It’s clear that the world is waking up to the incredible possibilities of extended reality (XR). Experts predict that XR will become a $209 million market by 2022, making it a huge tech trend that business leaders and consumers are watching closely.
As momentum continues to build, we will blur the boundaries between the digital world and the real one with smarter, cheaper, faster, and better virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).
So what are the factors making extended reality technology so popular right now?
Extended Reality Tech: A Hero of the Pandemic
Businesses had to adapt quickly to maintain connections with prospects and customers when the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020. XR provided companies with ways to maintain those relationships and provide unique, memorable experiences.
Telework increased dramatically as shutdowns happened around the world, and AR, VR, and MR technology helped to fill in the gaps caused by remote work. Professionals on group calls could simulate backgrounds with impressive AR backgrounds or attend virtual conferences.
XR technology can also help professionals maintain the efficiency and quality of the services they normally provide in person. For example, AR could allow IT technicians to give guidance to customers using on-screen directions on the customer’s mobile device.
Millions of people were also cooped up indoors without regular access to their typical recreational activities like travel, concerts, classes, or get-togethers with family and friends – so more and more users took to VR as a way to get a change of scenery or visit with loved ones in a safe way.
The World Is Waking Up to the Possibilities of XR
Beyond the pandemic, there has also been an explosion in the number of ways some of the world's biggest brands are using XR technology. Here’s just a taste of some of the creative use cases for XR, as companies grasp the power of possibility of this game-changing technology:
- Transforming the retail shopping experience with virtual dressing rooms
- Making school and corporate training more compelling, fun, and effective
- Improving healthcare outcomes with better diagnostic tools
- Creating immersive experiences for sports fans or concert-goers
- Building virtual or augmented tours of real estate properties or hotels
- Helping people find their way through shopping malls and airports using AR on their phones
In addition, VR games continue to expand and get more sophisticated every year. The virtual reality gaming industry is expected to grow to 2.4 billion dollars by 2024 as companies develop immersive city-building, gambling, racing, first-person shooter, and adventure games.
Major tech companies are also making it easier for developers to get into the augmented reality market with open source-source AR tools like Apple’s ARKit 4 and Google’s ARCCore.
Better, More Affordable Hardware and Software
VR headsets, controllers, and software for HTC Hive and Oculus Rift – initially some of the most expensive equipment in the XR – cost around $4k when they first launched. Now hardware production leaders including Sony, Google, Oculus, and HTC are all developing far more affordable VR headsets. Today, consumers can get an Oculus Quest 2 set for $299.
The decreased prices don't mean consumers have a less dynamic experience, however. VR keeps getting more dynamic and entertaining, thanks to continual improvements in hardware and software. Developments in graphics and animation, sensory effects, tactile feedback, and increased mobility are all making the VR experience even better, contributing to its rise in popularity.
Interest and development of VR, AR, and MR are booming right now due to the unexpected demands of the pandemic and the widening of XR applications beyond the gaming and entertainment worlds. My prediction is that the boom will continue as extended reality technology continues to improve and become more available to a larger swath of the population due to decreased prices.
Read more about extended reality technologies – including plenty of real-world examples – in my new book, Extended Reality in Practice: 100+ Amazing Ways Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality Are Changing Business and Society