9 Augmented Reality Trends to Watch in 2019-2020
Augmented reality saw its record growth in 2018. Commercial support for AR is positioned to be strong, with big tech names like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google making serious commitments. It is believed that by 2023, the installed user base for AR-supporting products like mobile devices and smart glasses will surpass 2.5 billion people. Revenue for the industry should hit $75 billion. Industry players in the augmented reality world expect to 2019 to be a year marked by an uptick in the pace of industry growth.
A bulk of the latest advances in the field of AR were showcased at a number of tech events, some of which, such as Augmented World Expo and Consumer Electronics Show, were attended by our team. They inspired us to gather these 9 trends that will shape the future of augmented reality over the next couple of years—and may inspire you on your own innovations.
Trend #1: Mobile AR is stealing the show and changing the market
Having once brought AR to the mass audience of mobile users, Apple secured its AR market leadership as it unveiled ARKit 2.0 at WWDC 2018. In terms of technology, the introduced advances placed mobile AR in the same line with headset-based AR, if not above it. Besides rather predictable tracking, measuring, and rendering improvements, we got 3D object detection, which is a major leap for the practical use of ARKit in mobile development.
Additionally, Apple highlighted persistent experiences, shared AR spaces, and a new file format for 3D objects, which will basically comprise the entire experience of an AR object. This format is called Universal Scene Description (USDZ), and it will be open to third-party software.
The worldwide mobile AR user base has been steadily growing since then. AR-enabled Android smartphones saw a jump from 100 million to 250 million users with the adoption of ARCore-based software on the market. Meanwhile, the abovementioned ARKit delivered augmented reality to 380 million Apple devices by the end of 2018. Major mobile device manufacturers anticipate that they'll see brisk improvements in adoption figures as new phones continue to hit the mobile market.
Trend #2: Augmented Reality as a novel way of shopping
Based on a report from Gartner, at least 100 million users are expected to utilize AR-enabled shopping technologies in 2019, which is one of the hottest retail trends of this year. The boom in mobile devices that employ AR means the sector is now occupied by robust and mature technologies. Developers, retailers and customers are now comfortably using them as part of their daily experience.
A BRP report indicated that 48% of consumers said that they'd be more likely to buy from a retailer that provided AR experiences. Unfortunately, only 15% of retailers currently put AR to use. Only a further 32% of retailers stated they plan to deploy virtual or augmented reality applications over the next three years.
Several companies have gotten out in front of consumer demand for AR shopping. American Apparel, Uniqlo and Lacoste have deployed showrooms and fitting rooms that provide try-before-you-buy options in augmented reality spaces. Smart mirror technologies that scan RFID tags also offer the ability to bring recommendations to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. IKEA customers have access to an app that permits them to point their phones at spaces and see what different products would look like in their own homes.
Makeup, fashion and lifestyle brands all stand to gain significant appeal with customers by using technologies that handle facial recognition, adapt to local lighting conditions and provide personalized advice. Virtual assistants will also significantly change the shopping experience.
Trend #3: AR for indoor navigation solutions
One of the most obvious use cases for AR technologies is indoor navigation, and 2019 is expected to be the year that the average consumer gets their first real taste of its potential. People already lean heavily on maps services from both Google and Apple to get around outside, but indoor navigation stands to be the use case that blows the public away.
Check our own video demo to see what it's all about.
AR applications for indoor navigation can provide directions in airports, malls, hospital and office campuses. Gatwick Airport has already deployed its own smartphone solution that provides routes to terminals and gates based on a user's flight number.
In February 2019, Google began limited testing of AR navigation features in Google Maps. Users can simply whip out their phones, point their cameras and see information about surrounding features in real time. Google's software is likely to move beyond the smartphone space and include integration with smart glasses.
Working from an installed base of maps users, AR-powered navigation is expected to move into new territory.
Trend #4: AR-powered solutions for the enterprise
Smart glasses are currently at a stage where consumer solutions are likely a few years off. Military, medical and enterprise solutions, however, are beginning to prove the value of combining AR with headsets and smart glasses.
One of the major current headwinds for AR is battery life. Microsoft HoloLens 2 is likely the most anticipated product in this space in 2019. The company hopes to roll out its technology to great fanfare by demonstrating improvements in raw processing power, battery life and wearability. The U.S. Army has awarded a $480 contract to Microsoft, and the company is also working with the industrial IoT firm PTC to streamline the development of both augmented and mixed reality products.
