Augmented reality (AR) and new visual interfaces will have a major role to play in the IoT, says a new report from Reuters. So what are the opportunities ahead? Chris Middleton explains. Plus: so-called ‘hearables’ will make themselves heard in 2018.
Despite the chatter of voice-enabled AI growing louder in our offices and homes, visual interface development will remain critically important for the IoT, according to a new report from Reuters. Smart devices’ ability to see and interact with us in the physical world will grow, as will our own ability to consume and interact with new forms of content via smart glasses, headsets, and other displays.
Reuters’ Digital News Report 2018 focuses on how the media sector is deploying a range of new technologies, but the 51-page document makes a number of predictions about the wider impact of AI, camera-driven search, and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), through 2018 and beyond.
This wave of digital transformation may originate with the smartphone, says Reuters, but it will carry with it increased user engagement across a range of new interfaces, thanks to enhancements in image- and voice-recognition software. “These technologies are becoming the new battlefield for tech giants, opening up an array of new media experiences and business opportunities,” said Ed Roussel, CIO of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.
A world of discovery
According to Reuters, “users will be doing less typing on their smart devices as visual discovery becomes more important”. Technologies such as Google Lens will enable cameras to understand more about objects in the physical world, and respond to them with location-, site-, or service-specific content.
A number of companies – Snap Inc among them – are exploring the ways in which physical objects and locations can be linked with commercial opportunities, such a special offers, pushed information, and services that deepen the relationship between provider and customer. This trend is similar to the ways in which some organisations are deploying AI on the perimeter of customer-facing apps to spur greater loyalty and engagement.
This is one area in which all industry sectors can learn from media companies’ digital transformation strategies. Brands such as the FT are creating measurable improvements on their bottom lines by using AI to learn visitors’ preferences and recommend new content and services, drawing users into deeper relationships with products.
According to the report, AR will take a major step toward widespread adoption this year, leaving VR providers to focus on building niches in the corporate sector, as well as through games.
Reuters says, “The key impetus behind this has been the release of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, which allow developers to more easily build immersive AR applications that can reach hundreds of millions of existing iOS (iPhone 6S and above) and Android users (more advanced models).”
Indeed, for hardware manufactures like Apple, it is essential that AR “grows up and starts attracting an older and richer demographic”, says the report. Failure to do so may leave these technologies languishing in a niche of youth-oriented gaming.
Trouble ahead for smartphones?
There may be other repercussions too. Smartphone replacement life cycles have slipped to around three years and a more mature approach to AR could, potentially, provide the next big reason to upgrade, suggests Reuters.
At the same time, the emergence of foldable phones, such as the long-predicted Samsung X, could herald the demise of tablets. Overall, Reuters says that smartphone sales are reaching a plateau, even as our reliance on mobile devices is deepening via mobile-first development programmes.
AR glasses will again be vying for buyers’ attention this year, with the launch of the Magic Leap ‘lightwear’ headset, among others. The Magic Leap One Creator Edition is able to produce “lifelike digital objects that co-exist in the real world”, according to the manufacturer.
Over the next few years, we are likely to see a widening split between, on the one hand, the ways in which mobile AR and VR are delivered as commodity services to consumers, and, on the other, how they are presented as high-end offerings to corporates – in the latter case, via products such as the Google Glass enterprise edition.
Companies that have adopted the glasses to date – General Electric and UPS among them – say they have found innovative uses for them in training, while healthcare professionals have been deploying them to record patient visits. However, direct-to-consumer VR experiences remain constrained by “the limited number of headsets sold, the fragmented nature of the market, and the lack of quality content”, says Reuters.
So, how to stimulate wider adoption among consumers, in the hope that this will act as a springboard to corporate and professional uptake?
One answer could be sport, suggests Reuters, given VR’s ability to immerse audiences in competitive live action. In the US, the NBA has been broadcasting games in VR for the 2017-18 season through its League Pass VR. Google Daydream and Samsung Gear headset owners can watch the action for free and “we are likely to see similar arrangements for the Winter Olympics and World Cup”, says the report.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s vision is to engage its billion-plus users directly by encouraging them to create their own VR content. Facebook Spaces was launched in April 2017 as a virtual meeting space, but after disappointing sales of the Oculus Rift, the social network has launched a mass-market model (Oculus Go, $199) to stimulate demand – although the price point is still too high. Facebook is also opening up spaces to other headset makers, starting with the HTC Vive, says the report.
Internet of Business says:
Overall, Reuters suggests that 2018 will be a “breakthrough year for mobile AR alongside incremental progress with VR”. However, both technologies will struggle to reach their full potential until portability can be combined with compelling use cases and sufficiently low prices, say the report’s authors.
Plus: From wearable to ‘hearables’
In related news, the Reuters report also charts the rise of so-called ‘hearables’: devices that blend digital audio with the wearer’s normal hearing without excluding sound from the real world. These include Amazon’s bone-conducting audio technology, which will allow AI assistant Alexa to be transmitted through smart glasses without the need for earbuds; Waverly Labs‘ Pilot real-time translation buds (pictured); Sony’s Experia Ear Open technology, in which spatial acoustic conductors layer digital audio on top of natural hearing; and Jabra’s Elite Sport earbuds, which offer in-ear coaching.