When the first commercial cellphone was released in 1983, it boasted 30 minutes of talk time, six hours of standby, and stored 30 phone numbers. Back then, if you told consumers that in the not-too-distant future they would check their mobile phones 47 times per day and touch it more than 2,500 times per day, they would have thought you were completely crazy.
We live in a very different world from the 80s, but the transformational potential of emerging technologies still holds true: Sometimes we can’t even imagine the full extent of their effects until they’ve arrived.
Today, digital reality — which encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, as well as other immersive technologies — contains a wealth of untapped potential, very similar to what the pre-smartphone era was to mobile phones. And after many years of talk, digital reality is finally poised to alter our world dramatically, from the way we work to the way we socialize.
An International Data Corp. study predicted total digital reality spending will increase from $9.1 billion in 2017 to $160 billion in 2021, a compound annual growth rate of 113% if it holds. Despite this, many people feel like they’ve been hearing about this technology for years, likely feeling a bit disillusioned by the slow adoption. However, some critical advancements have occurred recently that I believe will unshackle its potential. In the next 12 to 24 months, I expect to see companies unveiling next-generation digital reality products and services that begin to really revolutionize how we interact in our everyday devices.
Break-throughs in surrounding technologies
Two of the biggest challenges for digital reality technology have been network bandwidth and data storage. A 360-degree video requires storing and rendering each video viewpoint so that the video follows as a user turns his head. The requirements are substantial, to say the least — about 10X to 20X the required bandwidth needed to view a high-definition video.
Networks, particularly wireless ones, have needed to catch up – and they are finally getting there. More than 30 cities will see 5G capabilities built this year, with more coming online in 2019. Experts say that this alone can lead to a 10X decrease in latency and 100X increase in network efficiency. In other words, these advancements mean that digital reality will likely no longer suffer from the same buffering and low-resolution problems that have made these experiences somewhat underwhelming in the past.
Right now, just 5% of the population own a VR headset, according to a Global Web Index survey, but adoption is on the rise. And as it becomes more ubiquitous, people will increasingly witness its potential firsthand.
Google Glass’s potential, for instance, was only recognized after its initial rollout didn’t garner their anticipated consumer response. However, Google Glass found a strong niche marketplace and is driving improved efficiency in warehousing. The lesson? Allowing users to engage with digital reality products can help you gather feedback and identify more lucrative applications of the technology. Determining the technology's strengths and weaknesses can give business leaders a clearer blueprint of how to successfully implement digital reality.
Many years ago, I helped a large telecommunications company build out its 3G call center. One of the popular ideas the company had was to create a simple, short message system (SMS) that allowed you to send up to 64 characters. The initial impression was that it was a cute waste of time – yet, here we are today, and it’s difficult to imagine a world without text messaging.
Digital reality can do more than just expand the usability of a product feature like SMS. It also has the potential to augment industries such as traditional advertising in spectacular ways. Imagine a customer holding a smartphone over a print advertisement to get a 3D view of a new car. They could virtually get into the car of their choice, test out options, other models – basically going from an ad to a customized test drive in a matter of seconds. Customizable approaches, like this example, show how digital reality can enhance an experience and brand connections.
I think the most exciting thing about digital reality is that while we finally have the infrastructure to support it, we haven’t yet had the killer application that reveals its full potential.
The time is now
Whether it's employee training, professional development, or a buyer’s journey, as we explore this technology, we get closer and closer to that full breakthrough. And once that happens, those who haven’t been paying attention could get left behind. Digital reality is still young, but the potential it’s displayed could mean it’ll be adopted at a breakneck speed in the next few years. Its applications are already promising, but it’s even more exciting to think about what the technology will transform next.
With any new technology, it’s a challenge to determine the best and most groundbreaking ways to use it. But as hardware and licensing prices continue to decrease, and the community of developers that create their own solutions continue to grow, we’ll have a larger testing ground for innovative applications of this technology.
With digital reality, business leaders can give everyday activities an immersive, interactive spin that they previously never thought possible. They just must believe in it first – and all signs point toward significant reasons to believe.
Allan Cook is head of operations and strategy for Digital Reality at Deloitte Digital.