It's happening. It's going to happen. Brands, be prepared.
It's a binary world when it comes to those who believe in augmented and virtual reality. Many business professionals believe that this is all hype. Many business professionals believe that it will change everything. I'm bullish on VR and AR. Very, very bullish. I do believe that its true day of reckoning may come sooner than expected. If rumours are to be believed about Apple (and, when have they been wrong?), the pending Apple product announcement (some time in September) will be highlighted by a new iPhone that will feature "mixed" reality functionality. We're also hearing murmurs of a new Apple Watch, some kind of eyewear/headset and more. It doesn't take a futurist to see that these devices will all act as connectivity points to push this new kind of interactive experience forward. Apple's own Tim Cook stated back in September of last year how he feels about it: "Virtual reality probably has a lower commercial interest over time... augmented reality is the larger of the two, probably by far." With that, the Financial Times reported last year that Apple already has hundreds of people working on this area of technology, and the company continues to acquire both small and large-ish companies with this specialty. It's moving in this direction. That is clear.
How bullish on VR, AR and mixed reality should brands be?
Here's my thinking after tinkering with the many formats and giving hour-long keynote presentations on the current opportunities (and obstacles) of this VR and AR space for brands today all over the world: I have no doubt that virtual reality/augmented reality/mixed reality will be the next - and only - platform going forward (much in the same way I felt about the internet after seeing the first Web browser in action during the early nineties). We will move away from the Internet and mobile (as the pipe), and the way in which we connect to information and one another will come from this new tech stack. "Mixed" reality seems like the better term these days (it's also confusing to always write "augmented reality and virtual reality"), as consumers will be able to move from a place where they are seeing their physical world with information layered on top of it, and then opt into a completely virtual experience seamlessly (if desired or needed). That futuristic statement is, probably, more than a ways off, but it will happen. We will no longer think about connectivity in terms of computers, desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, wearables, etc... connectivity and experiences will be very, very different. Everything will be in front of our eyes and we will navigate with voice, our eyes, movements and... yes... our hands.
Why so soon? Why so fast?
It's hard to know just how fast this will all take hold, but we have enough of the major players already deeply vested and pushing this technology forward). Facebook has Oculus. Microsoft has HoloLens. Apple is coming (if you believe the rumours above). Google has Tango and Cardboard (plus investments in companies like Magic Leap). Snapchat is just getting warmed up with Spectacles. Companies like Samsung, Sony and many others have their own plays. In short: everyone is in the game... and everyone is highly invested in trying to dominate this platform when the mass adoption hits. Make no mistake about, this is where the push is coming from.
So... yeah... what about those customers? Where are consumers at?
Last year, the media was quick to point out that all of the hype and hyperbole didn't add to much. Articles like: VR, the newest trend in tech, is (for now) dead on arrival were published well into the mid-year point. With that, IDC (one of the world's leading market intelligence and data analysts) published a report yesterday titled, Worldwide Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Market Expected to Grow at a Compound Annual Rate of 58%, Reaching 99.4 Million Units in 2021, that sported some big, new and brave pieces of information:
"New device launches, an expanding array of content for both consumer and enterprise users, and lower price points will propel the worldwide augmented and virtual reality headset device market at a breakneck pace... total headset device shipments will reach 99.4 million units in 2021, up nearly 10-fold from the 10.1 million units shipped in 2016. This results in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 58% across the five-year forecast period."
If the consumers don't speed up their adoption, the brands will shove this technology down their throats.
This may be the easiest way to parse and translate this news. Will consumers reject this tech? While the adoption of this technology is growing is specific areas like B2B manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, etc... more and more brands, agencies and consultancies are beginning to see how gaming, entertainment and social media might be the true catalyst to push this forward. Are there hurdles? Many. Apple's entrance into this space (again, rumoured to be happening this coming September) will probably level-set expectations and experiences. From there, we could see it hit its own tipping point, if the price point gets more reasonable and there is enough substantive content to fill it with. That's not being cautious. That's not being bearish. That's being a realist and a "presentist." With that, we must always remember the wise words of Futurist and Wired co-founder, Kevin Kelly, who so brilliantly said...
"The future happens very slowly... then all at once." Brands should always be ready for the future.