The sky’s the limit

Every year since Oculus pushed out its prototype Rift, industry experts have hailed the coming 12 months ‘as the year VR will take off’. However, four years later and the world is still waiting for VR to live up to the hype. But 2018 really could be the year that VR (and AR) finally fulfils its much-awaited potential.

Both VR and AR are starting to see positive growth within the consumer market, but the use of both in business is set to have an even greater impact across a wide range of industries. Enterprise services will help lead growth over the next 12 months, with IDC predicting global spend on products and services related to AR and VR to grow by more than 100 per cent annually, going from $11.4 billion last year to $214 billion by 2021.

Education, hospitality and healthcare are just a few areas where VR and AR are set to boom over the course of the next year. As Simon Woodman, Exertis Mobile director, says ‘VR and AR technology can provide many benefits’ for business and correspondingly for the Channel. “There is no question that VR can benefit business,” he states. “There’s no shortage of opportunities in terms of applications and vertical markets. However, cost and content still remain an issue in deployment of these technologies. Hardware costs are decreasing and there is new content being developed all the time. The difficulty is monetising the opportunity and providing a commercial proposition that can be taken to market.”

And while Woodman believes both VR and AR will be deployed successfully in a variety of industries, he doesn’t see it as a one-size-fits-all solution. “Some vertical industries will be better suited to one or other of the technologies,” he adds. “VR typically requires a headset connected to a high-end PC, or a headset plus mobile device, however AR does not necessarily require any hardware beyond a tablet or smartphone. Therefore, AR is perhaps better suited to certain jobs and roles as it can be experienced without obstructing the user’s vision. Instead of maintenance workers having to consult a manual before undertaking a repair, they could follow the latest technical drawing or even a video, hands-free, while working, thereby improving efficiency and safety. AR is likely to become more common because there are so many devices available.”

One area which is already seeing AR/ VR being rolled out is within retail. It is already being used increasingly by pop-up stores in shopping malls and supermarkets have been experimenting with augmented labels that provide information on a product’s nutritional value. In some instances, retailers have rolled out consumer-facing applications that let them virtually try on clothing, makeup, and accessories. The travel and tourism market is another area that has started dabbling with VR and AR as a means to sell holiday packages to consumers.

However, the Home market is the area which has arguably seen the best use of AR/ VR so far. With the Dulux app, users can digitally test out colours on their walls without having to physically paint. Likewise, IKEA’s AR-powered app lets shoppers visualise furniture in their homes before they buy.

As Tom Murray, IT Manager at UXG, elaborates: “The new IKEA application is one of the first to utilise new AR capabilities of the latest generation devices without the need for ‘markers’. This allows them to make informed decisions and more confident purchases. It also showcases a company adopting and adapting technology smartly to benefit their customers. With VR becoming more commonplace, its uses to drive growth are becoming more creative. With apps as wide-ranging in scope as producers of large-scale machinery being able to show off at exhibitions, to McDonald’s trialling its own version of Google Cardboard. VR is being used to creatively solve problems and immerse customers into brands.

“Before, AR was a bit fiddly to get into the end-users hands. Normally it would require a real-world marker which would then allow the application to interpret what should be shown on the device, whether it’s a 3D model, video or image. With the introduction of ARKit and ARCore in 2017 I believe we’ll start to see user adoption grow. These don’t require external markers to produce AR experiences and brings accessibility for end users and developers.”

The possibilities are literally endless for the adoption of AR and VR in business. Retailers look likely to be among the earliest adopters with the education sector not far behind. This is a technology not to be ignored or seen as a fad. Seeing some of the largest tech giants in the world throw their weight behind it is testimony enough to its seriousness.  

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