I was on an update call with Qualcomm this week, and they went through several things that will dramatically change once 5G is in place and the industry begins to step up to the power of this far faster and more secure technology. AI will become far smarter and primarily reside in the cloud and will be used to optimize your wireless online experience further. User authentication using biometrics like facial recognition will become far more common and far more accurate. Pretty much everything you can now do on a PC you’ll be able to do on any 5G device with a screen. And apps like real-time translation will be more common, more accurate, and better able to make our travels to foreign countries enjoyable. But one thing caught my eye, and that was applied Augmented Reality.
Let’s talk about how 5G is going to change both how we shop and how we see the world.
5G isn’t a stand-alone roll out, and it also rolls out with Wi-Fi 6 and millimeter-wave. These three technologies together assure wireless performance that rivals high-speed ethernet performance and even lower latency than we typically get with a wired network. And they also go around, over, or through obstacles better than current technologies. This performance jump means that apps that require high real-time performance become far more viable, and one of those apps is XR, Extended Reality, and that includes both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (which XR anticipates merging at some point).
Now imagine you could change, real-time, what everyone wearing glasses (VR Glasses) saw? That is the potential impact of 5G AR. Now from a marketing perspective, this not only creates the opportunity for virtual billboards, which probably aren’t on the user’s shortlist of things they want to see, but creates the ability to transform what is around you into something else.
The example that Qualcomm used was a woman looking at clothing on a manikin and seeing the manakin as herself. So rather than seeing the clothing on an artificially thin plastic person, she’d see how others would see her in the clothing. This same application could have someone looking at cars seeing what their friends would see if the application user had bought and was driving the car. A variant of this was one of the most successful sales methods where they’d loan the car to someone thinking of buying it with the idea that their friends and neighbors would be visibly jealous, effectively forcing the prospect to buy the car to sustain the status advantage the car created. This approach of loaning the car to a prospect was proven to be a very successful car sales method.
When shopping for furniture, you could see it as if it was in your home with your family on it. Houses, you’d see your kids playing in the back yard or your spouse entertaining in it. If you are looking at a travel agency, you’d see an image of you enjoying your time at the resort they were pitching along with your family. Imagine looking at the window while standing in the freezing snow, suddenly that trip you’d been thinking about to Hawaii would likely move to the front burner.
Now 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Millimeter-Wave, and Qualcomm will create the back end for this, but the lasting problem will be the glasses (we have had some interesting efforts that get around the glasses). Right now, none of the AR glasses are very attractive to wear; people don’t like wearing glasses. We saw this with the failure of 3D TVs and movies; the glasses became a major impediment to use, and this AR/XR benefit will depend on someone coming up with a head-mounted prosthetic that addresses this. One way would be to include features that enhanced normal sight like automatically dimming and lightening the lens or using the cameras in the glasses to enhance low light vision or identify incoming hazards (for instance, things approaching from the periphery or trip hazards).
5G, Wi-Fi 6, and Millimeter-wave will allow us to do a lot of things we can’t now do, like workstation level tasks using the Cloud on Smartphones. One of the most compelling is Extended Reality with the ability to allow us to see how we look with purchases before making them. And this technology could change not only how we make purchases, but how we interact with the living and the dead. We not only could use it to project remote people into our space, as Microsoft has demonstrated with HoloLens. Imagine that, with an AI back end and digital immortality, we could talk to the avatars of our friends and relatives that are no longer with us.
The success of this effort not only hinges on the coming wireless technology but also on the development of an XR headset, we’ll want to wear. Fixing that last problem is now the critical path to our virtual future.