Survey Says: Companies are Ready to Embrace Augmented Reality

on July 15, 2016
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The impressive success and resulting media coverage around Pokémon Go shows that, packaged the right way, even rudimentary augmented reality technology has appeal to consumers. However, I’ve long maintained AR has the potential to drive major business and process changes within the commercial segment and forward-looking companies need to be exploring how they will embrace the technology in the not-to-distant future. At IDC, we recently completed a comprehensive survey of U.S.-based IT decision makers and found many are already kicking the tires on both AR software and hardware.

Significant Early Interest in AR Software, Hardware
When we asked IT experts across a range of business sizes if they were currently testing AR software on their current mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, about 27% said they were already testing such software. When we asked the pool of respondents who said they were not currently testing AR software if they planned to do so in the future, 26% said they were.

On the face of it, these results may not seem impressive. But, when you combine the two groups, it’s notable that more than half of all companies are testing or thinking about testing AR software. It also shows many IT decision makers already understand the first place they are likely to use AR software is on the mobile devices they already manage. As with all new tech, it is important to walk before you run and there is a great deal of business value a company can derive from utilizing well-built, often vertical-specific applications on today’s hardware. Such tests lay the groundwork for future hardware rollouts.

When I dive more deeply into this data, I find many of the verticals I’ve cited in the past as early candidates for AR rollouts are among those currently testing software or seriously considering it for the future, such as healthcare, retail, utilities, services industries and construction. Some of the less obvious ones already seriously looking at AR software include federal, state, and local governments, banking, and insurance.

Next, we asked about AR hardware, fully expecting the results here to trail that of software testing on mobile devices. Surprisingly, about 30% of respondents said their companies were already testing out early versions of AR hardware, including the examples we cited: Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens, and Epson Movario. Moreover, another 22% said they were considering testing hardware in the future. I’ll be honest, the number that said they are already testing hardware seemed a bit high to me. But the reality is, such hardware has been available for some time and clearly, many companies see the potential here. Glass is a great example of a product that, frankly, Google shouldn’t have tried to push to consumers so early. While a backlash was forming against regular people wearing the product on the street, many companies were figuring out ways to use Glass in productive ways.

We went on to ask detailed questions about plans around future pilots and proof-of-concept trials, the technology firms companies expect to buy their AR software and hardware from, and the platforms they expect to succeed. We asked the same questions about VR. What’s clear is US companies are already thinking long and hard about these technologies.

Key Driving Factors for Future AR Use
AR done right can drive a significant wow factor but, at the end of the day, that generally doesn’t excite business as much as tangible things such as productivity. When we asked respondents about their key expectations of the future rollout of AR hardware, the top reason most cited for doing so was the ability to drive increased efficiency among those employees outfitted with the device. The second-most cited reason was the ability to create a hands-free work environment, followed by the ability to increase worker safety. Impressive design tools, fancy client-facing presentations, and better remote-access tools are all important and make great demonstrations for AR hardware but simple, clear benefits such as the ability of a worker to utilize AR in a hands-free setting that both increases efficiency and safety is what will drive AR into companies at an increased rate in the future. It’s responses like these that further cement my belief that AR in business has the potential to drive the same level of change the introduction of the PCs did years ago.

So for now, products like Pokémon Go and the long list of copycats sure to follow will help drive general consumer interest in AR. Such interest should help drive faster development of the underlying software and hardware, which can only help accelerate the availability of those technologies to business. And clearly, companies are already thinking about how they will embrace these capabilities going forward.