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Place Conf: How Mainstream Will ‘Mixed Reality’ Really Be?

Hololens

I spoke roughly a month ago at the Rocks Digital search event in Dallas. My topic was “Big Trends Shaping the Future of Local Search.” During that session I spoke about:

  • The continuing decline of the desktop
  • The impact of location intelligence/analytics
  • The marriage of online and offline
  • AI & bots (and virtual assistants)
  • The consolidation of control by a few big platforms
  • Mixed reality

Among those topics, the one I devoted the least attention to was the final one (VR + AR). But these are compelling technologies that will have a significant impact. But how broadly or narrowly?

For VR the question is: just gaming or all of entertainment, education, travel and other verticals? Augmented reality, which had its first major hit with Pokemon Go, is potentially much bigger than VR, because it doesn’t carry new hardware requirements. (Google’s Lens visual search is a version of augmented reality.)

All the big internet companies are investing significant resources in VR, AR or both. Indeed, at Microsoft’s developer conference “Build” earlier this year I saw some compelling B2B demos involving Hololens. Google and Facebook have also showed off advances in AR, VR or both.

On yesterday’s Apple earnings call, CEO Tim Cook talked about the impending release of iOS 11 and the potential impact that would have on the adoption of augmented reality:

One of the most exciting and most promising announcements from WWDC was the introduction of ARKit, a new set of tools for developers to create augmented reality apps. It’s still early in the beta period, but it’s clear that ARKit has captured the imagination of our developer community. We think ARKit will help the most creative minds in the industry tap into the latest computer vision technologies to build engaging content.

We believe AR has broad mainstream applicability across education, entertainment, interactive gaming, enterprise, and categories we probably haven’t even thought of. With hundreds of millions of people actively using iPhone and iPad today, iOS will become the world’s biggest augmented reality platform as soon as iOS 11 ships.

Apple apparently has an entire building (based on rumors) of engineers and others working on AR hardware and related technology. The release date for iOS 11 is sometime this fall; the beta version of the software is out today.

If Cook is right, we could see AR capabilities integrated into a range of apps and smartphone experiences in the next 12 months, which could “mainstream” AR quickly. By some analyst estimates there are more than 700 million iPhones currently in use, while the company said it has sold more than 1 billion iPhones in the past decade.

By comparison, Android has 2 billion active devices in market. Google’s Lens product has the potential to dramatically impact mobile search, which is now the dominant form of search globally.

Between Android and iOS, we’re talking about almost 40 percent of the global population.

The installed base is already there, laying the groundwork for significant near-term adoption of mixed reality experiences. It will be up to developers, publishers, retailers and media companies to deliver use cases and functionality that are meaningful and not merely PR stunts.

Technologies can be overhyped and fall short of expectations (see wearables) but they can also surprise and take off more quickly than expected (see smart speakers).

At the Place Conference on September 18 in New York, Microsoft Cloud Solutions Architect Steve Lindsey will discuss the outlook for mixed reality and provide a live demo of the technology. 

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