Big tech players are looking beyond hardware to own AR development platforms that will power augmented experiences of the future
Augmented & Virtual Reality (AR & VR) have gone through several hype cycles, but are yet to become mainstream. However, ever since Facebook announced the metaverse, there is fresh burst of activity in this technology with several exciting use cases and case studies emerging over the last few months. The global AR and VR market is projected to grow from USD 37.0 billion in 2022 to USD 114.5 billion by 2027; it is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25.3% from 2022 to 2027.
Companies are in fierce competition to own the underlying infrastructure of AR development platforms that will power the future of immersive experiences – and potentially the internet. Just as the iPhone helped transition the internet from desktop to mobile, AR devices like headsets and smart glasses could one day shift the internet from mobile to wearable devices. This is driving players like Meta, Google, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Apple to invest heavily to develop AR devices.
BigTech in race to own AR development platforms
Beyond hardware, big tech players are looking to own the AR development platforms that will power the augmented reality experiences of the future. Importantly, AR development platforms can fuel app ecosystem flywheels: big tech builds dev tools to attract AR developers; developers build apps on big tech platforms; apps attract consumers; consumers convert into revenue; and so on. These AR development platforms could also drive new revenue streams. For example, they could be free to use but include paid services for higher-quality features, or else they could charge small fees on any profit generated by applications built on the platform.
As a result, big tech players and start-ups are doubling down on AR tools like software development kits (SDKs) in an effort to become the go-to platform for developers. In 2021, Apple released the 5th iteration of its AR software development kit, ARKit 5, which includes pre-built features for motion-tracking, facial-tracking, the ability to anchor AR to specific locations, and more.
Meta’s AR devices delayed
In May 2022, Google updated its AR SDK, ARCore, to include an API that gives access to Google Maps, allowing developers to build location-specific apps around the world. In addition to big tech, start-ups and enterprises are also developing AR platforms to capitalize on the growing demand. Meta has sunk billions into its metaverse division, but the hardware needed to move it forward—namely Meta-made AR glasses—is still potentially years away. Right now, the company’s roadmap puts Meta’s AR glasses’ release in 2024,
U.S. Army using 360-degree battlefield simulation
The technology is finding interesting uses in simulating combat situations. Last year, the US Army launched a virtual reality training facility that immerses trainees in a 360-degree battlefield simulation. This helps save on the cost of munitions and allows for custom training times (live-fire sessions have time constraints). The US Air Force also launched a Virtual Test and Training Center in 2020 for pilots to practice advanced flight tactics, which improves pilot safety while saving on the costs of fuel and equipment wear and tear.
The US National Retail Federation estimates returns from 2021 alone could total $761B. An estimated two-thirds of consumers were less likely to return products if they engage with them in AR, according to June 2022 research commissioned by Snap. VNTANA, a start-up helping retailers display products in 3D, claims customers using its AR platform witnessed a 40% decrease in returns and an 83% increase in conversion.
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