While virtual reality (VR) aims to create an entirely immersive experience, augmented reality (AR) takes a slightly more modest approach by layering digitally created elements over the real world. Whether someone views those elements through a special headset or through their smartphone display, AR has the ability to provide a wealth of content that can entertain, educate, or enhance productivity. There are a number of significant use cases for this groundbreaking technology, but it’s also important to consider how it’s already impacting the world.
Thanks largely to its presence on smartphones, augmented reality devices are expected to reach a huge number of users over the next few years. Smartglasses technology may be lagging behind a bit, but several promising devices are already on the market and advancements in AR wearables will continue to drive growth. The combined installed base of mobile AR devices and smartglasses could exceed two and a half billion units by 2023, creating huge opportunities for innovative AR applications. As these devices become more ubiquitous, AR will become less of a novelty technology and form a more integral part of consumers’ everyday technology experience.
From the time of its launch in July of 2016, Pokémon GO proved to be an AR sensation, generating $207 million in revenue its first month and reaching a peak of 45 million daily users worldwide. Although those numbers declined after the initial craze died down later that year, the game still generated about $200,000 in revenue each day as of April 2019 and earned nearly $800 million in 2018. Since its release, the mobile AR game has been downloaded a staggering one billion times, which would equate to 14% of the world’s population (although it’s unlikely these were all unique downloads). For many consumers, Pokémon GO represented their first exposure to the concept (and potential) of augmented reality technology.
One of the challenges facing augmented reality technology is the overall level of consumer awareness. While virtual reality has garnered splashy headlines and portrayals in fiction for decades, AR is sometimes more difficult to describe to people. On the whole, about 90 percent of consumers in the US and UK are aware of VR, but that awareness drops to 65 percent when it comes to AR. Younger people are more likely to be familiar with the technology, with less than half of people aged 55-64 knowing about it. Across all age groups, however, awareness far outstrips engagement, as only 35 percent of people ages 16-34 report utilizing augmented reality technology. Among the 55-64 demographic, the figure drops to three percent.
For many companies, AR presents exciting opportunities in terms of marketing and customer experience. Research has shown that nearly seven out of ten media planners want to incorporate more AR experiences into their advertising efforts to boost customer engagement. Deloitte’s 2018 report on technology trends for mid-market companies (those with annual revenues between $100 million and $1 billion) found that a majority of them are experimenting with AR in various forms to help grow their business. The potential for such growth can certainly be seen in augmented reality statistics. Mobile AR ad revenue, most of which comes from Snapchat and Facebook advertising, is expected to exceed $2 billion by 2022.
Apple’s ARKit tool, released in June of 2017, made it possible for mobile app developers to design innovative AR experiences for iOS devices, which ushered in a wave of AR-enabled apps. Google’s ARCore followed nearly a year later in March 2018, opening up the Android device market to aspiring AR app developers. Although the iOS platform continues to dominate the AR app market with well over 2,000 apps, more and more developers are releasing new games and utilities each month. As these developers become more familiar with these tools, they will surely produce even more groundbreaking AR experiences that push the boundaries of the available technology and expose more consumers to the possibilities of AR applications.
As these augmented reality statistics show, the future of AR is already here. To deliver quality AR experiences, companies will need to invest heavily in edge computing frameworks that help them to deliver content to end users with minimal latency. While 5G technology will certainly help to enhance AR functionality, the interactive nature of augmented reality devices will force many companies to rethink their overly centralized cloud computing networks in order to deliver content faster and gather data more efficiently. Edge data centers will play a key role in these strategies as consumers become more aware of AR and incorporate more augmented reality devices into their everyday lives.