The impact of AR and VR will be as big as the internet

AR and VR could have as big an impact on society as the internet, according to Kelly Goetsch, chief strategy officer at commercetools.

Virtual reality provides a totally immersive experience, transporting people — as the internet does — wherever they want to go. But, VR has less economic traction than augmented reality. AR can provide real, tangible value to consumers and businesses very quickly and very easily; again, like the internet, with the advent of e-commerce and personalisation: think Minority Report.

“Being able to augment the real world allows for so many good use cases that could be employed,” said Goetsch, although this AR reality is significantly further away from the mainstream than VR.

Will society move into a state of play similar to Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, where people are trying to escape their reality?:

These futuristic scenarios are not wholly improbable, but Goetsch’s prediction, by his own admission, is someway off.

AR adoption is low

“I do not see a ton of AR adoption, yet. And I think that’s largely because devices are too expensive,” Goetsch explained. He’s not wrong. Microsoft HoloLens 2 will cost you $3,500. It’s simply too much for the average consumer, although for the enterprise it’s a different matter.

Even if you’re wealthy enough or committed enough to spend that much, there aren’t enough devices out there to create an ecosystem that would spur mass adoption — “there aren’t those killer apps right now. And, I think that’s largely because app developers haven’t made them, because there’s not enough devices,” said Goetsch. “We need to hit that point where consumers start buying these things en mass.”

In industry, however, AR adoption is on the rise and the technology is helping drive industry 4.0:

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What’s more, AR and VR are set to play major roles in metaverse infrastructure, which while still in concept stages could bring immersive experiences to business in the near future.

VR is entering the mainstream

In the consumer space, VR has a much higher adoption rate than AR; the technology is further along, cheaper and easier to use. And I personally know, five or six people who have VR headsets. And it’s because the cost is pretty minimal, right? The Oculus, for example, is available for £499.

It’s not just the consumer space that VR is making tracks in. Businesses, too, are taking advantage of the technology to train workforces and help clients visualise end products.

“VR is a great way to take tours of very expensive things before you buy them,” confirmed Goetsch. The likes of BMW and Mercedes are using digitalisation to accelerate sales, by using VR to provide ultra realistic 3D tours of their vehicles, anywhere, anytime. “This will be the reality for humans in 20 years who want to buy cars, homes or anything”  he said. “And just like the web created this new world, a new realm for humans, so to will AR and VR.

“I’m generally much more bullish on AR rather than VR. VR is too isolating. With AR, you can make the whole world shoppable”

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The physical and virtual worlds combine

When the internet emerged in 1995, it represented the mass convergence of the physical and virtual worlds. VR and AR is going to be the next iteration of that.

We’re already seeing it, with VR especially, being used in education to transport children to different historical eras or for training those in the healthcare industry. But, there is no limit to what industry can and is embracing this next stage in the convergence of the physical and virtual. Walmart, for example, is training its staff using VR:

AR, while not at the same level, is making waves, particularly in the manufacturing industry. In this environment, the technology is used — with the aid of the IoT — to monitor equipment in real-time and highlight any foreseeable maintenance issues before they’ve become a problem. And, in more consumer-facing industries like retail, AR will eventually have a monumental impact.

What will catalyse this AR revolution? Ryan Donovan, chief product and technology officer at GRIN, thinks Apple will play a major role.

He said: “The impact of Apple’s advancements in AR will be profound. I truly believe Augmented Reality is going to work its way pervasively into everyday use cases as the ability to create advanced experiences to a very large install base is bigger than ever before. In my opinion, AR will become an expected norm in terms of how brands will interact with their customers in the near future. Apple is even showcasing an AR experience to reveal what their new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR will look like in an office space.”

Goetsch agrees that Apple “is going big on AR”, citing a key development set to go to market in 2024 in its AR Glass.

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It appears that Donovan, too, shares Goetsch’s prediction that AR (and VR) will become as big as the internet.

“It is easy to envisage how big of an impact AR will have on social media, just imagine the possibilities of enhanced stories, videos, posts, and chat sessions. Advancements in AR will augment the power of human connection through social creating new levels of individualised social experiences for brands to reach customers. Imagine a world where one can see how a brand’s products will fit into their own environment. Or seeing yourself in the midst of an amazing travel experience. This day is coming sooner rather than later. I am personally very excited to now be part of this movement and look forward to helping our customers take advantage of these capabilities sooner rather than later.”

AR and VR: as big as the internet

It is a bold claim. But, the impact of AR and VR, if they fulfil the potential bestowed on them by futurists and Hollywood, will change how people consume, engage and live as much as Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s creation: the internet.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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