Well before 2015 came to end, headlines were predicting that 2016 was the year virtual reality would go mainstream and disrupt all of our lives. A quarter into the year, these headlines continue to surface daily. Yet it’s fair to say that VR is hardly a mainstream occurrence beyond 360° Facebook videos and swimsuit editions of magazines. The attention and awe that VR is receiving isn’t necessarily unwarranted, but when you consider the entire market for visually-driven technologies and the sheer opportunity for growth, there should actually be more eyes on augmented reality.
The AR industry is projected to outpace the VR industry by $90 billion by the year 2020, and the reasons are simple: AR offers a more tangible value than VR, is more accessible than VR, and is significantly more affordable to develop than VR.
Tangibility. No doubt that VR has the power to greatly impact specific, niche industries. The gaming industry, for example, will never be the same. While VR adds value to other industries besides gaming and entertainment (for example, in simulations for job training or tourism), disappearing into a headset and reappearing on the other side in an unfamiliar setting may not actually reap as many applicable, every-day benefits.
The fact that AR instead superimposes images onto your immediate and physical world around you means it can be used in so many more contexts. In addition to gaming or entertainment, it can be used for education, enterprise, e-commerce, and beyond. AR allows your surroundings to be genuinely personalized, informative, even shoppable. It offers a real-world tangibility that VR hasn’t yet figured out how to do.
Accessibility. The wearable hardware that VR requires, whether Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear, means having to empty your pockets and then some if you want the real deal. A virtual world is not an accessible one because it’s contingent on the special hardware designed specifically for this unique purpose.
As for AR, look no further than what’s actually in your pocket — your smartphone. For AR, your existing smartphone is the hardware (certainly for the short to medium term), which means you can use it quite literally from the palm of your hands. The mobility and accessibility that come with AR software means users are capable of engaging with this experience wherever they go — an obvious advantage from a market perspective as more and more companies seek to maximize reach and strengthen loyalty.
Affordability. Given the limited everyday uses of VR and the greater degree of accessibility with AR, it’s no wonder why the AR industry will be far more lucrative than the VR industry. The production and manufacturing costs to build VR gear alone are enough for significant financial challenges, not to mention the additional time it takes for companies to assemble and distribute the hardware even if they do have the funds. Further, the actual VR content, while immersive and amazing, is expensive to create and program, and right now, it’s unclear how exactly it will be monetized. Simply put, investing in AR makes more sense, as it allows companies to tap into opportunity for profit in a range of industries while ultimately saving time and money as well.
Virtual reality is definitely having a moment, and for all the change it’s capable of, the ongoing excitement around it is well deserved. VR is far from becoming old news. Looking ahead, however, while they will co-exist, the business of AR will eclipse that of VR, as brands and consumers alike realize the greater convenience and sustainability that investing in the AR market will provide.
Omaid Hiwaizi is president of global marketing with Blippar.