This is the third in a series of posts on technologies that are having a profound impact on our mobile future. The first focused on the growth, benefits and challenges of 5G cellular networks. The second focused on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) for mobile communications and computing. This final post examines the potential of augmented reality.

AUGMENTED REALITY
Unlike 5G and AI, which are enabling technologies, augmented reality (AR) represents a major new mobile platform. If that sounds like an overstatement, here is what Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said about AR to The Independent: “I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone. We don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.”

Apple is not the only company that thinks AR is huge. Facebook, Microsoft and Snap have major development programs. As smartphone sales slow, AR could become the next big industry battleground. If companies can make the technology reliable and lightweight enough, AR could eventually replace smartphones as the primary mobile platform.

Augmented reality is often lumped together with virtual reality (VR)—as AR/VR or extended reality (XR)—but there is a significant difference between the two. While VR headsets immerse people in virtual environments, AR devices promise to display digital imagery and information on lenses in front of your eyes without completely obscuring the view of their physical surroundings. As a result, unlike VR, which is primarily a consumer technology, AR applications are much broader.

A January 24 article by Bernard Marr in Forbes, “The 5 Biggest Virtual and Augmented Reality Trends in 2020 Everyone Should Know About,” describes application trends. One is that industrial applications will outpace gaming and entertainment, as 65% of the AR companies surveyed said they are working on industrial applications, while just 37% are working on consumer products and software. For example, AR can be used to relay essential information directly to a user about whatever happens to be in front of him or her—reducing the time spent by engineers, technicians or maintenance staff referring to manuals and looking up information online.

Healthcare is another important application. The adoption of AR in healthcare is forecast to grow by 38% annually through 2025. AR can be used by surgeons to alert them to risks or hazards while they are working, and it can help nurses find a patient’s veins and avoid accidentally sticking needles where they aren’t wanted.

Whether the application is consumer or industrial, one common challenge is that AR glasses must get smaller, more mobile and more powerful. The lenses that display digital imagery and information in front of people’s eyes will need to be high quality while also sufficiently small for a comfortable fit. Broad access to fast 5G mobile networks is considered a critical enabling technology for AR to grow its presence in both entertainment and industry. And batteries will need to provide more energy capacity in a small-size, lightweight format.

Most reports indicate that AR glasses meeting these requirements will be available in 2022 or, more likely, in 2023. We’re doing our part to help establish AR as the next major mobile platform by providing a high-energy, compact, lightweight battery for AR applications in 2021.

Note: in addition to the sources cited in this post, information is from a November 12, 2019 article by Nick Wingfield and Alex Heath in The Information (you may need a subscription to access the complete article).