A Look Back at 2016

2016: The year of augmented reality

From gaming and entertainment to advertising and sales, to retail and manufacturing, AR made its mark and proved its business value

siemens ar app

Over the past decade as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have matured, VR has overshadowed its cousin, AR. Media coverage and public interest favored VR, hailing it as the next big tech breakthrough.

At the outset of 2016, the narrative looked no different: VR would continue to dominate. VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive were poised to hit the market in 2016. At the same time, the Samsung Gear VR made its public debut at the end of 2015 to make VR accessible through mobile. Despite these releases, the content, accessories and consumer readiness weren’t quite there. VR’s move to the mainstream faltered this year, as it now sits in a holding pattern waiting for the other pieces to mature.

On the other hand, AR exploded into the mainstream this year.  

In the digital era, AR serves as a nexus between the digital and physical worlds. AR overlays digital assets in the physical world. It enhances our perception of reality.

From gaming and entertainment to advertising and sales, to retail and manufacturing, AR made its mark and proved its true business value.

AR milestones from 2016

Snapchat filters and lenses

No, geofilters and lenses weren’t new to Snapchat in 2016. But the company made updates throughout the year to these features that broadened their capabilities and increased user engagement. 

Geofilters and lenses allow users to overlay a digital effect on their Snapchat photo or video before broadcasting to their network. These filters enhance the real world by combining digital and real elements, resulting in an augmented reality experience.

In November, Snapchat released World Lenses. World Lenses allow users to apply different effects using the phone’s camera viewer. World Lenses represent a deeper commitment to AR. With World Lenses, users are not just overlaying a filter frame or enhancing their face with lenses, rather they can introduce digital elements such as butterflies and hearts anywhere in the scene. This new capability further blurs the line between the digital and physical.

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Even more, Snap Inc introduced fashionable AR glasses called Spectacles in November 2016. Although not marketed as AR eyewear, these glasses are at their essence an AR headset.

Until Spectacles, companies have struggled with consumer adoption of AR or VR headsets (remember Google Glass). The success of Spectacles proves consumers are ready to adopt more intrusive AR hardware, and they hint at a grander AR vision in the future for Snap.

Pokémon Go

The colossal success of Pokémon Go catapulted AR into the mainstream consciousness this summer. The mobile game was downloaded 50 million times on Android in the first 19 days of its release. The next-fastest app to hit that record was ColorSwatch in 77 days.

In the location-based mobile game, users must search about their real world to catch digital Pokémon through their device. For many, this was their first AR experience, priming them for more to come in 2017. 

Project Tango

This fall, Lenovo shipped the first Tango-enabled smartphone, the Phab 2 Pro. Tango technology from Google introduces depth sensing, computer vision and room mapping to devices, which together enable for new and improved AR apps and utilities. 

Wayfair, "an online destination for home furnishings and décor," was one of the first big retailers to release a Tango-enabled app. With WayfairView, customers can try pieces of furniture in their home before buying. Tango’s technology removes the need for markers or trackers, and it offers more stable AR viewing. Tango’s technology provides a smooth end-to-end AR experience for the user.

What’s up next for 2017?

Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro is just the start of Tango-enabled devices poised to hit the market in the coming months. As more Tango-enabled phones enter the market, more consumers will have access to the technology and these AR apps. 

Further, greater proliferation of these devices will encourage more developers to publish Tango-powered apps. We can expect more big-name retailers and brands to publish Tango apps—apps that will change how we interact with the physical world by more seamlessly merging it with the digital. 

Even more, 2017 will attract more industry leaders into the AR market. It is rumored Samsung will showcase its AR tech at MWC 2017 in February. Samsung Electronics Vice President Sung-Hoon Hong said the company is developing a light field engine that can be used with its holograph technology.

The details of the project are ambiguous, but the announcement suggests that AR will continue to trend in 2017. The introduction of more hardware and software solutions will fuel consumer and business adoption in the coming year.

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