You’ve likely heard about virtual and augmented Reality, but do we truly know how they will be used in business? As these technologies evolve, more and more enterprise applications will very quickly become mainstream.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are getting more attention lately, thanks to the launch of new smartphones making the technology more accessible to a mainstream audience.
In 2016, Lenovo introduced the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which was the first third-party Android phone with Tango technology built in. Very recently, ASUS introduced the ZenFone AR, which includes Tango technology. The ZenFone AR has the distinction of being the first smartphone to include both Tango and Daydream technology, ushering in the era of mobile mixed reality. Some are calling this phone “the one worth owning.”
Let’s step back and break this down for a moment, because it can get confusing. Augmented reality is the ability to take a real-time camera view of a physical space and superimpose digital objects within that space, virtually. Imagine seeing a superimposed (digital) microwave on an empty counter, for example. With augmented reality, you’re still in your real environment; there’s just a virtual, “digital” object in it with you. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is the ability to place a person inside a virtual space (like a virtual kitchen), allowing them to move around and interact with that space as if it were the real, physical world. With virtual reality, you use a headset to block out any view of the real environment around you, while you “step into” a completely new, virtual world. When we use both AR and VR (either together or as complements to each other), then it is known as “mixed reality.”
Who’s leading the charge in mobile VR and AR? Google’s Tango and Daydream platforms are becoming the Android platform standards for both of these new technologies. Apple has focused most of its energy on AR, and recently announced that its ARKit will be available on several iOS devices when iOS 11 is released. Apple’s ARKit has taken a somewhat different approach from Google’s – it is an operating system and software-based platform. Developers will be able to use ARKit to provide applications that include AR, running on standard Apple smartphones and tablets.
As more AR- and VR-enabled smartphones come to market, more applications that use these technologies will be adopted. These next-gen mobile devices will drive demand for a wide variety of AR and VR consumer and business applications. Now that Apple and Google have made strategic investments in mobile mixed reality, these two market-leading mobile platforms will facilitate rapid adoption and advances that result in mixed reality becoming the norm.
Pokémon Go offered the first mainstream exposure to AR. While the popular game spread virally, it only scratched the surface in terms of what AR can do.
For the next couple years, I anticipate most AR and VR applications to remain entertainment-focused among the consumer audience, meaning more games that allow for the inclusion of AR and VR will be released. Where it gets interesting, according to many of us in the enterprise space, is when they go beyond gaming – these applications offer an incredible potential to improve the way businesses develop, manufacture, market, sell, support and maintain products.
Take, for example, WayfairView, an app that makes it possible for consumers to use AR to place virtual models of the furniture and décor that Wayfair sells right into the customers’ homes at full scale. Customers can now see how these products would really look (and fit) before they buy. WayfairView uses Google Tango technology and can be used on the Lenovo Phab2 Pro and the ASUS ZenFone AR.
There are business-to-business (B2B) applications, too. Companies like GE, Cisco and Dell EMC are enhancing the way they market and sell their large and often complex products to other businesses via AR and VR applications. These applications are also available on the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and ASUS ZenFone AR. The mobile experiences allow these Fortune 500 giants to save on exorbitant shipping fees, so massive products don’t need to be shipped to customer sites or tradeshow floors for sales and marketing purposes. Instead, the products, in their vast size and complexity, are visible and interactive via the mobile applications. For example, Cisco now offers the Cisco 3D Interactive Catalog via the Google Play Store; an AR and VR application, available for both Google Tango and Daydream, allowing interactive exploration of their products.
The potential to add this kind of capability to a wide variety of B2B applications could be transformative, improving product quality, reducing downtime, and helping companies and people make better purchasing decisions. An engineer, for example, could see how new manufacturing machinery would fit on the production floor. A lab director might explore how different options for new diagnostic devices would fit into her lab. A service technician could see how to repair an aircraft engine without using a technical manual. And an architect would show a client a realistic, immersive view of how a room addition would look, even before the project has started.
Each use-case would not be possible without devices and applications that leverage these mixed reality solutions. While consumers are catching on to AR and VR, mobile phone manufacturers are ahead of the game , producing devices that allow us to use the technology, whether it’s for sales, marketing, service or just plain entertainment. Who knows… we may soon live in a world where “dragons” walk the streets. One thing is for sure – it will be exciting to watch and participate as our new “reality” evolves.