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virtual reality in the enterprise

Exploring Virtual & Augmented Reality in the Enterprise

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It seems like every major technology summit these days isn’t complete without the mention of virtual and augmented reality. Consumers and enterprises alike have cause to be excited. While the technologies are still in their infancies, both promise revolutionary new ways by which we will interact and compute.

2016 will be remembered as a landmark year for these types of technology, with multiple hardware releases targeted for the enterprise and the consumer. This is just the beginning. Goldman Sachs recently estimated that hardware sales from augmented and virtual reality devices could reach $80 billion by 2025.

With all the buzz being generated around these technologies, let’s explore the differences between virtual and augmented reality and how innovators are exploring their use in the enterprise.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is when you are completely immersed into an alternate world or environment. Think of it as a screen that blocks your complete field of view. This is usually achieved by wearing a headset such as the Oculus Rift by Facebook.

VR devices are generally not stand-alone. They harness the computing power of a tethered machine. These headsets have multiple sensors that track your head movement and shift the image you are seeing within the headset so you can explore the virtual world being projected to you with natural movements. (We have definitely come a long way since the View-Master!)

VR will really be all about the content that can be delivered to immerse the end user. There are a few first-generation devices being released this year, targeted mainly at the consumer for immersive entertainment (particularly gaming).

Though entertainment use cases are taking center stage, there is tremendous potential for the enterprise, but it will take time and experimentation by early adopters before a real return on investment is seen. There have been early successes in manufacturing to view 3D renderings of models created using computer-aided drawing tools and to create realistic training programs (teaching pilots to fly, for example).

[Related: Want to Work On the Holodeck? 5 Examples of Business Using Virtual Reality]

However, what makes VR great is also what limits it: completely blocking the user’s field of view restricts the use of real world objects. This is where augmented reality comes in and is poised to leap ahead of VR, especially in the enterprise where users will have to interact with systems and machines to accomplish business processes.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is when digital objects and information are added to your view of the world, so you can continue to work with objects while information is adaptively fed to your field of view. AR devices tend to be running an operating system (OS) and can run stand-alone without the need to pair to any device.

The most popular OS by far is Android, with most production devices running Android 4.x.x. New devices running Android 5.0 and above are expected from manufacturers later this year. The Microsoft HoloLens has recently starting shipping to developers and is considered by many to be a game changer for the industry. Check out Forrester’s views on it back when it was announced.

Ultimately, the value of AR devices will come down to the innovation behind the apps. Most hardware manufacturers have an SDK that can be used to develop Android apps that take advantage of the AR capabilities of their devices. Microsoft has said that building an app for the HoloLens will be identical to how apps are built for their other Windows 10 devices. This means the developers can quickly get started on building apps for these platforms using development tools they already know well. Although the app ecosystem is scarce right now, the AR app development market for the enterprise is expected to grow substantially, Juniper Research predicts it will be a $2.4 billion market by 2019.

Innovators and early adopters are already experimenting on how specific line-of-business use cases can be optimized. Here are a few use cases to consider:

  • Manufacturing: AR could serve remote support use cases where field workers can call technicians and share what they are seeing through the headset’s camera. Overlay instructions through the headset would free up the workers’ hands instead of having to hold a tablet.
  • Healthcare: By relaying information directly to the surgeon, complicated surgeries could be made easier. AR could also spark breakthroughs in medical school education, as shown during Build 2016.

[Related: What We Learned from the Microsoft Build Keynote #Build2016]

  • Design: AR provides a canvas for designers to put ideas together and see a prototype almost instantly, reducing time to market.
  • Retail: AR works for point-of-sale use cases where a customer can customize the product they want to buy and see what it would look like in real time.

Whether your use case is VR, AR or both, there is no denying the benefits these technologies will bring as the device and app ecosystems mature.

Have you already started piloting these devices? What use cases are you trying to solve? Leave us a comment below, and let us know!

Bhavesh Kumar

Bhavesh Kumar is the Senior Product Manager for Android Enterprise and ChromeOS at VMware AirWatch.

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