Other manufacturers also see the future of augmented reality in the enterprise sector. The 2G Glass Enterprise Edition is also expected to launch in 2019. It is seeing interest from companies as diverse as DHL, Boeing, GE and Volkswagen.
Based on a Forrester report, it is estimated that 14 million American workers are expected to use smart glasses regularly on their jobs by 2025. Industry 4.0 applications that integrate AR are expected to be a strong driver of adoption. Companies plan to streamline processes like training and to provide self-help to workers in the field with AR overlays that deliver information from manuals.
Walmart and Tyson are piloting programs that will move traditional training methods into mixed reality settings. Workers will have new ways to learn about compliance and safety issues by looking around mixed-reality environments and identifying problems in a way that's practical and engaging. Integration with other recent workplace training trends, especially gamification, may compound the returns that AR and MR solutions generate. According to ABI Research, AR-based training in enterprise will be a $6 billion industry by 2022.
Improvements in prototyping, testing, troubleshooting and quality control are expected to emerge from this trend, too, as workers will be able to make on-the-fly comparisons of real-world items against available documentation and specifications. Jobs that call for workers' hands to be free will also benefit significantly from AR headsets and glasses.
Trend #5: Augmented Reality enhanced by Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are fast-growing sectors in tech. Bringing them together with Augmented and Mixed Reality systems is a natural extension of many of the things that are best suited to AI and ML, particularly computer vision. Likewise, the ability to create human-machine processes that handle problems like disease diagnosis has immense potential to improve outcomes.
35% of sales on Amazon are derived from its recommendation engine, which leans heavily on machine learning to deliver search results and match advertisers with customers. Moving out of the web browser and into the real world has immense commercial potential. By pairing consumer profiles with AR and ML, retailers can identify customer needs based on their environments and provide them with recommendations.
Point-and-shoot retail AR solutions will also be major drivers of innovation. A shopper in a store can get AI-based customer support while walking around. If they have questions about pricing, features or current offers, answers can be supplied by a chatbot based on natural language processing (NLP) technologies. Responses can even be tailored to the customer's unique profile, allowing greater personalization on the fly.
Robust AI and ML solutions can be extended to the AR and MR spaces to provide value to everyday users of mobile devices.
Trend #6: WebAR
In the web space, Chrome AR is a highly anticipated product of 2019. Instead of needing to use specialized apps, users can simply log on to AR-enabled websites to access the same level of functionality. In order to foster adoption, an unofficial and unsupported version of the WebAR code is made available to developers on GitHub, too.
Mozilla is also engaged with WebAR and trying to bring AR solutions to Firefox. The goal is to make AR adoption significantly more friction-free by using the installed user bases of web browser audiences. Apple, Samsung and Microsoft web browser offerings are also rapidly adopting the WebAR standards.
Although these standards have yet to be established, the implementation of AR in browsers is under active development, by means of either porting existing libraries (e.g. AR.js) or developing new ones (e.g. A-Frame, React 360). 2020 is the year that WebAR may become available on virtually every up-to-date web browser in the world.
Trend #7: Collaboration and remote assistance via shared Augmented Reality
Collaborative efforts, such as conference calls, are often undermined by the lack of a direct personal presence. AR, however, can create mixed-reality settings where everyone on a conference call can see each other in a more socially conducive environment. Microsoft is moving forward with a beta of a video-calling system that employs augmented reality to create holographic-style representations of participants. Cisco Systems is also working on a project called Musion that brings together its networking products with AR technologies.
It is worth noting that adoption faces several headwinds, and neither consumer nor enterprise-grade products are currently on the market. In particular, the use of headsets and current costs have made commercial rollouts unappealing to manufacturers and potential customers.
AR-based remote assistance sessions is a use case that may promote innovation. A combination of WebRTC and AR makes it possible to conduct real-time maintenance work and troubleshooting. By leveraging concurrent data streaming, assistance providers can join more directly in the maintenance, configuration and repair processes.
Ford's Ford X in-house incubator has been elaborating a spatial system to create shared AR workspaces for its employees. It's easy to see how companies that place a premium on agile development frameworks like Scrum could become early adopters in this sector. Shared AR spaces also seem like a natural fit for training sessions, conferences, and education.
