VR

‘AR cloud’ will drive the next generation of immersive experiences

Imagine: You’re walking down the street in an unfamiliar city and decide to stop for lunch. You put on your augmented reality (AR)-enabled glasses and look around you, and certain restaurants’ ratings and recent reviews appear overlaid on their storefronts. After you select a restaurant and sit down, you put the glasses on once again and a virtual menu appears on the table.

While this may seem futuristic, in reality it’s the next generation of computing. AR cloud technology enables the unification of the physical and digital world to create immersive experiences like the one just described. This technology uses a common interface to deliver persistent, collaborative and contextual digital content overlaid onto people, objects and locations. This provides users with information and services directly tied to every aspect of their physical surroundings.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 15% of organizations with more than $1 billion in revenue will use AR cloud to monetize the physical world through new interactions and business models. While many opportunities for AR cloud are still years away, there are near-term actions that businesses can take to capitalize on this emerging technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the value proposition for enterprise AR solutions more urgent, particularly among frontline workers who are leveraging AR to make their job easier, faster, or safer. Many organizations that have already deployed AR solutions are expanding their deployments, and others that were previously unaware of AR, or had deprioritized it in favor of other emerging technologies, are refocusing on these initiatives.

To prepare for future AR cloud opportunities, technology leaders must focus on building out the features, functionality and ecosystem required to make these applications more valuable and scalable. While there are numerous, compelling use cases in the future, these will not come to fruition unless providers can show current use cases that demonstrate business value, accessibility and usability.

The future of AR cloud applications

One of the biggest hurdles to AR adoption is the lack of scalable, off-the-shelf solutions — despite these solutions being purpose-built for a narrowly scoped set of problems. AR cloud experiences will amplify these hurdles by many orders of magnitude, by the nature of needing scalability while being persistent, collaborative and ubiquitous.

While AR cloud tech is still far from mainstream, tech vendors are introducing a few early AR cloud experiences. Apple’s App Clips, for example, can be used as anchors for an AR cloud system, triggered by pointing the phone camera at Apple’s App Clip codes, QR codes, or an NFC tag. Another example is Google Lens, which provides a digitally interactive experience through the camera application that can be used for text language translation, visual search and identification of objects, identification of popular menu items, and more.

These examples show the potential for AR cloud, yet they are still relatively isolated experiences. In other words, although they are collaborative, they exist independently of each other and are not part of a comprehensive experience. As such, they provide some of the steppingstone functionalities to AR cloud, but we would not consider them true AR cloud experiences — yet. True AR cloud deployments will require an ecosystem of providers working together to deliver persistent, collaborative and scalable experiences.

Immersive experiences set the stage for AR cloud

The path to this fully scalable AR cloud world will be paved by semi-AR solutions. We see these in such sectors as entertainment, retail, education, and health, where they are being applied to both consumer and employee experiences. They remain limited for three key reasons:

  1. Many of the technologies needed to enable immersive and interactive AR experiences, such as 5G, edge AI and IoT, are still maturing.
  2. The current generation of AR devices falls short on usability. Most AR experiences are currently viewed with tablets and smartphones, which is untenable for hands-free, continuous use — a key value proposition for AR cloud. On the other hand, hands-free devices like head-mounted displays are inaccessible due to cost, style, and ergonomics.
  3. The underlying infrastructure to enable persistent and collaborative experiences to anchor digital content to the physical world is nascent. Therefore, these experiences are purpose-built and exist in silos.

Now is the time to explore AR cloud

Business technology decision-makers must determine if and how to best make use of AR cloud technology. Will your organization monetize it? Will you use it to generate new business? Or will you use it to glean more value from existing digital and physical assets?

To put this decision into context, think back to the beginnings of the internet age, where many companies didn’t have a website. Businesses that were early adopters invested in this technology for many different reasons. Some did so as a competitive differentiator, some for thought-leadership, and some for “fear of missing out.” Yet, regardless of their initial reason for investing, the biggest benefit for early adopters is that they learned critical lessons on how to use this new medium of information and communication.

While the opportunities for investing in AR cloud can be exciting, they can also be daunting. How should AR cloud work? Who should it target? And how will it complement current technology investments? Nobody has figured out the answers to these questions yet, but those who are exploring AR cloud now will be much closer to an answer by the time it becomes more developed and pervasive.

Tuong Huy Nguyen is a Senior Research Principal Analyst on Gartner’s Emerging Technologies and Trends team, leading research on immersive technologies, computer vision, SLAM and human-machine interfaces.

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