There has been a lot of talk about how AR is going to change the world, but how often have you used or even seen it? Is everything we’re hearing all just hype, or is it that we’re just waiting for the pivotal day when it explodes and suddenly everyone is smiling and talking to themselves and interacting with thin air?
Although it may be hard to believe right now, it’s the latter. And if you need some proof, you can look at how, over recent years, the time it takes between the launch of a new platform and its widespread domination has been getting smaller and smaller.
Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform, hit 50 million users in two years.
Instagram reached the same amount in 19 months.
It took YouTube 10 months.
Pokemon Go? 19 days.
You can see why people are expecting big things from AR. And the problem up to now isn’t that it’s a one trick pony; it’s that there hasn’t really been a suitable way to explore this new platform. Pokemon Go was great as a novelty and a demonstration of what’s possible, but in terms of everyday use, it gets tiresome having to hold up and look through a tiny window every time you want to see your augmented Squirtle.
Over the past few years, brands have been racing to develop the right hardware for the job. And so despite the current restriction of our tech, the AR world — or mirrorworld, as Kevin Kelly calls it — has been expanding and evolving in parallel to our world of physical things.
It was only a matter of time until we could properly interact with it. And now, in 2019, it seems the race to be the first to release smart AR glasses (that actually work and look good) is coming to an end, and the mirrorworld and our world are at last coming together.
For us, this means we can finally take AR seriously and start considering how it might impact our businesses and fit into our lives. Let’s dive in and find out what that could look like.
Merging the physical with the digital
Today, if you’re a physical business that doesn’t have a good digital presence — i.e. decent social media following and standing in the SERPs — then your chances of competing and gaining new business are slim.
This has caused a huge disconnect to grow between the physical and the digital, with more and more people likely to check TripAdvisor to find somewhere to eat and buy their clothes from the first link on Google than to visit the cafe around the corner or try the department store on their local high street.
But AR is bridging the gap, and even making it so they can co-exist together. AR allows us to create a complete virtual representation of any solid object, lay it directly over the top, and create an altogether new interface that transcends the sum of its parts.
The term for this kind of intervention is SLAM — simultaneous localization and mapping. And it’s possible now. Users will be able to interact with physical objects as if they’re an extension of their devices. Why sit in front of a screen to find out what to eat when you can walk down the street and see reviews and information at a touch of or glance at restaurant signs? Why search through lists and pages of results to learn about the world when you can directly interface with it?
In the same way, though, mixing the digital with the physical will make the online world we know and love even more convenient and accessible than ever. Why play the guessing game of browsing through images of the perfect sofa when you can see exactly where and how it would fit into your living room? Why waste your time ordering and returning items like shoes when you can try a hundred pairs on with a swipe of your hand?
People are being slowly but surely introduced to AR, and now nearly 70 percent of customers expect retailers will use AR in the months ahead. Yet, many companies are still even to look at the technology. This will change in 2019 as competition increases, costs fall, and people catch on to its huge and lucrative potential.
A desk in the clouds
Eighty percent of the global workforce doesn’t have a physical desk. They work while on the move, whether on a farm or factory floor, or while bouncing from service stations and coffee shops.
Add in the forecast that half of the workforce in the UK alone will be working remotely by 2020, and the demand for a virtual desk that can be used whenever and wherever you are is almost too big to measure.
Microsoft is leading the way in this area, and at this year’s Mobile World Congress it announced the latest version of its AR smart glasses, HoloLens 2. Unlike its predecessor, the HoloLens 2 is something you could use on a daily basis. It’s light, comfortable, has a wide field of view, uses eye-tracking technology and more intuitive gestures, and with 2k screens for each eye, can even support such essentials of today as high-quality streaming and video calling.
Currently, the HoloLens is placed at the top end of the market, and so it’s getting the most use in specialist positions in warehouses and workshops, assisting technicians with things like troubleshooting a jet turbine. Google Glass is also trying to make its mark in manufacturing and health care, and Oculus (Facebook), Amazon, and Apple are all working on their own versions of consumer and office-friendly AR smart glasses.
It may not happen tomorrow, or the next day, but soon everywhere you look people will be claiming they can see things that aren’t there. They’ll be reaching out and grasping at you. They’ll be living in a world of their own that you’ll be able to meet them in if you buy the glasses and pay for the app.
AR is not just a new platform, it’s a new world. And if you decide that it’s not for you, well, at least to some people, you may as well not even exist.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Connect with him on LinkedIn and find more articles on work, technology, mindfulness, and everything in between.