The Content Conundrum
The limelight is officially on building AR content to drive consumer adoption. Investors are upping budgets in the space as the device and content wars really take off. App development is skyrocketing, with the introduction of ARKit and ARCore and platforms including Unity, Vuforia and OTOY and iOS11. But there are problems: Google is open but fragmented, Apple has the developer following and an end-to-end solution but AR has a limited lifeline on a handheld device, and Facebook is seemingly focused on its depth camera platform to drive AR rather than a dedicated AR solution.
But the conversation is so much bigger than individual applications – AR is the driving force towards the next generation of mobile computing- smartglasses. Extending your reality annotates the ability to heighten your world around you – but uses are fairly limited if you can’t take it out of your living room or if you have to pull it out of your pocket and hold it up to engage with it. Smartglasses are the only platform that will allow AR to reach its full potential, presenting digital information as a natural and seamless extension of your place in the world. And that’s why it’s become a question not of if but when smartglasses will enter the mainstream.
The Hardware Debate
The potential of AR on a HUD (heads-up display) have been outlined heavily, yet there are still very few devices that a consumer would wear, or batteries that would allow for a device to work for extended periods. A consumer won’t compromise – they require a device that is small, comfortable, fashionable and fully self-contained – to offer ubiquitous access to their data wherever they are. They expect an intuitive user experience they know on their smartphones, with cinema quality resolutions, no eyestrain or nausea and see-through lenses to ensure the wearer can truly experience the merging of their digital and real worlds.
Where Are We Today?
By focusing on when consumers will adopt this technology, many forget to notice that AR smartglasses are real and here today, delivering benefits for those deploying them. 3D visualization, remote assistance and telepresence apps aid task implementation, training and maintenance across a variety of industries including energy, healthcare, construction, engineering and manufacturing. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, industrial enterprises are seeing a 32% performance improvement from AR visual collaboration tools, many in Fortune 500 companies.
In its basic form, AR can be used to deliver real-time visual information within workers’ line-of-sight to reduce the likelihood of errors and eliminate the need to glance over instruction sheets or handheld devices – DHL has reduced errors by 40% in this way, and Boeing has cut production time by 25%, lowering error rates to nearly zero.
3D visualization is a more complex use of the technology. Imagine a team of designers located all over the world who are all wearing smartglasses loaded with a 3D visualization app. Those designers can look at the same 3D digital object and can not only view and walk around it but also move, mark and point to certain areas, collaborating with one another in real time. This 3D visualization capability on a HUD adds a new depth to sharing and increases the emotional value to manipulating data, advancing the creative and collaborative workplace.
Another use case is remote assistance and telepresence – where a live expert can be connected via smartglasses to the issue and real-time information, including digital annotations. National Oilwell Varco (NOV) is one example of an oil and gas equipment manufacturer that needed to find ways to work smarter not harder – sending the right, most experienced technicians to every service call was a nearly impossible task with the company’s vast product offering and global workforce. NOV used smartglasses to create a remote assistance channel to its manufacturing facilities. By giving the remote expert a first-person perspective of the issue and the field worker access to the best possible expert while keeping their hands free and focused on the task, NOV saw faster resolution of issues. This resulted in less down time and larger savings than with traveling experts or tablet-based solutions.
According to a recent study by Deloitte, 63% of industry leaders surveyed say hiring and training a skilled workforce is their top challenge. By 2020, 25% of the American workforce will be over the age of 55 and approaching retirement creating a shortage of skilled workers. AR allows people to learn faster, remember longer and decide better, changing the face of learning and how employees are trained in the future. KPN Field service technicians are connected to the data, applications and colleagues they need to do their best work leading to 5% faster transaction completion times, 11% lower operating costs and 17% better work error rate. Upskill is seeing 32% more productive workforce, 30% higher quality output and 20% increased utilization.
Smartglasses are also being used as an in-surgery operating tool to direct invasive procedures via remote assistant, where precision and speed is vital; or by first response teams who can become the “virtual hands” of a doctor million of miles away. Medweb data notes that doctors spend 50% of patient consultations ‘treating the chart’ (that is, capturing notes on a computer) – certain smartglasses and applications can take the notes for the doctor and store them in the cloud, improving the quality and efficiency of patient care.
What everyone really wants to better understand – is how AR will change their own lives in a meaningful way. We’ve all heard how it will reinvent the entertainment industry, advertising, the way we browse, shop and so on. Imagine a new reality where you can watch a movie with cinematic clarity on a 75-inch widescreen during a packed daily commute, work privately and securely on multiple screens wherever you are, or collaborate in immersive 3D interactive experiences. A heads up platform doesn’t have to take you away from the real world – it also allows you to engage more with it, while empowering you with the information you need at your fingertips. It may not be visionary but it’s a useful tool and creates positive impact in our everyday lives.
It should be said – we are not there yet. Consumers need an out of the box end-to-end solution that is ultimately a fashion device as much as a useful tool. Generational shifts need to take place to make it more socially acceptable to walk down the street wearing computers on your face. It will happen, just as it did with devices evolutions before it. With Google Glass 1.0 – aside from anything else – society was just not ready. But look at how we photograph today, or share information via social media – the data is already out there, it’s just a new way of retrieving it.
Final Thoughts: The Cycle of Innovation
In 1899, Charles H. Duell, then the commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office said, “everything that can be invented has been invented.” How wrong he was! Disruption by its nature is something that we can’t foresee or predict. Even Steve Jobs had no concept of how big the iPhone would become – he just had an idea for something that he felt was going to change the world. Steve Ballmer said no one would pay $500 for a phone, the iPad was stupid and Bill Gates was quoted saying,“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” With major players spending time and money on AR and smartglasses everyone should hold onto their hats – AR innovation is a force that can’t be stopped.
Pete Jameson has extensive leadership, general management and marketing experience, working at Kodak in a number of senior positions before joining ODG in 2012. During his 20-year Kodak career, he was responsible for a number of business groups, including General Manager of Kodak’s Digital Devices Business, leading Kodak’s Commercial Imaging Business in Europe, Middle East and Africa and as a founding member of Kodak’s Global Digital Camera Business and GM of the Worldwide Professional Sector. Jameson has a BS in Electrical Engineering from Union College and an MBA from the University of Rochester Simon School of Business.