Is Augmented Reality Close to Becoming Reality?

Every week I will be sharing hot topics discussed in my new Facebook Community The Future If… Check out this week’s discussion here, and join the community to take part in future dialog

This week’s discussion was all about augmented reality and the role it will play in how we live and work. Before we jump in, let’s clear this up — augmented reality isn’t the same as virtual reality. In augmented reality, computer-generated information is superimposed over the real world, while virtual reality is a completely immersive experience. It’s the difference between getting extra information over a real-life game and watching something totally unreal. AR has a ton of potential uses and could grow into the next big thing — even Apple CEO Tim Cook said it has greater potential than virtual reality — however, that could be a ways away.

AR has been around for a while, but it generally isn’t widely used because it’s just too expensive. Some ideas have been tested out like using AR glasses to give warehouse workers information about shipping containers or helping technicians with information to fix a wiring issue. Imagine the possibilities of being able to use AR to see what a kitchen remodel would look like before you start tearing down walls or being able to visualize potential plays and formations before running them at basketball practice. These implementations are all being tested, but unfortunately they haven’t moved past the testing phase. Most people outside the industry aren’t even aware of these devices or their potential.

One of the reasons for the slow growth in AR actually hitting the market or the workplace is that it just isn’t worth the cost for companies to invest in dozens, hundreds, or thousands of AR devices to help their customers or employees. There’s a risk that comes with being an early adopted, especially at the price point of current AR devices. If there ever were a compelling business case, however, that could change.

There’s also issues with the design. Remember Google Glass? That was AR that had a good enough design to make it out of testing, and it was nearly universally mocked. In order to actually be successful, AR devices need to be sleek, and right now they just aren’t. Brand and Behaviour Strategist Abigail Freeman points out that the main issue is that the devices aren’t yet ready to be integrated into how people want to work, saying Google Glass “never never ‘crossed the chasm’ to mainstream; even Snap’s much more practical, fashion-led glasses are not faring much better.” According to multiple community members, the best chances for actually using AR could be in warehouse employees who are already used to wearing safety googles or in technology that doesn’t include wearables.

One area where AR seems the most poised to grow is in apps. Last summer’s phenomenon Pokemon Go was augmented reality because it put the creatures around us in the real world. The success of that app has spurred other developers to consider how they can add AR to their apps. However, there is still work to be done. According to Talent Acquisition Partner Donna Howell, “We particularly need greater traction on the app development side, particularly apps that allow companies to easily create their own training and immersion content.” Multiple community members agreed that education and training could be a great place for AR — instead of spending days in training sessions, employees could use AR to learn on the job.

So will augmented reality ever become a reality for employees or customers? Perhaps, but it will take some time. Most people agree that it will take at least five years before companies even seriously consider putting more money into it. For now, we can just imagine the possibilities and dream of what AR could do.

Jacob Morgan is a best-selling author, speaker, and futurist. His new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Subscribe to his newsletter, visit TheFutureOrganization, or become a member of the new Facebook Community The Future If…and join the discussion.

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