Consumer devices for virtual reality may have led the way so far – but augmented reality headsets for businesses are likely to represent a bigger money-spinner over time, according to recent research from IDC.
Collectively, sales of headsets for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications are expected to grow tenfold to over 100 million units in 2021, from just under 10 million in 2016, say IDC analysts.
To date, virtual reality (VR) headsets have dominated device volumes. Within this category, screenless viewers powered by smartphones – the cheapest available form factor – have led the charge. The second half of 2016 saw a ramp up in volume from three highly publicized VR device products: the Sony PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
“The next six to 18 months will further stimulate the VR market as PC vendors, along with Microsoft, introduce tethered headsets and high-end standalone VR headsets also enter the market,” said Jitesh Ubrani, an IDC analyst.
“With lower hardware requirements on the PC and lower prices on headsets, VR will be more accessible than ever before. And the introduction of additional motion tracking and hand tracking will help further blur the line between digital and physical reality.”
In the shadows, waiting to emerge
Augmented reality (AR), meanwhile, remains somewhat overshadowed by VR – not because it’s less important, IDC argues, but because compelling AR experiences are technologically harder to achieve.
The firm’s analysts reckon that VR headsets will continue to lead in terms of volume throughout the forecast (that is, between now and 2021), but that overall, AR will have a much bigger impact.
Consumers are more likely to have their first AR experience using a mobile phone or tablet – think of the Pokemon Go! craze, for example – than they are using a dedicated headset.
Instead, it’s businesses that will really exploit the headsets’ potential. Already, companies in healthcare, manufacturing, field service workers and design are investing and piloting AR, IDC reports. They’re using a wide range of hardware, some of which is commercially available, but much of which is manufactured by companies that IDC calls “non-household names.”
Use-cases might include, for example, applications that help surgeons prepare for particularly tricky surgery on a ‘virtual patient’ before they move on to a real-life one, or train manufacturing workers on the best way to add a particular component to a product on the production line.
AR bigger than VR
“It is very clear to us that augmented reality is the larger of the two plays here when looking at AR and VR combined,” said IDC’s Ryan Reith. “Companies like Microsoft, Epson, Intel, Meta, ODG and DAQRI are already providing devices that are being deployed in real-time commercial projects with significant ROI [return on investment].”
“We believe that many industrial jobs will fundamentally change because of AR in the next 5-years, and these are much more opportunistic markets for dedicated AR headsets than the consumer market. We expect commercial shipments to account for just over 80% of all AR headsets shipped in the next 5 years.”