THE BUSINESS REALITY OF VIRTUAL REALITY

For many in tech, 2016 was seen as “Year 0” for Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR). Facebook released the highly anticipated consumer version of their Oculus Rift VR headsets. Users downloaded Pokémon Go, the AR-based mobile app, more than 500 million times worldwide. Goldman Sachs reports that AR/VR has seen $3.5 billion in venture capital investments—and in the coming years, this will only ramp up.

There’s no doubt people are excited about this space. It’s hard not to be excited when the technology seems to step right out of science fiction. What’s more, AR/VR has the potential to disrupt a multitude of industries.

Hype aside, enterprises should proceed into the space with caution. The technology is still at least two years away from mainstream adoption, and it will take some time before the AR/VR ecosystem—availability of apps, developer expertise, affordability of hardware, etc.— is ready.

Although AR and VR both aim to enhance user’s experiences, they are distinct technologies. Augmented reality layers computer-generated enhancements over real-life surroundings; Pokémon Go users look through their phone and see fake creatures inhabiting their very real surroundings. On the other hand, virtual reality is a completely immersive simulation of a 3D environment through a device like the Oculus Rift headset. AR allows you to see your physical environment, whereas VR blocks it out. Of the two, AR is currently the less expensive option.

Changing the Way We Shop

AR/VR technology offers a doorway into a new way of shopping. The Solomomo Smart Mirror allows users to try on makeup via an augmented reality layered mirror. Online car retailer Vroom boasts a VR showroom where customers can view their inventory in 3D or virtually test drive a car. Volvo partnered with Microsoft’s Hololens to accomplish something similar.

AR/VR in e-Commerce offers a similar game changer. Customers could use AR/VR to see how clothes would look on them or how a couch would fit in their living room. Goldman Sachs predicts VR retail software revenue will reach $500 million by 2020.

Immersing Students (Literally) in Learning

The benefits of AR and VR in education are enticing as well. Studies show that students learn better with help from technology. This makes sense; moving anatomy from a 2D textbook into a 3D setting can help anyone better understand the human body.

Knowing this, tech companies have already pounced on the opportunities. California-based zSpace has installed computers with AR and VR capabilities in schools around the world. Students wear 3D glasses and utilize an electronic stylus to manipulate virtual images. They don’t just see a 3D beating heart; they can zoom in and pull back layers to reveal its inner workings. Learning becomes interactive.

Enabling Better Health

With healthcare, AR/VR offers multiple training advantages. London-based Medical Realities produces and distributes 360-degree videos of medical procedures. This video can then be viewed in virtual reality, allowing medical students to “conduct” surgeries—without actually picking up a scalpel. AR can also enhance remote diagnostics and healthcare.

It’s hard not to be excited when the technology seems to step right out of science fiction. What’s more, AR/VR has the potential to disrupt a multitude of industries


Mobile devices already enable patients to perform a routine medical test on themselves—then send the data to a healthcare professional in real-time.

Real-Time Training for Utilities Workers

One of the biggest challenges the utilities industry faces is an aging workforce; newer field technicians don’t have the expertise of their superiors, and supervisors can’t be everywhere at once.

With the use of augmented reality, senior technicians could be in one place while guiding others elsewhere. Not only would the supervisor be able to see what his trainees are seeing, but the process could be recorded and reused in future training scenarios.

Streamlining the Assembly Line

Much in the same way, the manufacturing industry can take advantage of AR/VR to train its workers. It’s a lot easier to teach someone in an assembly line how to do a job when they can see the whole process “firsthand.”

Advice on Implementing AR/VR in Your Enterprise

There are innovative and beneficial ways to employ AR/VR across industries. But as this technology sits in the bigger world of digital experiences, strategic enterprises must determine how it can best be used to boost business outcomes.

Select the Best Use Case

Hone in on what consumer experience you want to elevate with this new technology. Look at both your customer and employee journey maps and decide where AR or VR can anticipate users’ needs. For example, at my company Brillio, we’ve recently integrated AR into one small part of a mobile app designed for transit planning: users initiate an AR mode that uses their smartphone camera to superimpose directions pointing to nearby businesses of interest.

Rather than building an entire app around AR, we identified and enhanced a specific micro-experience within the user journey; this provides a much greater customer experience. Customers are still going to use other channels (mobile, web, etc). The challenge is to determine where AR/VR fits in.

Choose Your Platform Wisely

Enterprises need to choose the right platform(s) for them. Currently, each of the three dominant players (Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Google’s Cardboard, Microsoft’s HoloLens) is positioning themselves in the market differently.

Businesses must evaluate the technology based on cost, ecosystem, and their own customized needs. For example, with a $3,000 price tag, it may be too expensive to outfit an entire engineering team with Microsoft’s HoloLens— Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard would be much more realistic with today’s prices.

Watch the Ecosystems& Invest at the Right Time

As mentioned, it will take some time before the AR and VR ecosystem begins to evolve, and to know how quickly the technology will be adopted. Currently, there are 200,000 developers working on the Oculus Rift platform, and 25 million VR compatible apps have been downloaded for Google Cardboard.

This falls far short of the 8.7 million traditional mobile developers or the 25 billion Google apps downloads—a strong indicator that the ecosystem just isn’t there yet.

One might recall it took three to four years for the smartphone to be ubiquitous enough for enterprises to adapt them into their businesses. AR/VR is looking at a similar trajectory. Enterprises and consumers alike need to have practical reasons for investing in this expensive technology. Wait for the ecosystems to open up, prices to drop, and consumer adoption to expand before you wade in.

When someone like Mark Zuckerberg pays two billion dollars for a new technology, the world takes notice. But AR/VR is not expected to scale as quickly in enterprise applications as it will in video games and entertainment. For the time being, it’s crucial that businesses understand how consumers use technology and how AR/VR factors in to that experience. Where possible, test your market with smaller micro-experiences that integrate AR/VR technology and learn what your audience responds well to. My thoughts on the business reality of virtual reality? Feel the hype, but don’t act on it—for now.