The Arrival of New Realities

On the past, present, future of Augmented and Virtual Reality

Last year I had a chance to speak at two amazing events, Dev_At_Work in New York and IT Forum in Kyiv. I talked about Augmented Reality and the way it will revolutionize the world as we know it. I won’t call myself a VR-AR nerd just yet, but these game-changing technologies were on my mind a lot during 2016. Lately, more and more conversations with our clients, in one way or another, revolve around Virtual and Augmented Reality. According to Goldman Sachs, the total investment into AR and VR in 2014 and 2015 amounted to $3.5 billion. Concurrently, Digi Capital estimated that a $2.3 billion was invested into these emerging industries October 2015 through October 2016. Going back to the GS report, the AR-VR market should bring around $180 billion in revenue by 2025. The reality-bending wheels are in motion: VR and AR are arriving into our lives — and they are here to stay.

The Past of Reality

Essentially, VR and AR are not that new. In 1962, cinematographer Morton Heilig built a prototype of his idea of experience theatre, giving it a cool-sounding retro-futuristic name Sensorama. This was one of the first known examples of immersive multisensory technology, a sophisticated machine that showed 3D films with stereo sound and dispersed different aromas and air (to imitate wind) at pre-set moments. It was the first example of what we would call Virtual Reality — and Heilig would often be considered its father.

Later on, in 1968, a video showcased a head mounted display created by Ivan Sutherland, a prominent computer scientist considered to be the father of computer graphics — and now AR (and VR, too). Mr Sutherland’s head mounted display, which was fancily named “The Sword of Damocles,” is often cited as the precursor of Augmented Reality as we know it.

While from today’s perspective these inventions might seem primitive, they represented breakthroughs in technology at the time. Another important thing to note here, is that in order to succeed, ideas and technology have to be in sync with business needs. The Sensorama, for example, failed to grow because it was prohibitively expensive to shoot movies in 3D at the time.

The Present Reality

Fifty years passed. AR and VR ideas and technology have finally caught up with each other, and it’s amazing we are witnessing this happening in our lifetime. But if you still feel uncertain as to where we are with VR and AR, it’s absolutely justifiable.

Several months ago I was invited to Google NYC for an Agency Day to meet with various managers in Google and discuss tech trends and how the company is addressing them. One of the meetings was about Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Aaron Luber, a VP in Google and one of the people responsible for Google Daydream VR headset, said that one of the most frequently asked questions he gets from companies is, “Did we miss the train on VR and AR?” The date stamp on Sensorama and Ivan Sutherland’s head mounted device show that in many cases business is not sure when to approach new technology and how to grasp it.

We did NOT only not miss the train, but we are just witnessing the arrival of the train at the station.

Be it as it may, the answer is we did not only not miss the train, but we are just witnessing the arrival of the train at the station. Much like the Lumière brothers’ 1895 film The Arrival of the Mail Train was a sign of great things to come for cinematography, today’s developments in technology are a sign of what’s to come in the AR and VR world.

The Future of Reality

In order to discuss Augmented reality, we need to understand what reality means to us. The truth is, reality is relative. And, at its core, reality is an experience. If it’s relative, then Augmented reality is relative as well. Things we take for granted today would have been considered augmented reality in the past. More so, chances are, they will be considered antiquated by our grandchildren. Augmented reality is more than technology — it’s an adjustment to our perception of reality.

In that regard, business and AR are old pals because through the years, augmenting reality helped companies deliver what matters most — user experience.

In the age of Internet and technology, user experience moved from the physical world to the virtual.

Take Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister in the US, for instance. The brands “augmented” loud music, masculine smell, and low lighting into their stores to create a user experience that somewhat resembles a teenager’s room. This is also an Augmented Reality of sorts, and it doesn’t involve the usage of smartphones, VR headsets, or ony other sophisticated devices.

Abercrombie & Fitch Store

Jewelry stores are another example. If you ever went into or at least passed by a jewelry store, you must remember how shiny all of the diamond rings are. The reason is, their natural gleam is amplified with the help of the store’s lightning. In fact, JCK Magazine, one of the jewelry industry’s most prominent publications, insists that a jewelry store cannot look at lighting as an expense, but rather as a way to increase sales and profitability. I worked in the industry myself, at a diamond exchange in Israel, and we noticed a clear difference in sales depending on the amount of lighting inside and outside the store. The usage of bright, clean light aids in creating a sense of wealth and prosperity in a well-designed store full of extravagant stones.

Tiffany & Co. store

That was yesterday. In the age of Internet and technology, user experience moved from the physical world to the virtual. First, there was e-commerce. Then, in 2007, Apple released the iPhone, starting the smartphone craze and giving way to web and native mobile applications. Today, we have to take the next logical step by embracing Augmented Reality.

Business gave e-commerce and mobile a cold welcome, but both eventually took user experience to the next level, making it possible for brands to tailor an elaborate personal UX that pleased target users and brought in more profit. AR will take UX ten steps forward, allowing us to create experiences that we only could see in science fiction movies — Augmented reality experiences that will eventually revolutionize the way we interact with our favorite brands. Business should look at AR as a game-changing tool — and give it a warm welcome.