What a difference a year makes. For Virtual and Augmented Reality, CES 2017 offered so much hope and hype. VR headsets were finally in the homes of consumers and millions of dollars in venture capital was flowing to AR startups like Magic Leap and Meta. The industry was primed for an epic breakout. Flash forward one year to CES 2018, and you see two very different trajectories for VR and AR.
AR on the rise
AR has had a very strong year with an impressive story to tell. From the release of Apple’s ARKit and Android’s ARCore, millions of smartphone users were only a software update away from transforming their phones into an AR-capable device. What followed were the first wave of app experiments, enabling the display of virtual objects contextualized in our real world through the camera lens. Snapchat and Facebook expanded the capabilities of their app-powered cameras to enhance your selfies and “world view” with AR objects and animations.
In 2018, expect to see more AR formats rise and gain adoption. New technology on display showed the potential for holographic displays entering our everyday life in both big and small ways. VNTANA was showcasing life-sized AI-powered hologram displays, while the Hololamp showed the possibilities of glasses-free and hands-free AR via a table-top projector. There were also major product announcements in the AR head mounted display category. Vuzix launched the Blade, smart glasses that project a screen in to your view, have Alexa built-in and have a sleek design, making them unobtrusive to wear.
As we move in to 2018 and beyond, AR will feel less like a “technology” and more like a standard. The app experiments will make way for mature and feature-rich experiences. And with AR so accessible, we’ll come to expect brands and physical products to be discoverable, contextual and interactive. Our daily lives will be augmented by virtualized data, where the content that was once on a screen will take a Magic Leap to the real world.
VR: From dream to reality
VR is the dark horse that is by no means out of the race. If anything, VR spent last year in quicksand. The leap in innovation from 2016 slowed to a crawl heading into 2017. Platforms like the Vive, Oculus and PlayStation all spent the year playing content catch-up and refining their user experiences. VR should roar again in 2018 with a path, a purpose, and some much-needed technological advances. The average consumer wants a VR headset that forgoes the external cameras and cables for a wireless solution with a deep library of content and experiences.
2018 is the year that the VR dream becomes reality and should push for a new wave of adoption. I recently had the privilege of demo-ing the new HTC Vive Pro with Wireless Adapter. The soon to be released Vive Pro has increased resolution to eliminate the “screen door effect”, and when combined with the wireless add-on, makes for a more immersive VR experience. Gone was the snag or trip on the cable that pulled you out of the VR with a fleeting safety concern.
To see what’s coming next on the VR horizon, one should look to the startups, and Looxid stood at the top, winning the CES Innovation Award for VR. Their stand-alone headset adds in eye-tracking and brain sensors to more accurately track users’ interactions in VR. Imagine controlling your VR experience with just your thoughts. On the content and software side, multi-user and telepresence in VR will unlock more use-cases for the technology, which opens the door for better brand experiences. Not only will you be able to virtually tour the hotel you would like to visit, but a brand concierge will be there to guide you and customize your experience personally. These multi-user experiences will unlock the full potential of VR and go a long way to move the masses toward adoption.
Powered by AI
I’m most excited to see how the rise of AI will power these experiences. Combining the strength of computer vision, object recognition and cognizance, our immersive experiences will be deeper and more ubiquitous. Virtualized retail experiences will have a profound impact on how we discover and shop for products. They will combine augmented reality product visualization with AI-powered virtual sales assistants to enable the traditional in-person retail shopping experience at home or on the go. That will be the real magic leap for marketing and advertising in 2018 and beyond.