augmented_reality

Innovation Battle Lines Drawn

One of the features of the growing influence of technology in our everyday lives is the development of augmented reality (AR).

We saw the tipping point of this in 2016 as Pokémon GO became a global phenomenon. Before that, there was a lot of development in creating a new way in which people interact with the world around them.

A recent article on enterpriseinnovation.net shows how this will develop in the future.

Understanding mixed reality

Sometimes referred to as hybrid reality, mixed reality (MR) is the merging of both real and virtual worlds to produce a new environment where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Deployed properly, the result is a singular, integrated and compelling experiential platform on which to build a new world of experiences.

The article points out that in a way, the heightened interest in MR could be traced back to the lacklustre adoption of virtual reality (VR). Despite the real advances made in the VR field, the number of applications has remained limited due to the closed nature of the technology and the high threshold to engineering believable environments.

Interest in AR grew rapidly as a result, which in turn fuelled the adoption of MR.

The article adds that today, hardware support for AR and MR is better than ever. Consumers have access to a wide variety of devices, ranging from mobile-based systems such as Gear VR, Google Daydream, and Google Cardboard – to full-featured head-mounted displays like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Perhaps more importantly, more interesting applications have also emerged.

Alternate realities in action

This has even gone into the world of fashion, fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff deployed VR and AR as part of her 2016 fall show.

The article pointed out that the National Autistic Society in the UK also leveraged the technology to help users better understand what it’s like to be an autistic child, while Lockheed Martin launched an immersive school bus called the Mars Experience Bus for children to explore the red planet’s surface via VR.

The article adds that there are serious applications at work too: German elevator manufacturer ThyssenKrupp has equipped its field repair workers with Microsoft HoloLens goggles to see what went wrong and better fix faults by pairing it with IoT connected elevator equipment. In China, Alibaba has launched a virtual shopping experience which allows users to buy products in New York department store Macy’s, located on the opposite end of the globe.

Ultimately, expect the future of how people interact with their computers to center around VR and AR experiences that are seamlessly integrated daily life. The article says that new technologies also offer the possibility of pushing boundaries even further. An MR platform known as Magic Leap works by overlaying VR over real-world images through a pair of semi-transparent goggles for new kind of experience.

What’s next

As with most things driven by technology, there is always a new horizon to look out for. So, what’s next in terms of mixed reality?

The article points out that while it is hard to make any form of concrete predictions, it is likely to move away from standalone apps that deliver a siloed experience to a more sophisticated platform with broad integration in a far larger experiential context.

On this front, developments such as Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri offer a possible glimpse into the future. Like how these virtual assistants can pass requests to third-party destinations and build out results based upon context and compatible applications, expect similar APIs and ecosystems to evolve in the field of MR.

The article ends off by saying that without the need to build everything from scratch, the future of MR should translate to a much faster time-to-market, and culminate in the creation of applications that are genuinely useful. Expect the dawn of new MR applications that will enable brands to create experiences that seamlessly shift between the physical and digital worlds, and across multiple channels.

A future battleground

MR has become so important that it looks set to become the next major battleground between tech giants Microsoft and Apple who have been going hammer and tongs at each other since Silicone Valley powered up.

A recent article on theguardian.com pointed out how intense this battle could become.

Augmented reality (AR) is nothing new. Many people’s first experience of the concept was seeing through the eyes of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 Terminator in James Cameron’s 1984 blockbuster. The movie showed the Terminator’s vision overlaid with information about subjects, objects, and objectives.

But after failed attempts at making that concept a reality for the mass market, with Google Glass and others, AR was thrown back into the spotlight in July 2016 with the launch of Pokémon Go, which overlaid the mini-beasts bobbing about in the real world for players to catch.

While Google has had AR systems in place with its Project Tango technology from 2014, which ended up in specialised tablets and smartphones from Lenovo and Asus, it was Apple which recently took the spotlight with its ARKit that is due to be released as part of iOS 11 in the coming weeks.

Project Tango: Google is building it, but will they come?

While Apple’s system doesn’t rely on specialist hardware, as with Google’s Tango, and may lack some of the skills that dedicated sensors afford, ARKit is due to roll out to not only Apple’s anticipated next iPhone but also on smartphones as old as the iPhone 6S from 2015.

Speaking to theguardian.com, Geoff Blaber from analyst firm CCS Insight said: “Apple’s ARKit is what AR badly needs. With a sizeable addressable market consisting of iPhones and iPads with A9 or A10 chips (iPhone 6S and beyond), it offers developers immediate scale and incentive to invest.”

For AR to become a thing that the mainstream actually enjoy and use requires scale. Because the majority of Apple’s iPhone users all update their smartphones to the latest versions of the company’s iOS almost in unison with its release, it, more than any other technology company, has the leverage to reach the scale required to make big investments in the software and apps by developers viable.

Big investments, particularly in the early stages of a new technology, mean better products, greater penetration with consumers and a greater likelihood of success if the big software houses buy into the idea and the user base expands to a critical mass.

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