The biggest Augmented Reality (AR) surprise of the year certainly wasn’t the re-introduction of an upgraded Google Glass 2.0 headset for enterprise use, it was Apple’s ARKit, which will turn hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads into AR devices come the release of iOS 11 later this year.
However, with Google Glass having launched back in 2013, and with Google releasing a new model for the enterprise niche — which Apple might obliterate with ARKit and its own rumoured AR glasses — the research gurus at IDTechEx say Glass “finds itself in a battle of the (enterprise) niches".
With Google Glass in a sort-of 2.0, but dubbed as an “Enterprise Edition” or EE version, IDTechEx principal analyst, Dr Harry Zervos explains that the “major upgrades between the explorer and the enterprise edition include a modular structure, a better camera (from 5 megapixels to 8), extended battery life, faster Wi-Fi and processor, and a new red light that turns on when recording video".
What Dr Zervos does is to start a review of the world of AR.
If you were alive and old enough, you probably remember the VR headsets of the 1990s as I do. What I don’t remember are the AR headsets that Zervos says were “first demonstrated in headsets in the early 1990s".
Nor do I really remember AR being implemented “in consumer applications in simple ways from the late 2000s/ early 2010s”, because they really must have been quite niche, but I definitely remember the “dramatic rise in awareness of, excitement, and hype with the launch of Google Glass in 2013".
I do remember the headset being “criticised at the time of its launch and eventually pulled off the market in early 2015", but this did “lead to a precipitation of interest and investment in research & development in the space for AR, with tens of prototypes, demos and products hitting the market in the few years immediately after, with Pokemon Go!, the quintessential 'killer app' and the pinnacle of global AR frenzy to date".
On a side note, I did a video interview with David Francis, APAC head of Zappar just over a year ago in an article entitled: “VIDEO Interview: Zappar’s ZapWorks lets anyone bring AR and VR to life,” which you should check if you’re keen to see one of the other companies playing in the AR and VR space for many years now.
However, back to IDTechEx, which naturally has a new report on the topic of augmented, mixed and virtual reality technologies dubbed “Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality 2017-2027: Technologies, Forecasts, Players – Headsets, components and enabling technologies for future AR, MR, & VR devices” which as always available to relevant parties at relevant prices.
The report notes that “the launch of Glass impressed, disappointed and sent waves of alarm throughout the electronics industry all at once: it 'forced' competition to launch non-ready, clunky products, for fear of being considered as late arrivals in the AR space".
“Products with limited functionalities, short battery life, dim displays, that overall offered a dissatisfying user experience were revealed too early to convince consumers of the vision of AR and the capacity to achieve it.“
“Instead,” explains Zervos, “technology developers took severe criticism and a step or two back from the ambition of their initial plans and refocused their efforts onto more achievable goals: niche markets with specific needs, and problems with solutions that can be implemented through an AR headset in sectors where a clear ROI is associated with deploying said solutions.”
Now, it’s an oversimplified summary as IDTechEx notes, but it “describes the basic process through which Glass EE as well as most other AR headsets came to serve enterprise applications".
And what of the VR market?
Well, at the same time the first Glass hit the market in 2013, Zervos says “developers of VR headsets were only just digesting what is considered a seminal discovery for the VR industry: Valve’s discovery and sharing of the breakthrough of low-persistence displays in 2013, which made lag-free and smear-free display of VR content possible".
“Today, and only four years later," explains Zervos, "the market for VR is a very different landscape, with over 25 million headsets forecasted to be sold in 2017. And although it’s very true that AR and VR are not quite the same thing, they do have as many similarities as they have differences; a lot of the challenges relating to form factor, ergonomics, power consumption or development of better, lighter componentry have similarities that can lead to a very useful cross feeding of critical breakthroughs, and as IDTechEx forecasts, a convergence in later years that will see headsets being capable of both AR and VR.”
However, that’s not all, as there are 'niches within niches'.
Until then, AR headset developers are choosing their areas of focus, largely based on the form factor and capabilities of the headsets they’re launching.
Zervos shares some examples:
“Comparisons with Microsoft’s visor device are inescapable, but the differences between it and Glass EE almost ensure little competition between the two for the same chunks in the search of 'niches within niches', at least initially.
“Hololens, with its unusual look will probably remain deployed in indoors applications as it’s too “unexpected” for people walking down the street (that’s not a bad thing necessarily, as it allows itself constant proximity to grid power and thus, the capability to tackle hjgh processing power tasks without concerns of running out of juice), whereas the diminutive in size EE can be discrete enough for the great outdoors but will probably steer clear of processing power intensive applications due to its small size.”
Zervos says he "loves this example for two reasons: first, because it reminds everyone that AR content doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive and complex, but given the right application, it can be fun and engaging, even if it only allows you to film 10-second clips of yourself for your Snapchat account".
“Second, because the spectacles’ marketing campaign and sales model has made them a global sensation and something for the textbooks for generations of marketeers to come.”
Oakley Radar Pace
“Lastly, Oakley’s headset; a reminder that AR doesn’t have to be about visual content only: if you’re an athlete at the top of your game, you don’t have time to glance at your near eye display to see how fast your heartbeat is, or what distance you have to cover to get to the finish line: so Oakley did away with the power hungry display module and all information is accessed and exchanged with the wearer through voice commands.”
Dr Zervos welcomes back Google’s Glass, noting he has definitely been expecting its return, and wonders how it will fare, four years on.
I guess we can all say that we have mixed, virtual and augmented expectations!