Apple is prioritizing AR — and that’s a good thing

Until recently, it was easy to dismiss augmented reality as at best a luxury add-on to cellphones, at worst a gimmicky marketing stunt. From Pokémon Go to Android’s AR face filters to Snapchat’s Lens Studio, AR applications could be (literally and figuratively) game-changing, but at their core, they were about fun, not fundamentally changing business models.

But while that dismissive view of AR may apply to some of its more headline-grabbing applications, something more significant is afoot in the burgeoning space. The latest evidence: Longtime Apple executive Frank Casanova has been named the company’s first senior director of worldwide product marketing for augmented reality, signaling the tech giant’s commitment to making its mark in AR.

The augmentation race

Apple is hardly alone. Google is experimenting with an AR feature for Google Maps that would enable users to follow directions from their smartphones’ cameras in real time. Additionally, following its recent $72 million acquisition of the AR startup Blue Vision Labs, Lyft is harnessing AR for a feature that will enable drivers and passengers to highlight each other’s location using their real-world points of view.

While these developments signal growing interest in AR applications that go beyond tricked-out Snapchat filters, Apple’s creation of a new position dedicated to AR marks an even more significant shift toward a new reality in which AR becomes a core part of tech giants’ businesses. Casanova’s appointment, then, sets a benchmark for the industry as it continues its concentrated efforts to bring AR into the real world, including industrial and commercial applications.

Indeed, AR’s immense potential has already been demonstrated in a wide range of use cases, from public safety to broadcast to infrastructure. As AR developers train their sights on industrial and commercial consumers, the technology’s benefits will be even more widely distributed, with companies on the leading edge poised to reap the biggest gains.

AR’s potential

AR’s search-and-rescue applications underscore the technology’s literally life-saving promise. Emergency services organizations have utilized AR for my company, Edgybees, to overlay vital information — street names, individuals’ locations, and other relevant data — during natural disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Florence. First responders in the field are also beginning to utilize AR glasses to see blueprints of buildings to assist in forming faster rescue plans.

In less dire — but decidedly more enjoyable — situations, AR offers significant broadcast enhancements. During the most recent Super Bowl, CBS Sports used AR technology to offer viewers in-depth insight into plays on the field, and golf fans watching the PGA Tour had access to an app that offered a 3D look at action on the green. Demonstrating that AR’s broadcast potential extends far beyond the world of sports, the Weather Channel has augmented its coverage of hurricanes and wildfires with immersive displays during on-air reports showing hurricane paths and the dynamics by which wildfires start and spread.

Even heavy industry is claiming a slice of the expanding AR pie. Case in point: Caterpillar is using the technology for both sales and services. The company’s Liveshare tool uses AR-based live video to enable technicians to collaborate with users for an entirely new level of customer support, enabling more efficient purchase and troubleshooting processes.

Where do we go?

What does AR’s rise mean for industry and society? If Apple shows serious commitment to its emerging AR operations and follows through on its mission of establishing a department dedicated to the technology, there’s a good chance that AR could become as ubiquitous as the iPhone itself. Given AR’s diverse range of benefits, that’s a prospect worth embracing.

As AR is refined and becomes increasingly prominent, more players will want a bite of the apple. Those focusing on AR’s real-world benefits — as opposed to, say, building a better Pokémon Go — will be best positioned to capitalize on the growing AR market, which forecasters say will reach $61.4 billion by 2023 as demand surges from health care to public safety to retail and ecommerce.

When harnessed for the public good and the needs of today’s enterprises, not simply frivolous enhancements to the gaming world, AR has the potential to usher in transformative progress — driving better decisions, making people and processes more efficient, enhancing safety, and augmenting the experiences of our lives.

Adam Kaplan is cofounder and CEO of Edgybees, the world leader in visual intelligence technology. Its software platform enhances drone video footage to provide customers across various industries the ability to understand any complex scene instantly.

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