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Evolution trends for Virtual and Augmented Reality

Expected market for AR and VR devices by 2022, Image credit; Key Insight

In these last few months I have been monitoring the web for news on Augmented and Virtual Reality, trying to spot emerging trends. As it always happens in the first months of the new year you get plenty of forecasts in many market and technology segments and AR/Vr is no exception (see a few examples here, here and here).

According to Key Insights, the 2018 closed with sales of some 22 million VR and AR headsets and they are expecting these numbers to grow 5 times by 2022. What is important to notice is that smartphones are also devices that can deliver AR (and VR with some adds-on) and these devices are not part of the numbers given by Key Insights (they do consider in their numbers devices powered by a smartphone, using adds-on).

As end of 2018 there were over 2,000 apps delivering AR features (and over 200 in the Android camp) and this will keep growing in the coming years. According to Key Insight, in 2022 smartphones will be selected by 63% of people buying a device to support AR/VR, with just 32% buying dedicated VR devices and 5% buying dedicated AR smart glasses.

This should not come as a surprise. Already today smartphones take the loon share in terms of AR use and the reasons are obvious. Smartphones are already in the hands of users who with a few click and you can download plenty of AR applications (at very low cost).

This points to the very first trend in AR (and VR) recognised unanimously:

  1. AR and VR go mobile
    Whilst in the early age of AR and VR developers looked at the PC as the user’s platform, now they are looking at smartphones and by extension to mobility (not in the sense that you move around as you are enjoying AR or VR but that you are most likely to enjoy them in any place, as you are (standing still but) on the move. It is not just smartphones. New dedicated devices, like the Oculus family are becoming untethered, portable. This is very important particularly for AR since it can enormously extend its usability and increase the perception of value.
  2. Digital mirroring of the world
    The Digital Transformation is sweeping many business and this creates digital models and mirrors of the world. Add to this more and more data that are harvested from IoT and you get plenty of “raw” materials that can be used to fuel both Virtual and Augmented Reality (as well as providing the ambient for Mixed Reality). Notice that one of the reasons why the Digital Transformation fuels VR and AR is because it is (often) based on open data frameworks and this allows third parties to create applications on those data (hence the flourishing of Apps).
  3. Eye tracking
    VR and AR dedicated devices will be getting better and better capabilities of eye tracking, hence they can become much more responsive and can tailor the rendering (and the overlay of information) to the point of attention of the viewer. This technology has become mass market through its application in digital cameras (spotting the blinking of eyelids) and is being perfected more and more. There is, obviously, a lot of interest in eye tracking since this can provide accurate hints on the focus of a person and of its level of attention, so marketers (as well as politicians) are very much interested in these evolutions.
  4. AI to become pervasive in AR and VR
    We are already seeing AI applied in image recognition, something that is crucial to deply effective AR, as well as in understanding the relation among objects (which is also important in Mixed Reality as one needs to render shadows and avoid penetration of virtual objects into real ones…). More than that. We can expect AI being used to learn the reaction of users and to adapt the rendering to those reactions. Clearly, many applications having users’ interactions mediated by AR and VR will also make use of AI for content development and management.
  5. Growing fields of application
    VR started mostly in gaming and in a few niches to support research (like chemistry and drugs design), AR in manufacturing and on-the-job education. They are extending their reach to real estate, healthcare, retail (augmented shopping experience), automotive, tourism, education, marketing and more. In doing so they are also changing value perception and processes in the industry and in commercial activities. In a way they go hand in hand with the Digital Transformation.

In addition to these major trends, of course, we are seeing (will be seeing) better devices delivering far better and credible experiences, although I have yet to see a device that can immerse me in a world that I perceive as real and that doesn’t make me dizzy.

5G is claimed it will provide a boost, thanks to its low latency. I am not really convinced about this claim. Surely, we will welcome and benefit from higher speed/capacity and lower latency but a good 4G would be good enough in most situations and I expect apps developers to look at 4G rather than 5G over the next 2 years.

The new Digital Reality Initiative is not just keeping a close eye on these trends but through its volunteers and industry involvement it is fostering the evolution. The good news is that this is an open initiative and if you are interested in this area you would be welcome to join.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.