The technologies that underpin virtual and augmented reality have been maturing in recent years and are at a point where they are able to deliver true benefit at a price that makes such solutions acceptable for consideration and deployment. Both have passed through the hype associated with emerging technologies and have progressed to delivering actual benefit with virtual reality solutions readily available. The future is still open to new entrants and enhancements but good quality virtual reality solutions exist and focus has shifted to the development and commissioning of content – games, movies, entertainment etc. With technology in place, it is good quality content that provides the last piece of the jigsaw to deliver the full benefits and new experiences that virtual reality can provide.
Augmented reality also has many of the building blocks in place such as the convergence of IoT, cloud processing, speech interfaces and artificial intelligence. Advances are still to be made in both hardware and software to take the platform to even higher attainments but companies are deploying solutions recognising the true benefits the technology can deliver. Augmented reality has moved from hype to real commercial benefit, but its impact will be far greater over the coming years providing a significant shift in the way we engage with information, resources and services.
The Gartner Hype Cycle
A good way to demonstrate this is to look at the Gartner’s Hype Cycle for these technologies with the most recent version published in July 2016. Virtual reality is shown on its way up the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ as more companies introduce the technology to both enhance and disrupt the way content is consumed. Most would assume that both virtual reality and augmented reality would move through the cycle side-by-side however with closer analysis it is apparent that the technologies are very distinctive from one another.
The Gartner Hype Cycle is a great mechanism for understanding how new technologies go from birth to their mass adoption. When a new technology is developed, there is usually huge hype that amplifies our expectations on how life changing it will be. This elevated level of expectation is usually followed by the reality that the technology doesn’t meet all we hoped for and were promised. Following this decline in expectations people then learn of its true value without exaggerated expectations and recognising a measurable level of productivity.
As shown, virtual reality is making its way up the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ driven by the availability of good quality hardware and software for the creation and consumption of content. This is helping deliver good quality content such as games and 360˚ videos which are allowing users to immerse themselves into a totally virtual environment and enjoy new experiences. Although specialist equipment is available for consuming VR content, it can also be consumed on more budget priced equipment such as a smartphone with a suitable virtual reality headset container. As smartphones have become ubiquitous and you can pick up a simple virtual reality headset container for less than £10 with high quality units for less than £100, equipment is no longer a barrier for adoption. However, the key to the success of virtual reality is creative content. Modern games engines allow us to create stunning scenes with relative ease and with 360˚ cameras becoming more accessible at affordable prices footage can be easily captured. With little deterring the development and consumption of virtual reality it will easily continue along the hype cycle reaching mass adoption and the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.
The understated differences between virtual reality and augmented reality prevents augmented reality to progress as fast or as easily through the hype cycle. Where content is the key to success when it comes to virtual reality, information and context are the vital ingredients for augmented reality to be fully successful. Augmented reality is best utilised when it uses data associated with its environment gathered by sensors, artificial intelligence, cloud data or the growing internet of things. Because of this it follows behind virtual reality in the hype cycle as we wait for these supporting technologies deliver an appropriate level of inter-operability. Information, artificial intelligence and instructions delivered by speech or gesture control delivers more natural control and moves the user from a screen to become fully immersed in the world around them. This is here where the true value of augmented reality arrives with its ability to allow users to easily consume and engage with information improving the way we engage with the real world increasing productivity and new commercial models.
The latest report from Gartner shows augmented reality proceeding through the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’, but with more recent reports predicting revenues in excess of £95B* in the next four years and availability of advanced hardware such as ODG’s R-8 and R-9 smartglasses in 2017 we are seeing the building blocks come together to propel artificial reality towards the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ and revolutionise the way we interact with the world.
*Augmented Reality Market Update Jan 2017 – ABI Research (subscription required)