There comes a point when a new technology moves from ‘emerging’ to ‘mainstream’. This moment often sets off a cascade of change across different industries and society at large. The most obvious recent example of this was the launch of the iPhone in 2007.
However, the iPhone ‘moment’ tends to be the exception rather than the rule. In the majority of cases we don’t see it so clearly, with the tipping point only revealed long after the fact. Consequently, it can be a risky business to predict which tech is going to ‘tip’ next.
This is particularly true of VR and AR (collectively XR). Since the first headsets were developed in the 1980s, there have been a number of points when XR was boldly predicted to gain mass adoption. Now, on the eve of exciting new devices being launched by Meta and Apple - we’re at another crossroads. It’s my turn to be bold now, I’m going to say this time it is different.
This time is different
As any tech expert would tell you a device like the iPhone wasn’t developed in a vacuum. It was the product of a lot of new tech and economic factors coming together at the right time - advances in hardware - such as touch screens, camera miniaturisation, and so forth - as well as software - apps, operating systems etc. The iPhone was also far from the first smartphone - the previous five years had seen a lot of experimentation from which the developers of the iPhone could learn. Many of these factors are now also true for the XR industry.
One of the most important new developments has been the creation of a vibrant XR ecosystem. In the past, new VR devices would gain significant attention but struggle to secure traction because of use case limitations.
There simply wasn’t a development pipeline to create quality applications that would meet expectations and sustain interest. This was because it was generally too expensive and complicated to create programs. Without the guarantee of a large audience to recoup costs, investor interest naturally remained minimal. As a result, XR fell into a chicken-and-egg scenario.
With the advent of tech breakthroughs like no code, development costs and complexity have fallen dramatically. This has given birth to platforms that make creation and experimentation on XR much easier and more accessible. In turn, it has spurred scores of startups to launch new use cases and innovative solutions to common pain points.
The safety net
At a critical juncture, Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse was announced. This has brought an unprecedented amount of investment and public interest alongside huge leaps in hardware development that have supercharged the ecosystem. It’s difficult to overstate how far and how fast VR headsets have improved over the past few years. Meta’s commitment to supporting XR startups has also created an important safety net that has freed entrepreneurs to push innovation even further.
Undoubtedly, Apple’s Vision Pro will help to maintain momentum in the industry, and play a role in unlocking the final part of the XR puzzle - getting devices into the hands of more consumers. At this point, you might say 'Wow, wait a moment, VR devices are very expensive’.
Costs will inevitably fall as production increases, and, as smartphones and products like the PlayStation 5 have shown, people will pay for technology if it’s high quality and has plenty of applications.
Making the most of it
So if XR does become mainstream over the course of the next two years, how can businesses make the most of it? In a competitive and challenging economic environment industries are crying out for innovation to help reengage customers.
For years, retailers in particular have experimented with both AR and VR to create new customer interactions. Their success has been limited because they lack the platforms and tools to do this in a cost and time-efficient manner and, without mainstream device adoption, their creations are largely confined to the in-store experience.
With workforces increasingly dispersed and hybrid working remaining popular, XR offers an exceptional way to bring teams together for project collaboration - everything from designing new products to developing event spaces. Indeed, for B2B businesses XR’s greatest promise is in making collaboration and upskilling more efficient and effective.
We haven’t even touched upon the Metaverse, or metaverse-style connected worlds, that could transform how we perceive and use the internet. Everything from gaming and social media to buying products and managing our finances could get the XR treatment.
For a lot of businesses the starting point will be education. The use cases that will have the most impact on your business are likely to be underreported, given so much media attention is drawn to visually appealing applications like new games.
Reading up on the different platforms and services that are available will give you a great understanding of what could make a difference for your company. As I’ve mentioned, developing XR services and experiences has become a lot easier, so there’s nothing to say you cannot create or adapt a solution to meet your needs.
Although XR continues to become more democratised, technical and creative skills are still required. Upskilling your team to better understand 3D storytelling will reap rewards down the line.
Willingness to experiment
The final part is the willingness to experiment. Creation on the ‘spatial’ internet looks and feels a lot different from creation in 2D. Having platforms that enable new 3D experiences to be created in 3D changes the game because it allows us to see what these experiences will actually look like and that allows your imagination to run wild.
The act of designing, for example, 3D extensions to physical or web-based products will catalyse more innovation. We genuinely don’t know what the ‘killer use case’ for XR will eventually be - the business that discovers it will reap extraordinary benefits.
I’ll close with a quick mention of our old friend generative AI - no tech article would be complete without it. Generative AI will play a huge role in reducing the cost and time involved in creating XR experiences. While it’s not quite fit for purpose yet - there’s no denying that it will play a big role in the future of the industry.
Lead image via ShapesXR. Photo: Uncredited.