The near emergence of 5G paves the way for enhanced Augmented Reality (AR) technology to radically transform interactions between businesses and consumers. AR intertwines the human physical environment with computer-generated imagery while its relative technology, Virtual Reality (VR), offers a fully-immersive computer-generated experience. Despite their differences, both technologies are on pace to revolutionize how we work, shop, learn, communicate and socialize in the coming years. When thinking about AR, many of us have intermittently encountered this technology built into popular smartphone gaming and messaging apps like Pokémon Go and Snapchat. While these examples typically classify this type of reality technology as a means of visual entertainment, AR has unlocked tremendous breakthroughs among businesses in areas of employee performance, safety, training, marketing and sales.
We're already seeing AR demonstrate substantial value among a diverse range of industries—from telecom and manufacturing to education and STEM. For instance, field service technicians within the industrial workforce are directly benefitting from AR technology when performing service calls and routine maintenance. Through a wearable device or smartphone application, technicians can leverage step-by-step instructions overlaid with the physical site to walk them through repairs rather than having to dispatch another technician, rely on memory or flip through a paper manual. This yields significant breakthroughs in worker productivity with increased efficiency, faster response times and improved job quality with less room for error. Additionally, AR wearables are contributing to safer worksites, enabling a hands-free interaction between technology and machines without interruption.
The use of AR is also redefining training, onboarding and coaching for the emerging workforce. With immediate access to on-the-job user guides, instructions and supporting content, AR elevates traditional standards of 2-D or paper-based material and embraces the digital world of hands-free 3-D visualizations. This carries a substantial impact on performance and productivity as novice employees with minimal experience can ramp up quickly to do better quality work in less time. AR devices also allow on-site workers and remote experts to share visual experiences with line of sight and voice communications, resulting in instant access to support and less frequent repeat visits.
The versatile use of AR applications is gradually turning mainstream within the B2C space. Retail and consumer goods are major proponents of leveraging AR to facilitate consumer evaluation during the sales process. Rather than visiting a brick-and-mortar store or relying on photos online, customers can access apps on their smartphone or tablet to showcase the appearance and positioning of certain items in their household. This capability triggers a sense of empowerment, putting the customer in control of visualizing and engaging with a digital version of the final product within their own surroundings. In today’s competitive landscape where customer experience, convenience and mobility are pivotal drivers to a company’s success, major retailers like Nike, IKEA and Amazon are already heavily investing in AR technology. With predictions of AR investments reaching upwards of $60 billion by 2020, it's only a matter of time before other industries begin to follow suit. The B2B market is also realizing the potential of AR. According to one study, more than a third of decision makers agree that AR will accelerate purchasing. More B2B organizations are examining AR as a strategy to differentiate the buying experience and demonstrate early value with deeper, more meaningful customer interaction.
As the AR market continues to gain rapid momentum, the demand for more sophisticated technology and applications grows stronger by the day. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will complement reality technology applications with enhanced cognitive functionality and greater efficiency. Tech giants like Google and Apple have also released their respective versions of development software, ARCore and ARKit, to facilitate the creation of AR apps for Android and iOS devices. The use of AR applications and devices have thus far paved a bright future for industries across the market to redefine customer experience, simplify customer service, maximize employee productivity and elevate training. The advancement of AR unveils the potential to monetize and adapt immersive technology as a lifestyle, leaving businesses and consumers optimistic about the imminent future.