The worlds of augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) are moving ahead quite aggressively, though they are at different stages. AR is already well established and growing, while VR is the next big thing.
While the loudest noises are coming from gaming fans and other consumer segments, the future of both depends to at least some degree on how AR and VR do in the enterprise. There is good news for AR on this front and likely will be for VR once it is gets rolling.
Early 2016 will be seen as an important time for VR: Oculus Rift, which is the biggest name in the sector, has shipped its first headset. Facebook plans, according to Business Insider, to push out 600,000 units by the end of the year and as many as 2 million in 2017. In looking at a chart mapping the category’s growth, suffice it to say that the line starts almost at the bottom of the graphics’ left side and ends up on the top of the right side. The age of virtual reality is virtually here.
The numbers for virtual reality technology, and the AR category with which it shares DNA, are staggering. For instance, late last year, TrendForce placed the market value of virtual reality hardware and software at $70 billion by 2020, according to Tech Times. Earlier this year, TechNavio said that the number of mobile augmented reality users will grow from 92 million in 2015 to 929 million by 2020, a compound annual growth rate of about 89 percent.
Vendors and the rest of the ecosystem understand the importance of the enterprise. “While much of the focus is on consumer applications, AR and VR are certainly being utilized for a number of enterprise and industrial applications, as well,” according to Clint Wheelock, the managing director of Tractica, a consultancy. “There is a good bit of focus on business applications for AR already, though it will grow significantly in the coming years, especially utilizing the capabilities of smart glasses.”
AR and VR do significantly different things. One adds to reality, the other replaces it. Despite the difference, the two nascent platforms are deeply linked in the back end and the hurdles they face.
“They face similar problems related to the human perception system and interactions,” wrote Soren Harner, the chief product officer for Metavision, in response to emailed questions from IT Business Edge. “People use similar software and hardware tools on both types of systems.”
The differences are real, but not as deep as a casual observer might expect. Beck Besecke, the CEO of Marxent, said that the technology base of the AR and VR is about 90 percent the same. AR is a bit ahead in the marketplace. It can run on tablets, which are ubiquitous, and its mobility helps penetration.
Enterprises increasingly are comfortable with approaches that involve both VR and AR, Besecke said. “When a client calls and says, ‘Let’s meet to discuss virtual reality solutions,’ we’ll go to the meeting and say, ‘Let’s set aside VR and AR for a minute and talk about the experience [you want to have,’]” he said. “When we get to the solution evaluation element, we see a blending of the technology begin to happen.”
The highest-profile implementations of AR and VR are consumer based. That makes sense. However, the list of possible enterprise virtual reality and enterprise augmented reality uses is long and deep: It extends through marketing, commercial sales and training to ongoing operations such as field services.
The sense is that augmented reality and virtual reality are just getting started.
“The year 2016 will be a banner year for AR and VR, especially in VR as head-mounted displays are launched by Oculus, HTC, and Sony,” Wheelock wrote. “Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap glasses are also hotly anticipated launches, both of which could have a significant impact on enterprise/industrial markets. Overall, the proliferation of HMDs [head-mounted displays] for consumer applications will also support the continued growth of enterprise and industrial applications.”
The reality is that there are no barriers: either between consumer equipment and enterprise gear, or between virtual reality and augmented reality. The increase in attention that is being generated by Oculus Rift and will be soon by other products will change the way business is done. What happened with smartphones and tablets will happen again: What consumers like will become enterprise tools. The smart businesses are starting to think about how virtual reality will change life in the workplace.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.