Virtual reality and augmented reality have had brief surges in the tech world before, but it seems that they’re here to stay this time around. VR has gone mainstream thanks to Google’s Cardboard and higher-end offerings like Samsung’s Gear VR and HTC’s Vive, while Pokemon GO brought AR into the mainstream, and Google’s own Tango seems destined to cement its place there. Magic Leap and Microsoft, among others, plan to get in on the fun with “mixed reality” devices that promise to combine augmented and virtual reality in new and exciting ways. With Google’s Daydream finding its feet as more and more AR apps and games present themselves, both standards seem poised to attract users and developers at a more than adequate rate to improve exponentially in the next few years. For now, media consumption and gaming are the main uses of the two different yet similar technologies, but they’re certainly not the only uses. As one could imagine, new use cases are found for both of these technologies each and every day. It’s only natural that they would end up finding themselves put to work before long. The enterprise world is rife with opportunities for AR and VR to flourish, and going into 2017, it looks like that may be where the growth will lie for the two fields.
For 2016, the total revenue for AR and VR applications and hardware was just shy of $6 billion. According to IDC, that number is projected to soar to about $162 billion by the time 2020 is over. Just as much of the current revenue is in the enterprise world, it seems that a good chunk of the growth will be there, as well, for a few reasons. For starters, there’s already a commercially viable use for VR available to consumers and businesses alike, though it’s in early form, and that is VR desktops. With a pair of headphones, this distraction-free workspace becomes a zen sensory deprivation chamber of productivity, so long as a user knows how to type by feel and can navigate a mouse or touchpad while using a VR headset. VR can also be used for showing off plans, presentations, product ideas, and remote facility tours, among other media that businesses may want to put in front of prospective clients, employees, or bosses. On the AR front, project planning, remote collaboration, spicing up meetings, and real-time monitoring of variables, whether environmental or statistical, come to mind. There are tons of other possible use cases, of course, but these present themselves as some of the most obvious, and more than a few of these have already been done. In real estate, for example, prospective home buyers may find themselves taking a virtual tour of a property before seeing it in the flesh.
AR and VR software development is just getting off of the ground, and the hardware tends to be expensive at all but the lowest levels. Both of these issues are projected to become far less pronounced in the next few years as hardware becomes cheaper and more abundant, and more and more developers see the potential of developing for VR and AR applications and get on board. It can’t hurt that both Unreal Engine and Unity, two popular game engines commonly used for non-gaming 3D scenario creation, both feature options to make life easier for developers wishing to either create VR-exclusive content, or port existing content to a more VR-friendly format. VR-ready computers can already be had for less than $1,000, and simple hacks allow most common hardware in the wild today to run VR applications, though not without caveats. As the worlds of AR and VR smooth over and become more defined, it’s not hard to imagine enterprise being just as big as the consumer market, if not more so.