Remember when Pokémon Go came out in 2016? It was all anyone talked about. Which isn’t too surprising — it was most people’s first impression of a promised future many of us had waited for, something we’d seen only in sci-fi books or Hollywood blockbusters.
This technology is augmented reality (AR). Augmented reality is the integration of virtual experiences with everyday objects and environments, making it different from virtual reality (VR), which is 100 computer generated, and mixed reality (MR), which combines both.
Related: The World’s Biggest Starbucks Has Augmented Reality
While the past few years have been VR-focused (think Oculus Rift and all those other gaming headsets), AR is taking center stage and will soon become a blue chip industry for entrepreneurs, in industries from marketing to health care to navigation.
Here are three ways augmented reality will find its way into your life sooner than you might expect:
1. A pair of glasses you can’t live without
The problem with AR in past years was that powerful AR glasses were extremely bulky and costly. And the simpler ones released for consumer use, like Google Glass, have had much lower processing power, so you can’t do too much with them.
Perhaps the most refined AR headset out there right now is the Microsoft HoloLens, but its price point is a bit painful, at $3,000. And it’s got a headset which — while still too big and unwieldy — is nevertheless the most fully realized AR headset available for developers right now.
Certainly, Microsoft could make some improvements before the HoloLens is released to the general public, but despite all these drawbacks, it’s still pretty incredible.
We’re also seeing some new companies with ambitious goals appear on the scene. Magic Leap recently updated its website to show off its new MR headset, Lightwear. But there are some caveats here: There is no accompanying video, and skeptics believe that the headset displayed may just be a pre-rendering of an as-of-yet-unfinished product.
Meanwhile, over in China, Rokid is another emerging AR player to watch. The company has a history of building popular AI-enabled products for the Chinese market (with an Alibaba partnership to boot). And it recently announced Rokid Glass for 2018. Also, unlike most of the competition, Rokid intends to release Rokid Glass directly to consumers. The product will debut in a few weeks at CES 2018 in Vegas.
Related: Why Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Will be Important for Your Business
The message here, then, is that once AR glasses become convenient, affordable and widely adopted — the real magic will happen.
2. More immersive (and personalized) marketing
Think of any science fiction movie you’ve seen in the past 10 years and you’ll probably remember at least one scene in which holographic advertisements were the real stars (Blade Runner 2049 offers a prime example of just such a product placement).
How far off are we from a future in which giant, holographic cans of Coco-Cola cans dominate our billboards? Not as far as you’d think. Just check out this video of an interdimensional portal built with ARKit. Prepare to have your mind blown wide open.
Granted, the vast majority of AR and VR experiences today are focused on better, more immersive video games. But that’s a symptom of the current developer community rather than a result of AR technology itself. Once more digital marketers start to really internalize the almost limitless potential of AR, we’ll begin to see this content everywhere we go.
Imagine, for example, walking into a grocery store and having the items you want highlighted for your eyes only. Or being able to preview the latest IKEA furniture from the comfort of your home. You could try on new shoes from DSW without visiting the store first. Or visit your next Caribbean vacation resort while soaking in your home bathtub. The list goes on and on.
3. Less guesswork in health care
While marketers and advertisers will certainly be some of the earliest adopters of breakthrough AR technology, hospitals and clinics won’t be far behind. Many experts are already predicting that AR will completely revolutionize health care.
The troubling thing about health care today is just how obtuse and opaque it can be. There’s a lot of jargon and paperwork, and a lot of sitting around waiting rooms. The primary way AR will change health care is by offering healthcare providers and patients much-needed shortcuts and real-time assistance for everything from diagnoses to emergency room surgery.
For example, most new mothers will tell you that breastfeeding isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Countless books and tutorial videos address this topic. But they haven’t solved the problem. That’s why, back in 2014, Google Glass partnered with the Australian Breastfeeding Association to conduct a trial providing live video counseling and an information portal for breastfeeding moms.
And, what about those in the medical community who take blood and administer vaccines? Up to 40 percent of nurses miss the patient’s vein on their first attempt, and the odds are worse when those patients are children or the elderly. Now, however, there’s a handheld AR scanner called AccuVein, which highlights the veins in a patient’s body. The manufacturer claims that the “miss” rate is effectively zero.
Even more ambitious, Medsights Tech is developing a patent-pending software that will work with AR glasses to allow surgeons to see directly through a patient’s skin in real time during surgery.
The future is augmented.
A future of holographic advertisements and AR-assisted healthcare is not as far away as you may think. In fact, 24 million digital reality headsets will be sold in 2018. By 2025, that number is expected to jump to 500 million. It’s no surprise that Facebook engineers are saying that AR devices will replace smartphones within five years.
Related: In 2018, Get Ready to (Finally) Embrace Virtual and Augmented Reality
In 2018, we entrepreneurs should all be thinking more about AR and what we can eventually do with it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marketer like me or a doctor or if you work in visual merchandising. AR is going to change everything, and the people who recognize that today are going to be the ones building the reality we’ll live in tomorrow.