Tech industry analysts and visionaries say augmented reality will revolutionize business.
Interest in augmented reality (AR) is exploding as innovators explore the business relevance and roles AR can play in workforce enablement and customer experience and interaction. This emerging technology holds tremendous promise for changing the way businesses operate.
AR is also projected to be an economic driver for the tech industry. By 2020, industry forecasters say the market worth for AR will reach $100 billion. For instance, AR smart glasses are forecast to ship 21 million units in 2020, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 78% from 2015 to 2020. Total revenues for the AR market are projected to grow with an estimated CAGR of 73% during the same time period for both dedicated AR hardware sales and mobile as well as dedicated AR content and software revenues.
But which vertical markets will embrace this new technology? Industry experts, such as Eric Abburzzese, research analyst at ABI Research, say revenues will be split between a number of major verticals – education, gaming, healthcare, industrial and retail, to name a few.
"We expect revenues to primarily favor the healthcare and industrial verticals, owning approximately 54% of the market, thanks to more progressive technology adoption habits along with strong use case applicability," said Abburzzese.
What's the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality?
Augmented reality improves, enhances or expands real life by inserting virtual objects into the user's real world environment. Virtual reality (VR) creates a completely virtual world that users interact with using devices that isolate the user from the real world. VR grabs headlines, but researchers say AR will prove to be a bigger market over time.
Use cases for AR abound, but here are five that we consider among the top ways businesses are already using AR to give you a taste of what's possible.
Any smartphone or tablet can be an AR platform to create a shopping environment for customers, whether that's within the traditional brick-and-mortar or online store. AR application company Marxent helped Harley-Davidson create an iPad-based app that provides a virtual shopping experience that gives customers the ability to try out body types, seats, lights and add other options for a truly custom bike design.
An online-only retailer could use AR technology to create a three-dimensional shop that virtually replicates the experience of shopping in a traditional store. Giving customers the ability to try an item before buying it improves satisfaction and reduces costly returns.
Industrial field services
Fieldbit, a leading developer of real-time augmented reality collaboration solutions, streamlined field repair services for Israel's national water company by deploying AR smart glasses and a mobile app platform. The solution enables dispatched field engineers to access real-time remote help from experts or vendors located anywhere in the world.
AR allows the remote expert to superimpose markings, message and diagrams directly onto the engineer's field of view and the use of smart glasses ensures the engineer's hands are kept free to simultaneously perform fixes.
Use of AR in the field can improve safety, reduce confusion and take the pressure off engineers who can't possibly be experts in all technologies and infrastructures. AR can empower a mobile workforce, linking workers to experts around the globe.
Design and modeling
AR app company Augment implemented an end-to-end AR solution for Watermark Products, a leading supplier of inflight products for the airline industry. Using Augment's plugin, designers visualize product mockups at scale via tablets. Rather than creating costly prototypes, clients are presented with an AR experience that depicts side-by-side comparisons of new and old products — allowing clients to quickly understand the impact of the proposed new products.
AR can be used as an aid to early-stage product design and development so designers can see a more precise view of product form and functionality.
Training and education
AR is gaining momentum in medical education. Through a partnership between the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve, health education students will learn via a 3D holographic anatomy program under development that allows a Microsoft HoloLens wearer to not only see virtual cadavers but also allow a deeper dive into the human body. This ability saves dozens of hours in the traditional cadaveric lab, according to school officials. Case Western also sees applications across other educational fields of study.
Using AR to train employees or students at any level of education provides an immersive, multisensory experience that's more effective than traditional methods, such as lectures, flash cards or textbooks. The result is greater depth of training and speed to mastery.
Repair and maintenance
In 2015, Hyundai became the first mainstream automaker to launch an augmented reality owner's manual. Using a smartphone or tablet, consumers get how-to information for repairs, maintenance and vehicle features. The app contains how-to videos, 3D overlay images that appear when users scan various areas of their vehicle (like the engine bay) and dozens of informational guides. Hyundai expanded the AR owner's manual program in 2016.
AR makes it possible for even inexperienced people to identify problems and perform repairs by following step-by-step instructions using AR overlays, improving customer satisfaction by reducing downtime and associated costs.