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Enterprises will drive augmented reality and wearables, says report

Business applications, not consumer, will be the real drivers for growth in augmented reality and wearable technology, says Beecham Research

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A new report from Beecham Research has suggested that enterprise and business applications will be the main drivers for adoption of augmented reality (AR) and wearable technology in the future.

While much of the hype around AR and wearables has so far been centred largely on consumer technology, the research said that some of the bigger and more dynamic money-spinning opportunities will come in manufacturing, logistics, healthcare and retail.

According to report author and Beecham market analyst Matthew Duke-Woolley, it remains unclear where consumer killer apps will appear, but the momentum around businesses is already real and will gain pace over the next two years as more real-world applications become apparent.

This will particularly be the case for AR, which will offer the workforce new ways to interact with data hands-free, providing a greater depth of control and access to knowledge.

“It is clear that the overall status of the enterprise market for AR and wearable technology is at a tipping point, moving from trials and test-bed projects to real commercial deployments,” said Duke-Woolley.

“While it is still questionable to provide a firm forecast, if this speed of transition accelerates as companies quickly recognise the benefits and return on investment, we believe the market can reach just under $800m [£565m] by 2020.”

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Other emerging business applications explored in the report include heads-up displays in manufacturing to support complex production processes, collaborative product design and prototyping, remote assistance from specialist engineers and technicians, medical systems to enable surgeons to access relevant data in theatre without being distracted, and education and training.

“Current human-computer interfaces in mobile computing are primarily based around touchscreens, but AR, along with wearable technology, offers a hands-free computing environment enabling greater interaction with information and the user’s surroundings,” said Saverio Romeo, principal analyst at Beecham Research.

“We expect to see rapid evolution of smart glasses, with more miniaturisation, better field of view and battery life, while there will also be increasing attention on the convergence with virtual reality [VR] technology and the internet of things [IoT] to deliver competitive advantage. Collaboration with AR/VR and IoT players will be crucial.”

Beecham’s report also looked at increasing levels of market activity and consolidation around wearables, including PTC’s $65m purchase of AR software platform Vuforia in late 2015, and its acquisition of IoT specialists ThingWorx and Axeda; Apple’s purchase of Metaio, a German AR specialist originally set up by Volkswagen; and Facebook’s purchase of British startup Surreal Vision, which brings “super-human visual perception to the emerging fields of mixed reality and autonomous robotics”.

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Businesses have the most to benefit from augmented reality,. Think of the field worker that can access a schematic overlay of the equipment he’s working on. That doesn’t mean that consumers won’t reap the benefits as well, they’ll just be slightly behind the curve, adopting technology that been in use by businesses for some time.
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