With the advent of revolutionary new hardware, supported by innovative apps and software, this year will see a dramatic transformation in augmented reality (AR). This disruptive technology is making a dramatic move into the business world, providing new tools for high-technology design and manufacturing. Across the board, as well as in dozens of different vertical markets, AR will improve creation, communication, and collaboration.
However, as AR makes a move from drawing boards to production lines, it’s created a number of myths and misunderstandings. Here are 11 of those myths, along with the reality behind them.
1. We’ve already conceived of all the things that AR can do.
Augmented reality is, relatively speaking, at the very beginning of its development lifecycle. Until tens of thousands of apps developers, as well as millions of end users—people with radically differing insights and visions—can get their hands on the just-emerging mature third-generation AR hardware technology, we will not know what AR is really capable of achieving.
Estimating the “hard value” of AR is an example of the need to begin using the technology, then seeing where pioneering apps developers lead it. Apps not yet conceived of will open new markets and new opportunities for AR to influence communication, collaboration, and the transfer of product-creation technology between suppliers and end users within the supply chain. For instance, a product designer in Birmingham can, using AR, share production-tooling designs with a manufacturer in Beijing to coordinate and collaborate on every step from initial design to end-product delivery.
A recent example of the apps- and consumer-driven evolution of technology can be found in mobile phones. Initially, these were seen as merely more convenient communications devices. However, in a single decade, they evolved from handheld phones into handheld, internet-connected, go-anywhere personal computers. These remarkable devices—with everything from GPS to Amber Alert warnings, as well as games, shopping tools, and even the equivalent of personal ATMs—offer much greater value than anyone anticipated 10 years ago.
2. AR is a souped-up version of VR.
The confusion between AR and virtual reality (VR) is perhaps the most significant myth surrounding AR today. Though they’re often, and incorrectly, considered as interchangeable, AR connects users with the real world, while VR is totally immersive and a self-contained artificial world. Well-executed AR technology is designed to foster more productive engagement between users and others, and the world around them.
3. AR will encourage the development of a society filled with people increasingly isolated from one another.
In fact, AR is designed to integrate computer-generated images with what users can see with the naked eye. Rather than cutting them off from the real world, AR is designed to better integrate users with the real world. Augmented reality both complements and enriches the world. With the appropriate applications, AR supplies users with just the information they need—exactly when they need it.
An example of this can be found in Yelp’s pioneering AR tool “X.” This adds value by enabling users to call up information about businesses in their immediate locations, even as users walk or drive down a street, helping them to find more appropriate product and service vendors.
Another example involves the emerging automotive technology. Built-in AR devices project navigation-system information into the driver’s field of view, without blocking their ability to see and interact with the world around them.
AR will power the virtual workspace of future car design, as seen through the Meta 2 glasses. (Courtesy of Meta)
4. AR will be nothing more than a new medium where you’ll be served with a constant stream of ads and marketing schemes.
The AR experience will be what each individual user wants it to be. There’s nothing inherent in AR technology that requires or even allows the intrusion of advertising. Initially, AR will be adopted as a new business productivity tool, where ads will have no role or impact. However, AR will also be adapted as a consumer entertainment environment. Once that occurs, some consumers will opt for a low-cost ad-supported experience, while others will choose a premium ad-free AR environment.
5. AR will simply recreate existing computing operating systems, but in a 3D environment.
The use of AR technology to replace computer operating systems and computer access tools, such as keyboards and mice, and even monitors, will occur, and it’s being explored by some AR manufacturers and apps developers. However, other companies see AR as a brand-new opportunity to “do computing right” by adapting computer operation to the natural functioning of the human mind—a natural extension of how we experience the world.
6. AR’s development is focused on a new generation of games and entertainment.
This myth evolved out of the rudimentary AR system that drives experiences like Pokemon Go, which was a breakthrough game when it launched in 2016. By introducing this very basic kind of AR technology to millions, Pokemon Go did both a service and a disservice. Today, and for the next three to five years, the lion’s share of AR hardware and app software will focus on the business and professional environments, where it will facilitate communications, enhance collaboration—even half-way around the world—and foster creativity.
7. AR will be just like the CGI you see in the movies.
Once upon a time, AR hardware developers actually used cinematic CGI technology to create images that seemed to be generated by their AR hardware, such as a whale leaping through a high-school basketball court. In doing so, these companies created unrealistic expectations for AR, and did a disservice to the industry, and ultimately, the end users.
In the near term, AR graphic images will be highly effective in a business or entertainment environment, yet they will be less spectacular than those video clips that potential end-users were led to expect. However, longer term, graphics will improve dramatically, just as they have for all computer-based imaging.
8. AR will face the same problem as VR: No apps, so no users.
This was indeed a problem for early-generation VR—the manufacturers created impressive hardware, but apps were slow to follow. However, the AR industry has learned serious lessons from this VR industry misstep. All of the hardware market leaders are focusing on supporting and encouraging the development of apps designed to maximize use of the hardware’s potential. Some companies focus initially on productivity, research, supply-chain, and other applications; others focus more on entertainment.
The biggest innovation in AR apps development has been the creation of building-block apps designed to help speed the creation of other AR apps.
9. AR isn’t designed for a professional or work environment.
This myth is based on a misinterpretation of how AR will work in the business environment. Those who envision AR as involving a lot of hand-waving in the middle of a workplace environment have missed the point of AR. Because of its visual focus and ability to integrate computer images with the real world, workplace apps are designed to facilitate information transfer, enhance productivity, and facilitate one-on-one collaborative communications.
However, just as computers of a generation ago permitted a reorganization of the workspace, so too will AR encourage a reimagining of the workspace environment in ways that are just now being considered by pioneers in the AR/workspace integration field.
Collaborative design is made easier through AR, as shown here through Meta 2 glasses. (Courtesy of Meta)
10. AR’s “digital creations” provide only fleeting value.
AR apps and programs will not be created for one-time purposes. On the contrary, many digital image creations will support a variety of uses. These digital creations will facilitate:
• Group and team product or concept creation carried out over long distances—even half-way around the world.
• The ability for users or groups of users to zoom in and out of detail.
• The on-the-fly rendering of design changes for anything from skyscrapers to nanotechnology.
• The elimination of the need to manufacture samples. Some predict the early death of 3D prototype printing as part of the collaborative production process.
• Sampling before purchasing—AR will quickly eliminate the “purchase on approval” step in new product development and production.
11. AR isn’t practical for communication or collaborative workspaces.
The AR field, both hardware and apps software, is already being developed by companies like Meta to enhance business-to-business collaboration. The vision is to empower teams of end users to create, communicate, and collaborate using 3D digital content, as well as to monitor the behavior of others while evaluating product development.
As decision-makers, apps developers, and early adopters move beyond these myths regarding the real utility of AR in both productivity and entertainment, they will help ensure that 2017 is indeed the “Year of AR”: The year when hardware and apps come together to create a new paradigm for productivity.
Passionate about augmented and virtual reality, David Oh leads developer relations at Meta, the maker of the world's most interesting AR headset according to The Verge. In his free time, he loves talking about AR and VR as a co-host of Dopamine podcast. He plays video games and kickboxes on the regular.