Remember the days before smartphones? Yes, I'm referring to that primitive era--pre-2007--when we relied on Garmin for directions, desktop computers to manage our calendars, and Blackberry to send emails and make phone calls.

While it's mind-boggling to figure out how we managed to survive such dark times, what's more interesting is that in another five or ten years, we'll likely wonder the same thing about one of today's emerging technologies.

What will that can't-live-without tech be? Only time will tell, but the rising popularity of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and voice-activated assistance is something business leaders should be paying close attention to.

While these technologies have been around for quite some time, they are currently gaining some serious commercial traction. AR made a name for itself during the Pokémon Go craze, VR is garnering a lot of attention in the gamer space, and KPCB is reporting a meteoric rise in voice assistance just on mobile devices over the last three years.

Changing everyday life

Technologies like AR, VR, and voice-activated assistance provide us with new ways to experience everyday life. You can now place an order while driving or try a product without ever leaving the house. This not only enables you to do more in less time but provides businesses with the opportunity to use this tech to improve the customer experience.

Mind you, investing in these technologies is not a one-size-fits-all solution that will shower ROI down onto your organization. Smart business leaders that implement this tech will do so not because it's popular, but because they discovered an innovative way to use it that will improve the customer journey.

Here are a few real-world examples of how these technologies are used at a commercial level by savvy brands that aren't taking them for granted.

Augmented reality

If you need an easy example of AR in action, just download the Snapchat app and play around with the filters. The overlays will enhance your photo or video, adding a digital layer to the physical world.

And speaking of Snapchat, this app's popularity amongst Millennials is likely what prompted beauty store, Sephora, to create an AR component geared toward their customers. This store is popular among adolescent age groups so creating an AR app with an interface that's similar to Snapchat is a natural fit for the tech. App users can now fire up the Sephora Virtual Artist in the iOS app to digitally try out different looks before buying.

Virtual reality

Over the next few years, most of the VR usage might be relegated to the gamer community, but there are still several ways businesses can take advantage. In-game advertising experiences are, of course, a possibility, but there is much more that brands can do.

Lowe's, for example, recently introduced their Holoroom How To, which offers a virtual reality DIY "hands-on" training experience. Customers can use these virtual classes to learn how to tile a bathroom or paint a fence. These new VR classes are just the latest development in Lowe's AR/VR strategy--this company has embraced and used this emerging tech since 2014.

Voice activated technology

The potential use cases for voice-activated assistance can certainly expand beyond the customer service department. There are several ways businesses can use this tech to improve the customer experience--and even partner with other brands. In fact, LG partnered with Alexa and now uses the AI assistant inside of the Smart InstaView fridge. Now consumers can use Alexa to order food and groceries via Amazon when inventory gets low.

Meanwhile, Domino's has invested in voice-activated assistance since the tech's early days in 2013. The company has even decided to double-down on this tech and recently added AI capabilities to their app. The new platform, named Dominions Robotics Unit (DRU), engages with customers using human-like conversation via the voice-activated app.

Final word

Business leaders are faced with numerous challenges when it comes to determining which of the leading edge tech is a fad versus which could be the next smartphone. The best advice I can give is to A) be aware of the technology that's out there, particularly when something starts to gain commercial traction and B) brainstorm with your team to determine how you might use this tech to delight your customers. With the right type of innovation, your company might be the one who implements this technology in such a revolutionary way that customers no longer see it as "nice to have" but "can't live without."