As we've seen in the world of video gaming, collaborative AR experiences are perceived by users as highly engaging and worth sharing with others. The challenges are bringing down costs, making wearables more accessible and finding use cases that allow wider adoption. AR-based collaboration and remote assistance remain underdeveloped sectors that will call for continued hardware improvements going into the 2020s.
Trend #8: AR in the automotive industry
At CES 2019, a number of car manufacturers were showing off on-the-road AR solutions, too. For example, Genesis G80 utilizes a number of features to ensure accuracy, including tracking the driver's line of sight to ensure that holographic overlays are always in the right spot. Instead of having to look down at a GPS panel in the dashboard, the driver will see arrows on a heads-up display providing live directions. Porsche is also making major investments in similar technologies.
Heads-up displays have been a fixture in military aerospace for decades, but AR is only now beginning to bring that potential to the automotive world. Dashboard-mounted displays can project AR overlays into the driver's line of sight on the windshield. Motorists can be alerted to hazards, providing directions and given warnings about traffic. On a more whimsical note, systems can also provide drivers and passengers with information about nearby landmarks and destinations.
WayRay, a company based in Switzerland, is the current biggest player in this sector outside of the big auto companies themselves. It showed off the i-Cockpit 3D HUG in a brand new Peugeot 208. Porsche is pushing Series C funding into the HUD setup.
Hyundai, in particular, has been a leader in AR research that goes beyond the cockpit-style view of the motorist's experience. Starting in 2015, the company has been merging collaborative and assistance technologies with AR to breathe new life into maintenance manuals. Hyundai has apps that allow users to point their phones at their cars to get information. If you're trying to figure out where the fuse panel is, for example, the app will highlight it on the screen. Mercedes has a similar app, but its version adds a chatbot to provide virtual assistance.
One major advantage of automotive AR is that many of the problems that are present in other use cases are easily overcome. Cars already have alternators to generate electrical power for use on the fly, largely eliminating battery concerns. Likewise, the windshield serves as a ready stand-in for cumbersome headsets. Multiple generations of drivers have also been acclimated to onscreen data and instructions by means of car-themed video games.
Trend #9: The market evolves and remains open to innovative business-driven solutions
2017 heralded the Cambrian explosion of the AR world, the introduction of easy-to-use software development kits from both Apple (called ARKit) and Google (called ARCore). Brands, development companies, agencies, and startups rapidly followed, taking advantage of their potential. ARKit 2 landed at WWDC 18, with Apple introducing the USDZ format that makes adding models, data and animations to AR landscapes simple. 3D object recognition, environment texturing and face tracking were also introduced.
2018 was also the year that the Magic Leap headset arrived. Shipped in August 2018, the headset represents a major step forward in consumer-grade products. Highly wearable, durable and adaptable, Magic Leap's price point in the $2,000 range is powered by technology from Nvidia. Selling points include 8 GB of memory, 128 GB of storage and USB-C charging. Magic Leap also says users can sustain three hours of continuous use. With a growing developers program, Magic Leap will become a jumping-off point for many companies diving into the AR space to experiment with new ideas and use cases.
The so-called ARCloud also stands out as something to watch. The ARCloud is a concept built around cross-platform compatibility, persistence and sharing. It is intended to provide a seamless experience with the real world, too.
Future of Augmented Reality
Experts predict the AR/VR industry to reach more than $25B by 2025—and the growth will continue steadily. That's the bright future of augmented reality, and it will be defined by the investments from the following business domains and spheres, which find its practical potential pretty enticing.
While gaming will remain dominant in terms of revenues, more practical industries, such as healthcare and engineering are expected to pick up steam. When it comes to real estate and home improvement, there are such use cases as interactive walkthroughs in mixed or virtual reality environments, or instant delivery of information via mobile AR. The latter can also be used in travel—for a good example, check our case study of a mobile software product for engagement and retention of travelers through AR-powered discovery, developed by our team. In the near future, we also expect evolution of the AR concept itself, with new software, hardware, and use cases emerging on the market.
For a good conclusion, we'd like to invite you to check our video collection of Augmented Reality demos, dedicated to the practical use cases for modern AR.
Andrew Makarov, Head of Mobile Development
Successful projects typically start with a business need or a problem that must be solved by means of technology. And besides our trend picks, there are further business areas where augmented reality can be applied—in many cases combined with other innovative technologies—all in order to make or break on the market. The future of augmented reality is here and now—numerous practical cases in mobile AR show that quite amply.
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