Augmented reality (AR) is the latest immersive concept that promises to reimagine the way people interact with content. This new promising technology could be considered as the close cousin or even an enhancement to virtual reality (VR).
While VR aims to immerse people into an imaginary but convincing world, AR supplements the real world by overlaying computer-generated imagery/graphics over it. This is achieved through the use of special equipment, software, and data streaming technologies. In spite of the high investments required to adopt this technology, it holds enormous promise for many business segments. Augmented reality is highly practical and offers a lot of future potential for companies when they overcome the key stumbling blocks to its widespread adoption.
The Promise of Augmented Reality
Augmented reality can make the current experience of plain vanilla videos and games played on television screens and mobile phones obsolete. This technology borrows knowledge from such disciplines as computer science, optics, and 3D geometry to render realistic images or even complete artificial environments to provide an interactive experience to the users. The promise of AR may revolutionise such sectors as gaming, education, advertising, and retail (both physical stores and e-commerce platforms). A number of augmented reality products have already been released by such leading technology companies as Oculus VR and Google over the previous 3 years. Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2.1 billion in 2016 and continued investing in the technology by acquiring 11 more AR and VR companies since then. According to an estimate provided by the investment banking company Goldman Sachs, the market for AR and VR products and services is expected to grow to $95 billion by the year 2025.
Is Augmented Reality Practical?
The promise held by augmented reality has been broadly discussed by companies and academic researchers for many years. The technology became accessible to the general public only when mass-market smartphones got equipped with advanced cameras, Global Positioning System (GPS) chips, and AR capable software. Mobile screens thus became the first medium through which consumers could experience AR technology on a regular basis. A growing collection of apps available on all major app stores now support AR technology and increase the options available to the consumers.
In the following years, the growing availability of augmented reality headsets made the technology even more accessible to the consumers. New AR devices including Microsoft’s HoloLens provided a highly immersive experience to their users. These gadgets were equipped with specially designed software that positioned consumers at the centre of ever-expanding virtual worlds. This allowed the users to engage with real-time content rather than experience it passively. Samsung and other companies are also offering cheaper and more affordable alternatives to the flagship products from the above-mentioned companies, which means that the AR technology will soon become affordable even to low-income customers. Simply put, augmented reality is poised to replace the flat screen medium that has been used to present content to consumers since the late 19th century.
Some recent developments in the technology world have made the augmented reality concept more practical. The growing availability of cheap VR and AR cameras and other production devices make it possible even for small producers to create high-quality AR content at a low cost. For example, the latest 360-degree video cameras from such companies as Google and Facebook can record videos using up to 20 built-in lenses and produce 360-degree imagery with minimal extra efforts. Google’s Jump Camera that can shoot immersive content was priced at just $17,000 at the time of its market launch, which was affordable for many VR and AR filmmakers with low budgets. The release of new low-cost equipment items can further increase the overall number of movie producers and game developers utilising the opportunities of augmented reality.
Technological improvements are also making augmented reality practical by lessening the time required for producing 360-degree AR content. The post-processing software that now comes bundled with 360-degree video cameras allows creators to process and develop immersive content within several hours instead of days or weeks. This shortened processing time for AR content makes it possible to produce large amounts of immersive content within a short time span.
The advancements made in the sphere of video distribution in recent years including the growth of streaming services also provide for the easy distribution of AR materials. Unlike regular videos, augmented reality content has to be streamed in real-time, which makes conventional media such as magnetic and solid-state storage devices unsuitable for the purpose. Trials are now being conducted to use more advanced technologies such as 5G communications to stream AR content to mobile phones and AR headsets. High-speed streaming of AR content enables customers to experience immersive content without any latency, which makes augmented reality experiences a thing of the nearest future.
Key Barriers to the Wide Adoption of Augmented Reality
Despite the recent advancements described above, the implementation of augmented reality concepts faces a number of stumbling blocks. Some of the areas where this new technology holds the greatest promise including advertising require the creation of highly personalised immersive content. However, such personalisation remains too expensive for most companies since it requires large teams of skilled engineers for materials production.
The implementation of AR technology by businesses also remains fairly expensive since they need to apply it into the whole product range and distribution system (retail outlets). Higher costs lower the return on investment (ROI) for companies and act as impediments for the adoption of the technology.
Finally, the limited availability of skilled staff competent in handling augmented reality projects is yet another stumbling block that does not make the technology look practical. Companies find it difficult to recruit new software engineers trained in handling AR instruments. The costs of reskilling the existing staff and developing internal augmented reality competencies are also high, which further hinders the widespread adoption of this technology.
The promise offered by augmented reality forced many top technology companies including Facebook to start investing in this sphere on a consistent basis. These organisations view AR as the next big thing after the Internet and mobile phones. Augmented reality is expected to garner interest from sectors as diversified as healthcare, military, and real estate. As and when the technology becomes practical, it could lead the revolution from mobile computing to immersive computing. However, this technology still needs to overcome a number of stumbling blocks before it can be widely adopted by technology companies and people around the world.
Ellie Richards is an online Marketing Manager for Outreach Lab, specialising in SEO Outreach and Link Building. She enjoys research, content and article writing on various topics, including Education, Marketing, and Technology.