The Intersection of Augmented Reality and Communications

Matt Arozian Digital

The next big thing? Not quite yet.

Is augmented reality (AR) about to change the world? Or, is it a buzzword that’s already seen its day? The answer seems to be a little bit of both.

AR is a set of technologies for overlaying information, graphics, and/or animation on views of the real world. 

Not to be confused with virtual reality (which involves creating artificial immersive experiences), AR allows communicators to bridge the gap between the three-dimensional world and the two dimensions of pages and screens. 

Annotating locations such as museums with interesting information or allowing users to visualize digital objects in actual environments are just two applications of AR.

What we’re really seeing is AR v2.0

AR start-ups and venture capital (VC) placements surged in 2016, following the Pokémon Go craze. But since then, according to Tracxn (an analyst group), start-ups and placements have tailed off to less than 50% of 2016 levels. Despite billions of dollars in investments, AR has failed to generate either blockbuster products or companies in the consumer space. Blippar, once heralded as an AR trailblazer and a unicorn valued at over $1B, filed for insolvency in December 2018.

From this standpoint, AR looks like another buzzword that failed to live up to its promise

But in the business space, AR is staging a comeback with a more viable business model. The VCs proved that it’s probably impossible to build a high-flying AR company from scratch. Tech companies are betting there’s a lot of money to be made by deploying AR as another compelling capability that compounds the value of their platforms.

AR 2.0 seems poised for aggressive growth

Statista estimated two years ago that spending on AR products and services would exceed $180B by 2020. Forecasters predict that Compound Annual Growth Rates (CAGR) for the combined Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality industry will range between 40% and 80% over the next several years. They also believe most of that growth will come from AR by an approximate ratio of 4:1. 

No wonder the Harvard Business Reviewsays that “every organization needs an augmented reality strategy.” Tech companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Adobe clearly agree. 

Big tech firms are driving AR 2.0 

Apple just appointed veteran executive Frank Casanova as its first senior director of worldwide product marketing for augmented reality. That’s after rolling out its ARKit developer platform a year ago and introducing AR capabilities as part of iOS 11.

Both Google and Facebook have their own AR software development kits (SDKs). Facebook is also working on augmented reality glasses. Google Glass flopped as a consumer product back in 2015. Now in 2019, Google Glass 2.0 is finding success in factories and warehouses. 

In October, Adobe announced the debut of Project Aero with plans to integrate AR capabilities into its three major product suites. Adobe says its goal is to “establish a new discipline for immersive design,” enabling creatives to easily craft high-quality AR experiences.

Businesses are making AR real

Many non-tech companies are also exploring AR. Wayfair’s iOS app enables customers to see how potential purchases will look in their own homes. American Airlines is testing an app that provides a heads-up display to help travelers navigate airports, even guiding them to the fastest security checkpoint line.

DHL has improved picking rates and accuracy in some of its warehouses by using AR to direct employees to the location of each product to be pulled.

Both online and brick-and-mortar retailers are looking at AR as a powerful way to engage customers. Adidas is testing AR in some of its retail locations to allow customers to design their own shoes or explore the materials that go into them. Home Depot’s Project Color app enables customers to virtually test-paint walls in their homes. Sephora’s ModiFace technology does more or less the same thing for cosmetics. 

BMW and other automakers are building heads-up GPS displays into their vehiclesSygic offers a similar capability in its Android and iPhone apps. BP, Caterpillar, and other manufacturers are testing AR as a way of reducing return field service visits.

Businesses will need help deploying AR at scale. It’s this potential of AR to transform major industries such as retail, transportation, logistics, medicine, manufacturing, and field services that’s captured the attention of the big tech companies.

Now all they have to do is deliver.

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