Last week Apple CEO’s Tim Cook compared augmented reality with virtual reality. He said augmented reality (AR) is the “larger of the two” with virtual reality having a lower “commercial interest over time”.
Having explored both landscapes, I accept his premise but within reason.
Whilst virtual reality provides an immersive environment for users, AR superimposes digital assets or images into the real world. The technology is primarily visual but with the potential to include audio and perhaps other sensory information, like touch, in the future.
AR is an enhancement on the everyday. Imagine your office with a seemingly ‘real’ elephant in the corner. This is what AR can do. As the technology evolves, augmented technology has the potential to shift how you interact with the world with real applications in the workplace.
In 2013, Google released the first milestone in head-mounted AR devices with their Google Glass. There was little interest or uptake and it faded into oblivion without further development. The disappearance of Google Glass was not an indication of AR’s future it was just a stepping stone towards the next generation of devices.
Then Volkswagen developed MARTA, a service manual AR app that replaced the old paper manual with a Mobile Augmented Reality Technical Assistance App that showed in 3D how to complete a repair job with step by step AR instructions. So much easier to use than thumbing through pages of a grease stained booklet while your head is stuck under the bonnet. Volkswagen was an early adopter of the emerging tech showcasing its potential in a useful application.
In 2016 a new wave of advancements is happening with the Microsoft HoloLens, Magic Leap (which has raised ~1.39B in funding) and Meta 2. These new devices build on the legacy of Google Glass but offer much more. Unlike Google Glass where there was no 3D mapping of your environment and you could only see a small area in front of you, these new devices give a much more realistic view (similar to the 200 degree horizontal view of the human eye). They have better resolution and better processing power – no room now for a dodgy pixelated elephant who moves in a ragged stop start fashion.
But the real light bulb moment for business will come when you start replacing your monitors at work with AR technology. Gone will be the days of physical screens. Now your screen is where you want to work. Working from the couch – augmented reality will be able to bring your two or three desk screens to wherever you are. Working on a complex architectural plan – AR will allow you to view the plan from all angles and allow you to manipulate it within the 3D space.
And for education; AR allows multiple users with AR headsets to collaborate and interact with the same content. Real life holograms in real time. A science experiment that still seems real without the risk of fire or explosion if the wrong chemicals are mixed together.
There may still be a place for virtual reality in business, but the combination of the real and the ‘unreal’ of AR has enormous business possibilities.
Experiencing and experimenting with new technology is disruptive, which is why we have adopted both AR and virtual reality into our new Innovation Lab. Both challenge our mind to be brave and innovative; to fail and to rethink in different and more creative ways.
Daniel Lee works in the newly established KPMG Innovation Lab. He explores emerging technologies, trends in the market, disrupting forces and how to apply it to your business.