Today, smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung are struggling to come up with new innovative smartphones. Each year there is a phone with a slightly improved performance, slightly improved camera, and tiny software and design adoptions. However, phones and screens are the main portals of how we consume media and communicate with other people. Screens, as we know them, might soon become obsolete.
Apple, Microsoft, and the parent company of Google, Alphabet, are investing heavily into Augmented Reality. In fact, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook regards Augmented Reality “as a big idea like the smartphone […] The smartphone is for everyone. We don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country, or vertical market. It’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.”
So what exactly is AR? If you are a curious smartphone user you have likely already experienced one of the very first AR applications. AR is all about enhancing your reality with information and content. In contrast to Virtual Reality (VR) where you are fully immersed in a digital world. It is allowing us to see the real world with an additional digital information layer.
Snapchat has been one of the first companies to introduce augmented reality technology to the masses. Users are able to blend virtual masks over their face and body by using their smartphone camera. Nintendo released the first real-world mobile game with augmented reality in 2016 which became a huge hit: Pokemon Go. Since a few years, you can use the IKEA app to place IKEA furniture in your own home before buying them. And one thing for sure: we are just getting started!
Snap, the company which offers Snapchat, recently announced to raise $1billion of short-term debt to invest in AR acquisitions, content, and features. Simultaneously, both Apple and Google are pushing the development of AR applications by shipping their smartphones and operating systems with advanced infrastructure to support hyper-realistic AR. Software developers have a sophisticated set of tools at hand with the ARKit offered by Apple and the ARCore offered by Google. There is a large collection of job postings at Google and Apple looking for AR and VR experts.
The smartphone will be replaced by AR glasses and AR lenses – the only question remaining is: when?
Familiarization and Adoption
Right now, we are in a familiarization and adoption phase. Both, Apple and Google try to familiarize consumers and developers with augmented reality. More and more developers are publishing their first augmented reality apps and a counting number of apps are now offering augmented reality features which consumers are quietly adopting. Google Translate can translate foreign languages by simply pointing the camera on a written text in the real world and Google Maps allows pedestrians to navigate with a sophisticated AR mode. Apple’s iPhones are shipped with an AR measuring tool and funny AR figures you can place in the real world.
By deploying all those different applications and by having users use those applications, companies like Google and Apple familiarizing consumers and developers with augmented reality by simultaneously gathering massive data to improve their AR applications and headsets.
Apple and Google are 100% aware of that we have reached the tipping point of smartphone improvements. While there are tiny improvements here and there, both companies are heavily invested in AR technology and within the next 5 we will see early adopters extend their smartphones with AR glasses. It is only a question of time when Apple, Google or even a new company will release a first commercially ready AR glass capable of replacing our handheld smartphones.
Right now, AR glasses already exist. However, they are bulky and the deployment of serious AR applications is mainly taking place in the enterprise world. For example, many companies have started experimenting with AR to train employees on how to operate and maintain numerous machines and equipment. The Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, Microsoft HoloLens 2, and Magic Leap One are devices less known to the everyday smartphone user but the first versions of AR headsets do already exist.
With the familiarization of AR technology on smartphones, the adaption of AR development and new headsets which will drop in price in size, AR devices will slowly replace smartphones within the next decade. Combined with brain computer interfaces and artificial intelligence we are about to experience a new era of technology which will fundamentally transform our world.