It’s already been a year since the wildly popular Pokemon Go launched, but have we seen any breakthroughs in the augmented reality (AR) market yet? AR is in the same place as VR was in early 2015: many platform manufacturers, high prices and too little content and supportive software. Now, anticipation over how the recently announced competing AR platforms means the mobile app landscape may develop actually slower than expected.
AR photo and video filters on today’s most popular social networking apps have become ubiquitous, but much like virtual reality, AR will have a rocky road ahead before it can reach robust adoption by large and small enterprises. But the AR market is not to be ignored. Headworn and mobile AR will have a significantly larger impact than virtual reality on most company’s digital operations. Here are four things keeping AR in the shadows.
1. Competing Platforms = Gridlock
There are currently over 25 headworn AR display manufacturers currently competing in the space with no clear leader. While AR displays from Microsoft, ODG and Meta have garnered significant media buzz this year, several newcomers are expected to enter the space. Apple, Facebook and Magic Leap are each working on AR headset prototypes. All of these competing platforms have left third-party application developers waiting for a clear leader to emerge, resulting in a minuscule amount of consumer content and enterprise applications for hardware.
2. Developer Evangelism
Companies that market apps and manufacturers need developers more than developers need them. To be successful early on, developers will need to adapt their applications to be “platform- agnostic” and compatible with multiple headsets. Hardware manufacturers should have their software developer kits — which companies like Apple, Samsung and Google provide to developers to create apps for their devices — work seamlessly with all the popular creation platforms. Developer evangelism and support programs will also be imperative for platforms in order to appeal to professional app developers.
3. Affordability Will Limit Headworn AR, To a Degree
While affordability is an issue that VR has long faced, cost is one area where AR may have a slight upper hand.
AR devices are the complete platform; the headsets do not need a computer or gaming console to run applications. VR headsets are currently an accessory device, meaning it relies on other computing hardware to run. AR display manufacturers can, therefore, price their devices at a higher range than VR devices. Still, purchasers will be wary when AR smart glasses are just as expensive as a computer. This may be easier once a popular brand like Facebook or Apple releases an AR headset. As we saw with Google Glass earlier this decade, even smart glasses can still be priced in the thousands and appeal to a niche market.
4. Big Players’ Long-Awaited Entry
With major issues holding back the near-term adoption of AR headsets, it may have been the highly anticipated entry of major players that will remove some of the biggest barriers and finally allow mobile AR to be king. Apple’s ARKit will be imperative to the success of mobile AR. It is no question that Apple is the biggest smartphone retailer with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus selling about 40 million devices in the first quarter alone. ARKit will be compatible with iPhone SE and newer, which will make it the biggest device-exclusive AR platform available.
Until the AR market sees its heyday, companies looking to create content should look to mobile AR as the near-term solution. But don’t count out headset-based AR. AR will change how the population uses smart devices — and using AR headsets could one day be as common as walking around with headphones AR will change how consumers interact with data from talking to a friend to following navigation to searching the internet. A new wave of technology is here, and it’s time to adapt.
(Top image: Courtesy Getty Images.)
Alexis Macklin is an Analyst with Greenlight Insights, the leader in virtual and augmented reality market data. Macklin covers emerging technology trends at the intersection of VR, AR and the entertainment industry. Follow her: @Alexis_Macklin.
All views expressed are those of the author.