Thought Leadership article on AR

The emergence of AR (augmented reality) technology as part of the much-vaunted digital revolution sweeping the globe is set to be a boon for businesses across a wide range of industrial sectors. AR’s potential, especially when combined with other technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), lies far beyond its current applications. In fact, companies around the world are already beginning to utilise AR solutions to gain a competitive edge over less tech-savvy rivals, as they begin to comprehend the considerable capacity of AR to generate business value in novel and innovative ways.

From humble beginnings as a gaming gimmick – the Oculus Rift springs to mind – the rapidly growing AR/VR (augmented reality and virtual reality) industry looks set to be the next big thing. In 2018, the burgeoning global augmented and virtual reality market was valued at a considerable US$26.7 billion, and is projected to reach approximately US$814.7 billion by 2025, according to Zion Market Research. It is also predicted that there will be 1 billion augmented reality users by 2020. What was once  merely a gaming novelty has evolved to become a technology worth billions of dollars, with promising applications across a range of sectors.

For starters, let us get some definitions out of the way. Augmented reality (AR), simply put, is an offshoot of virtual reality (VR), and is a technology that overlays information and virtual objects on real-world scenes in real-time, using the existing physical environment and enhancing – or augmenting – it in order to create a new artificial environment. With this in mind, myriad novel applications begin to emerge. At the most basic level, these applications will provide customers with the unprecedented ability to visualize a product or experience a service before committing to a purchase. AR possesses almost limitless potential, and can create a visceral, vicarious, and yet virtual experience for a user.

Naturally, a virtual experience is a physically safe experience, and with a little imagination, the breadth and depth of AR’s potential applications become readily apparent. In just one example, AR could be a game-changer in the healthcare industry, particularly in surgery. AR/VR will allow doctors to better understand a patient’s anatomy pre-surgery, thus greatly mitigating risks and reducing the likelihood of adverse complications. AR/VR also has numerous other applications spanning retail, e-commerce, entertainment, real estate, and education. What was once child’s play has, quite literally, become serious business.

Recently, AR has made significant inroads into the retail sector, and has the capacity to both rejuvenate brick-and-mortar shopping, as well as enhance e-commerce. Through smartphones, tablets, wearable smart devices, and the IoT, AR technology is becoming increasingly accessible to everyday consumers. For instance, the Swedish furniture giant IKEA has adopted AR solutions to streamline the shopping experience for customers at its brick-and-mortar stores. By integrating AR tech with the classic IKEA yearly catalog, IKEA can help customers visualise and decide where and how a desired piece of furniture will fit into a particular room. With the help of AR, a customer can place the physical catalog on the floor, point their smartphone – equipped with an AR app – towards a piece of furniture, and receive a virtual preview of how it would look in their room.
As businesses in the retail sector attempt to find new ways to secure and retain their customer base, more and more find themselves turning to AR, which will have a transformative impact on both physical and online shopping. Through augmented reality, customers can enjoy an immersive and personalized shopping experience from anywhere in the world. AR allows retailers unprecedented access to overseas customers, while giving customers remote access to goods and services, allowing them to try and test a product or service before making a purchase. For example, AR can allow a customer to try clothes virtually, thus eliminating one major drawback of online shopping – the inability to try on a piece of clothing before making an online purchase.
With the advent of AR, businesses will now be able to deliver a better experience to keep attracting customers to both their physical stores and online shops – a concept now known as experiential retail.
Apart from retail, AR has also seen growing adoption across various industries, and is already seeing use in areas such as data management, staff training and education, equipment maintenance, and quality assurance. Indeed, AR has been adopted by German carmaker Porsche at their assembly plant in Leipzig, Germany, where AR is used in assembly assistance. Ultimately, Porsche aims to completely integrate AR into its assembly processes, using hyper-accurate cameras in tandem with cloud-hosted parts database to allow real-time analysis of parts and assembled components. This would lead to significant time savings in the manufacturing process, and could improve the automotive industry to no end. This is but one example of the increasing adoption of AR technology in industry, with many more to follow.
The world’s great tech visionaries have already begun preparations for a world enhanced by AR. Apple CEO Tim Cook said in 2016, “I do think that a significant portion of the population of developed countries, and eventually all countries, will have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you.” He might be closer to the truth than you think – Apple’s highly anticipated AR Glasses could make an appearance as early as 2020. The era of AR is upon us, and the time for adoption of this promising technology is now. 
Helena Ma brings with her a wealth of experience and a truly cosmopolitan perspective, having lived and worked in Shanghai, China; Gothenburg, Sweden; and London, UK. Her stints in Europe and China has armed Helena with a potent blend of ancient Chinese wisdom and contemporary Western knowledge which she incorporates into business management and client project