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How augmented reality will deliver real value

By Marcus Lambert

As we dive head first into digital transformation, 2016 will be remembered not only as the moment augmented reality (AR) arrived but also the watershed, when this 21st-century experience officially reached the enterprise.

To date, media attention has tended to concentrate on those aspects of AR most suited to video gaming, with all eyes drawn to Magic Leap the notoriously secretive Google-backed concept, currently valued at an eye-watering $4.5 billion. However, ZDNet having dared to look at the wider possibilities of this technology declared that AR could deliver ‘the next paradigm shift in computing.’

Why? What are they seeing that others have missed? One advantage over Virtual Reality – current darling of tech aficionados – is AR’s ability to seamlessly mix real world with the virtual, to create a uniquely hybrid experience. Breaking the fourth wall between the real world and the imagined is the thing Virtual Reality struggles with. Not so AR – experiences such as interactive AR customer service already look like the natural next step. And this technology will impact almost every business eventually.

Industries from manufacturing to healthcare will be queuing up to create a cocktail of both digital and part-physical content to transform their businesses. Whether creating meaningful change by assisting doctors with surgical procedures or providing a Trip Advisor or Yelp overlay for a more personalised weekend break. The potential and possibilities of this digital tool are finally being realised.

Although content is widely considered to be king, as the medium of storytelling continues to evolve it seems experience is a very close second. With an estimated $46 billion in revenue expected by 2021, there is no mistaking enterprise AR is about to become very big business and will improve experiential businesses across multiple industries.

In a world where we find ourselves surrounded by smart devices, I cannot help but wonder if smart employees will be arriving in the workplace. The excitement and productivity boost that dual screen monitors first provided us are in need of a 21st-century upgrade. The ability to act on real-time information displayed onto – or into – our physical world has the potential to be another game-changing moment.

Imagine a workplace where nobody fights for meeting rooms. The creation of virtual spaces would allow teams to communicate effortlessly, irrespective of project scale. This then could also be the moment people start looking at AR as a business collaboration tool, rather than fleeting gamification fad.

Consumers will see different values in this technology too. Viewing home furnishings within their own living rooms, or entering their very own virtual changing room before purchasing clothing being just two possibilities.

Of course with great power comes great responsibility, and there’s always a flip side to the coin. Keiichi Matsuda recently released a six-minute video entitled “Hyper-Reality” and described as a provocative and kaleidoscopic vision of the future. This satirical vision of an over stimulated future illustrates how not to implement AR.

Apple are conspicuous by their absence, leaving Microsoft’s HoloLens and Meta to capture both our imagination and attention. As Virtual Reality secures the headlines, it will be the development of a new generation of ecosystems that will enable the creation useful AR apps, needed to deliver that game-changer moment. This is going to take a little time, so a degree of patience will be required.

The combination of business-orientated applications with enterprise Augmented Reality will offer much more tangible value than VR – already in danger of being seen as a one-trick pony. It’s crucial to remember that we are at the beginning of a very long journey. Only when developers understand and unlock the full potential of this technology will we begin to see the tangible benefits to both businesses and consumers.

Our immediate future involves entering a brave new world. It will be like nothing we have ever seen before, as the lines between our online life and the physical world increasingly begin to blur.

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