AR/VR — 2017 Highlights

2017 was a busy year for the AR/VR space! Here are some of the key developments from the year

  1. If 2016 was the year of Pokémon Go, 2017 was definitely the year of Augmented Reality (AR)! From new platforms that put AR in the hands of millions (such as ARKit, ARCore), potent new hardware (such as the Daqri glasses), and most importantly numerous applications (such as purchasing experiences for consumers, or operations aids for enterprises), the AR space developed by leaps and bounds in 2017
  2. The growing adoption of both AR, and Virtual Reality (VR) by the enterprise space, be it for engaging customers, streamlining the sales funnel, or to improve operations. We will skip the AR, VR applications in this post, but look out for two detailed posts from me on this topic!

Ecosystem: Having evangelized technologies for the bulk of my career, I am a big believer of the need to have a healthy, active ecosystem for any technology to flourish. 2017 saw a confluence of key developments that will set up the industry for success, the key ones being:

  1. The industry saw a healthy $2.5 Billion+ in investments as of early December. While the distribution of the investment has changed in 2017 compared to 2016 (as with all evolving markets) it is exciting to see the continued investment in this space. There are a lot of reports out that cover this in greater detail (ex. the VR fund’s entertainment focused report).
  2. Growing push by major players to make it easier, and valuable for developers to create content either by providing them with tools, assets (such as Google’s Poly), or monetary support (ex. Oculus). Having rich content is the key to driving ongoing usage, and a growing revenue stream from users.
  3. Big push by major players to drive end-user adoption, both consumers (ex. Facebook’s push to get 1 Billion users on VR), and enterprises (ex. Google Impact program making it easier for enterprises to adopt VR)

Platforms: By platform, I mean the fundamental, enabling software. 2017 saw no dearth of candidates to be called out. The ones those are likely to have the most impact on the space being:

Credit: 9to5mac
  1. It’s pretty hard to have missed the excitement, and the new applications unlocked by Apple’s ARKit, Google’s ARCore, Facebook’s Camera Effects, and Snap’s Lens Studio. These are monumental developments that will democratize creation, and access to AR content by knocking down the barriers to create content, putting AR in the hands of hundreds of millions of users. Needless to say, there are more AR/VR platforms I am not listing here (ex. PTC’s Vuforia). In case you missed it, Google put Tango, its early AR offering to rest; while Tango didn’t see the widespread adoption that ARKit, ARCore will, it provided valuable insights for both the market, for ARCore.
  2. While its unlikely to have caught the end users attention, there have been exciting developments on the WebVR front. WebVR is an open specification that will expand the VR footprint (in spirit, like ARKit, ARCore did on the AR side) by making it easier to get into VR experiences. Anyone with a compatible browser (and a headset for an immersive experience, or just a screen for a 3D experience) can get into a VR experience. In addition to opening up access, it also makes it easier, and more scalable for developers to create content that works across a variety of hardware platforms.
  3. 2017 also saw a growing number of open source/proprietary, free/paid tools to enable creation, distribution of content (full disclosure, the Monotype AR/VR solution is something I built). This is very much needed since AR/VR are very different mediums, and bring up unique, new challenges that aren’t readily addressed by existing solutions.

AR Hardware:

While the majority of us (especially consumers) experience AR through smartphones this is unlikely to be the case in the long term. Much like enterprise users today, AR is likely to be experienced through other vehicles, be it a Head Mounted Display (HMD), goggles, or even contact lenses. While we are a little ways off from that, here are some major developments on the hardware side that will help us get there:

  1. A host of new AR hardware, most of them focused around enterprise — the Google Glass 2 (this time returning with an enterprise focus), the Daqri smart glass (a natural evolution of their smart helmet), and the ODG smart glasses. These devices addressed a variety of challenges associated with using AR for enterprises (content creation, cost, user experience) thereby making it easier, and more valuable for enterprises to embrace AR.
  2. Magic leap (the secretive AR startup that raised billions of dollars) unveiled its first product! an AR headset that will ship in 2018. For many enthusiasts (like yours truly) following this space, this was much awaited news, and a great way to finish off 2017
  3. For any space/technology to flourish, and constantly innovate, there need to be players constantly pushing the boundaries, and addressing segments parts of the market. We see that happening in the AR hardware space with a healthy, and growing list of players that are releasing new products (such as Meta, Epson, Vuzix).
Credit: Daqri

VR Hardware:

The VR hardware space saw a couple of interesting trends in 2017, most of them course alterations based on market feedback:

  1. Mobile VR is catching up! Samsung did a phenomenal job driving VR awareness, and adoption through its Mobile VR approach. 2017 saw both new players, and more interestingly ones who started with high-end tethered HMDs such as the HTC (with the Vive), Oculus (with the Rift) also announcing mobile based systems (such as the Oculus Go, and the HTC Vive Focus)
  2. While the VR hardware space saw new, and more affordable offerings, it also saw some of the high-end HMD players (such as Oculus, HTC) dropping the prices of HMDs to drive end user adoption in this segment of the market. This, coupled with some of the ecosystem initiatives we discussed earlier should help accelerate adoption in this segment
  3. As we saw with PCs (and most other platforms), having a common platform/specification that the industry can leverage, and build on can lead to a diverse range of offerings addressing different segments of the market. This also enables developers by making it easier for them to create content that scales. Much like Microsoft did with PCs, they are working with a host of partners such as Dell, Acer, HP, Samsung to release headsets.

Needless to say, there were a ton of other developments in the AR/VR space in 2017. What would you have included in this list?

(This story originally appeared on LinkedIn)