is a sign they don’t want to miss the next big technology wave, after being blown away in the mobility business.

Major retailers Iike Amazon and IKEA are looking at the potential, with apps either available today or coming soon that let you place their products over images of the rooms in your home as a way of selling furniture. Apparel companies are doing the same with clothes.

When I spoke with MyFiziq, a body scanning app business, a few months ago, they said one of the applications of their technology was for companies to precisely fit sporting apparel to fitness enthusiasts.

In other words, the potential for AR is endless across industrial, retail, entertainment and almost any other market or context you can consider.

You’d think we’re about to enter a golden age for AR. But, the reality is we are still some way from AR becoming ubiquitous. If I was comparing AR to the smartphone market, I’d say we are two or three years before the release of the iPhone.

While the iPhone may or may not be the most advanced phone on the market (I’m not about to get into an iOS v Android flame war), when the iPhone was released it changed what we thought a mobile phone should be.

That hasn’t happened yet for AR. There are lots of pieces of the puzzle out there but they haven’t yet come together.

Apple’s Tim Cook was quoted yesterday saying he has pushed back his estimate on when AR will be a big deal because the technology to create a really compelling end user experience hasn’t been invented yet. Most of the glasses on the market are either too bulky, have a limited field of view, or are too expensive.

And while there are APIs out there like Google ARCore and Apple’s ARKit, until we get great hardware to work alongside the software we’ll be waiting for the device that transforms the AR market from a nerd’s toy, like many of the early smartphones, into a major consumer category like today’s smartphones.

My feeling is we won’t see an AR device that does for AR what the iPhone did for smartphones until 2020. If we’re talking about glasses or similar, we’ll be looking for something lightweight, with more than 24 hours of active battery life (to get through two or three days of use assuming people dont wear them to bed) that has in-built cellular connectivity like the new Apple Watch.

The visual display will been to be brilliant. While you can get away with a slightly crappier display when it’s a half a metre or more away from you, like when you use a smartphone, something that might be just a centimetre or two from your eye will need to flawless.

Where do you think we are with AR? Am I being pessimistic when I say 2020 will be the year? Is it just hype? Is your business looking at it as a serious platform?

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