A few years ago, it seemed like augmented reality (AR) was poised to fundamentally change the way we interacted with the world. In 2016, the mobile game Pokemon Go exploded in popularity, allowing anyone with a smartphone to interact with their environment in fundamentally new ways – and it’s still making a lot of money. By 2018, brands like IKEA were dabbling in using AR to engage with customers directly, allowing them to visualize furniture placement before buying and experience ads in dynamic new environments.
But aside from occasional encounters with AR marketing stations and niche in-person uses, we haven’t truly seen AR “take off.”
Why is that the case, and what steps can we take to work past these barriers?
The Promise of AR Technology
First, we need to stress just how valuable AR technology can be. As Pokemon Go proved, an AR experience that provides people with something imaginative, novel, and engaging can be a total cash cow and dramatically improve brand awareness; millions of people scarcely aware of the Pokemon franchise suddenly found themselves talking about it.
And the applications of AR go far beyond gaming or immersive marketing. AR can be used as a training tool for new surgeons and other professionals in highly specialized occupations. It can be used to enhance traveling experiences and provide information for tourists in certain environments. It has incredible potential to assist with navigation, in major cities and big box stores alike. And it can even be used to improve safety in certain workplace environments.
Overall, the right AR solutions could save money, save time, keep customers more engaged, keep workers safer, and boost your brand reputation all at the same time.
So what’s stopping us?
The Obstacles in the Way
These are some of the biggest obstacles standing in the way.
- Creativity/imagination. Part of the problem here is a simple lack of imagination. AR could hypothetically be used to enhance or dramatically change countless interactions in both professional and personal lives. And yet, we only see it used for a handful of niche functions. Companies and creative individuals just aren’t pushing the limits of what this technology can do.
- Talent shortages. The tech talent gap is painfully large. There’s a shortage of qualified tech developers capable of working with complex new technologies like AR and VR – which means if you’re looking to hire a developer for something interesting and new, you’ll either spend months searching for the right candidate or you’ll end up overpaying (or both). Accordingly, many businesses simply stick to what they already know.
- Device limitations. For a technology to catch on with a given population, it needs to be both convenient and accessible – and unfortunately, AR and VR aren’t known for their convenience or accessibility. Truly detailed and immersive experiences often require clunky headsets and/or expensive equipment – far beyond the simple smartphone that most consumers use as their all-in-one tech hub.
- 3D imagery consistency. Designing and implementing full-scale 3D worlds presents a number of challenges, even for the most skilled and experienced designers. It’s very easy for the immersive experience to be broken by an interface that doesn’t align quite right or a 3D object that flickers in and out of existence seemingly at random.
- Controls and navigation. Adding to this is the challenge of designing controls and navigation functionality that users can learn quickly and easily. We don’t have intuitive models for gesture-based interactions – and consumers don’t have much of an intuition for how to handle an AR environment.
- Unimpressive early encounters. Some people are quick to write off the potential of AR after an unimpressive first experience. An underwhelming application can easily make you feel like the tech simply “isn’t there yet,” even if it underrepresents what is possible in the field.
- Refusal to invest. It’s estimated that the AR market could grow to $340.16 billion by 2028, but right now, companies just aren’t ready to make the investment. They don’t want to throw their R&D or software development budgets at a tech that may or may not grow to become more popular in the future.
- Stagnated public acceptance. If AR hits a certain threshold of popularity, its momentum will be hard to stop. Once a handful of brands prove how valuable AR can be, and demand for AR increases, we’ll see an explosion of innovation, sales, and public acceptance. But until that threshold is reached, we’ll likely remain in this semi-stagnated purgatory, where AR is still used occasionally, but only for specific niches.
As a proponent of AR technology, I can’t help but push for more visibility for the technology and more ingenuity in the field. If you’re interested in an AR solution for your business, your best bet is to work with a solid custom development team who can help you design one from the ground up. With the right team, you have practically unlimited potential – and almost no competition.