Just last month I saw Lego launch their Playgrounds AR app for children of all ages. Weeks later Tesla revealed their patent around augmented reality glasses for factory workers. In the healthcare space, surgeons in Poland demonstrated how Google Glass could be used to help plan heart procedures, and NHS clinicians are using Microsoft's  HoloLens to help surgeons plan operations in Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool.  Surgeons in three separate UK hospitals have used it for bowel cancer surgery. 

Will 2019 finally be the year where we see AR and VR scale?  With all of the hype coming from CES last week around the promise of 5G, AR's infrastructure will be enabled and the implications for businesses of all sizes are profound.

Take Adobe's Project Aero, which is still in private beta, but it will be an AR authoring tool that connects with other platforms like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dimension. Designers will be able to author AR experiences without learning to code, and use existing Creative Cloud tools in new ways to bring their work to life in AR. Imagine placing 2D and 3D artwork, client projects, and more in the real world around you.

According to global research and advisory firm Gartner, by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in AR and this year International Data Corporation, provider of market intelligence, predicts 20 percent of mobile apps will have AR features embedded.  But what are these features and how do they impact your business?  Let's focus on three areas, and going forward let's use the term mixed reality.

In customer experience mixed reality empowers consumers to:

  • Try before you buy 
  • Enable virtual browsing
  • Offer digital contextual guidance          
  • Provide personalized fan experiences

For the enterprise, the primary benefit is in training with things like:

  • Virtual operating room, virtual aircraft
  • Just-in-time training
  • Decision support--cognitive guidance

Finally there's business insights to help get ahead of issues before they occur:

  • Data visualization and decision support
  • Preventive maintenance

Where is this happening in real life?  Last fall, Macy's expanded its partnership with virtual reality startup Marxent Labs to help the retailer reduce return rates on furniture.  Marxent will soon operate at Macy's in 70 stores nationwide, with plans to spread to 20 more locations in early 2019. After pilot tests at 3 stores, Macy's reports product returns decreased to under 2 percent for VR-influenced furniture sales. New robust experiences like these can drive profitability for businesses of all sizes by offering customers a test drive, demo or way to visualize a product in their space and on their terms. 

While extended reality offers a myriad of benefits to retailers, high upfront costs remain a barrier to adoption for some.  That said new devices like the Oculus Go may make the experience more accessible and attainable for all audiences, while low code developing environments should pave the way for broader accessibility and adoption.  For AR to truly prove its worth we need to see companies move beyond proof of concepts and pilots and usher in an era of broad and consistent AR deployment across multiple sectors.