10 September 2018

Is immersive tech coming of age?

Has the time come for immersive tech to make its mark across multiple sectors? If so, how can AR, VR and 360 video reach its full potential?

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 360 video have been deemed ‘emerging’ technologies for some time now. Their transition from marginal to mainstream adoption has been slow. But has the time finally come for immersive tech to make its mark in multiple sectors? If so, how can immersive tech companies reach their full potential?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that, although typically classed together as ‘immersive technology’, VR, AR and 360 video are different things. 360 video is low cost, easily accessible and has obvious uses for sharing experiences on social media. VR and AR are very different things, as evidenced by the VR requirement for a headset or the greater freedom of movement enabled with AR. VR is a more individual experience (supporting creative content perhaps in the form of immersive short stories), whereas AR can enhance shared group experiences. Both encourage interaction in a way not enabled by traditional media (films, TV and books). All forms of immersive tech encourage people to engage with the wider world in new and immersive ways, hence their group classification.

Varied challenges

When it comes to immersive tech of any type, the transition from specialist activity (e.g. VR for gamers) to mainstream application and use in multiple sectors has been protracted. Immersive tech has had to contend with a number of challenges. Some of these hurdles are being overcome, while others will take more time and innovation.

There have, for example, been some challenges in relation to the quality of the immersive experience. Some VR headsets induced motion sickness in some users, deterring them from repeating the experience. This issue is being addressed through the current focus on developing quality standards for immersive tech, to ensure high quality experiences for users in future.

Other technical challenges are being overcome to varying degrees. These include sometimes uncomfortable headsets, short battery life and the frustration of tethering that restricts VR users’ ability to move around. There are additional challenges around internet speeds, processing power and networking. As communications technology and infrastructure improves, this can only help to boost take-up of immersive tech.

Increasing take-up

As the quality of immersive tech improves, so the pace of take-up is increasing. There were around 21 million VR headsets in use by the end of 2017 (excluding around 30 million cardboard versions), with 160% growth expected in 2018 (Source: Futuresource Consulting).

AR is arguably leading the way, building on its advantages: applications can be easily downloaded, there’s no need for extra hardware such as a headset (though some forms of AR involve glasses), and users have no movement restrictions. Companies such as Ikea (how would that chair look in your sitting room?) and Pokémon (with Pokémon GO) have already seen and acted on the potential. So have companies such as Rewind for Red Bull Air Race – using mixed reality – and Microsoft HoloLens creating exciting immersive experiences which have enhanced live viewing of the sport.

Alongside entertainment and advertising, there are obvious uses for AR in the arts, education and the media – helping students to appreciate ancient artefacts and consumers to experience current events in a more visceral way. Professional services too could benefit: a hologram can show the impact of a proposed building on its environment just as effectively as a physical model. The more cross-sector applications immersive tech is seen to have, the higher its value to customers and investors.

Maximising opportunities

It does seem, therefore, that the time has come when immersive tech can really make its mark in multiple sectors. Companies active in the arena need to take advantage of the opportunities for growth and funding that are now available.

The monetisation of immersive tech is increasingly apparent, for example. Large corporates are keen to invest in emerging developers of content and applications. Growing businesses can look for vertical or horizontal M&A opportunities. Immersive tech companies can also boost funds through accessing R&D tax credits and Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR), as well as applying for specialist grants.

Experienced advisers can make sure tech companies access all the opportunities and funds available to them – and so realise their full potential.

To discuss how we can support your ambitions for growth, please contact Kirsty Murray.

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