Virtual and Augmented Reality to Skyrocket by 2021

By: Jeff Bertolucci| - Leave a comment

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The full development of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) may seem to be in the distant future, but these technologies are gearing up for widespread use across enterprise and consumer markets. Lower price points and an expanding selection of devices and content are rapidly driving the AR and VR markets forward.

A recent study by IDC provides compelling evidence that AR and VR are ready for prime time. The IDC Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker forecasts AR and VR headset device shipments will reach 99.4 million units in 2021 — nearly 10 times higher than the 10.1 million units shipped in 2016.

Beyond Tech Enthusiasts

After years of development and media hype, 2016 proved to be a milestone year for the AR/VR headset market, as long-awaited products such as the Oculus Rift finally shipped to an eager gaming and consumer market. But this technology will soon extend far beyond digital entertainment, IDC forecasts.

“While there was clear demand coming primarily from technology enthusiasts, what became readily apparent were the use cases for enterprise users across multiple verticals and for consumers with gaming and content consumption,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager with IDC’s Augmented and Virtual Reality team, in IDC’s press release.

To follow that trend, device makers, content providers and developers are designing AR/VR hardware and content for a myriad of use cases, IDC notes. For instance, AR and VR products may be effective retailing tools for product prototyping, new feature development, sales growth and retail store improvements.

Enterprise Use Cases

AR/VR technology also has the potential to enhance worker productivity. VR’s power to create immersive worlds and AR’s ability to overlay context-sensitive information on real-world scenes could greatly benefit verticals such as design and manufacturing, health care, transportation and retail.

Rather than simply presenting static images on screen, virtual and augmented reality allows workers to interact with data — like a blueprint for a building — on a more intimate level. This technology enables workers to map out changes and procedures before doing the actual work, thereby saving money and time.

In the consumer space, content providers are already using these technologies to transport users into other worlds, IDC notes. Consider the ability to attend a sporting event or concert while relaxing on the sofa. Not only is that luxury on the horizon, but game developers are also working on immersive experiences that go far beyond today’s consoles, such as simulating the sensation of being in outer space or on a battlefield.

AR to Outstride VR

The VR market today is significantly larger than AR, but not for long. The value of AR headsets will soar from $209 million in 2016 to $48.7 billion in 2021, IDC forecasts. By comparison, VR headsets will grow from $2.1 billion to $18.6 billion in the same time period.

Why will AR surpass VR? Consumer-oriented VR devices, which range from $100 to $1,000, will cost significantly less than AR headsets, which are forecast to cost significantly over $1,000, IDC notes.

VR hardware prices are already falling fast. For instance, Samsung shipped 5 million units of its Gear VR device in 2016. The headset requires a Samsung Galaxy smartphone and costs $100, but T-Mobile is selling the Gear VR at half that price to its wireless customers, reports Computerworld.

Thus, early generations of AR hardware will likely be targeted at enterprise users. IDC Senior Analyst Jitesh Ubrani notes these high price points will make the technology “far less accessible to consumers initially, though that’s probably for the best, as the AR ecosystem and wide social acceptance are still a few years away.”

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About The Author

Jeff Bertolucci

News Writer

Jeff Bertolucci is a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in technology, digital media, and education. His work has appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, InformationWeek, PCWorld, Macworld, The Saturday Evening Post, The Los Angeles Times and many other publications.