The increasing use of virtual reality (VR) is a Hard Trend that will continue to grow, and with the release of several high-profile VR systems, 2016 was supposed to be the year that VR finally went mainstream. However, users around the world queuing up to immerse themselves in a virtual world have yet to materialize. The less fancied augmented reality (AR) consists of using your smartphone camera or smart glasses to overlay virtual elements to the physical world. AR is not immersive and was dismissed by many as just another tool for tech enthusiasts only. For those of you who read my 2016 annual list of 25 Hard Trends shaping the future, augmented reality was listed, and the revolution has now started.
The problem is that widespread adoption of any technology is crucial to its growth. Early adopters typically only represent 10 percent to 15 percent of potential customers. Launching new hardware is good, but having engaging and viral software that brings it to life is even better.
Assuming you already have a high-powered PC, the entry fee for Oculus Rift will set you back $599. In addition, it’s easier for video game developers to create a large-scale video game than to design and develop a more complex virtual reality game that can scale quickly. Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that VR has yet to hit the mass market. Alternatively, if you mentioned the words augmented reality to anyone outside of the tech industry, they would probably have had no idea what you were talking about. However, in just over a month, the game-changing Pokémon Go has been downloaded by over 100 million users.
Suddenly, everyone with a smartphone now fully understands exactly what augmented reality is and how it can be used. It no longer matters if you are a fan of the game or not, our reality is that this technology has gone mainstream almost overnight. This changes everything.
Google’s attempts to get people accustomed to elements of digital overlaying with the infamous Google Glass experiment seemed to cause more concern than anything else. Who could have predicted that a free game would unleash so many opportunities out of nowhere?
We should not underestimate the impact of an audience larger than the population of most countries that now understands augmented reality. Customer expectations are now at an incredibly high level, and businesses that struggle to adapt and keep up run the risk of appearing irrelevant.
There are already countless stories of companies claiming to have been saved by making the most of the current craze. In just a few weeks, a new benchmark has been created. How long until visitors of museums and theme parks expect a little more than a plaque on the wall with a few lines of information? Elsewhere, a digital strategy that consists of putting screens everywhere already looks outdated before it’s even been implemented.
Small tour companies, cab firms and cafe owners now have found ways to adapt to the change in consumer behavior. The risk for large organizations is that they are shackled and slowed down by their outdated thinking and processes. To describe AR as just another gaming medium would be a fatal mistake. As I have stated in previous articles, augmented reality acts as a powerful bridge to connect our online and offline worlds.
Businesses are about to be faced with both challenges and opportunities to bring their products to life. The Sephora mobile app is already utilizing augmented reality to “apply” digital makeup and lipstick using the user’s smartphone camera.
Over 100 million users are also using another form of AR every day with Snapchat geofilters. Seamlessly merging the real and the virtual in photographs is proving to be a phenomenal hit for the social network.
Hollywood film studios and familiar brands such as Starbucks and McDonalds are turning to branded geofilters to create compelling AR advertisements. Millennials who ironically use pop-up blockers to avoid ads are surprisingly embracing AR with open arms.
With over 800 million monthly active users enjoying 6 billion videos every day, it can only be a matter of time until Snapchat enters the wearable market, with AR glasses proving this technology is much more than just a game.
Once again, these examples are further evidence of how customers’ expectations have advanced dramatically within a few months. The long-term future of a game called Pokémon Go or even Snapchat could be classified as just another fad. But dismissing the AR technology behind it could be a very costly mistake for your business.
The mainstream adoption and understanding of augmented reality has provided a sneak peek into the future. The only question that remains is: What is your organization going to do with this rare gift of flash foresight?