First there was Pokemon Go. Today, augmented reality is growing.

For years, technicians have imagined that AR technology – which can overlay digital content over real-world images – would lead to the next major change in computing. This vision has long seemed out of reach. But a string of recent investments and announcements suggest the time for AR has finally arrived.

Several industry leaders are betting big on technology, including building dedicated augmented reality (AR) headsets. Last month, Snap unveiled its latest Spectacles prototype and bought AR display component supplier WaveOptics for more than $ 500 million. Facebook Inc. has more than 6,000 employees working on its virtual reality (VR) and AR projects. And Apple Inc. is reportedly developing a VR headset with some AR features for possible release in 2022.

It is clear that companies are anticipating a wave of AR. In May, Snap Inc. unveiled a marketplace where brands can potentially connect with 200,000 creators of augmented reality experiences. At the same event, the company announced the possibility of adding gesture and voice control capabilities to product catalogs where consumers can virtually try on clothes and accessories without touching the screen.

This week, Apple announced that it will add AR functionality to Maps. Meanwhile, an undercover part of last year’s iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max launch was the first inclusion of special depth-sensing lasers called LiDARs. The new sensors can scan real-world environments and capture the three-dimensional spatial data needed for superior AR graphics fidelity and photo realism. The growing prevalence of LiDAR-enabled devices has already enabled a range of innovative new AR applications.

More details on the future of AR were revealed during the Apple-Epic Games Inc. antitrust lawsuit. Owning to its ownership of the widely used Unreal programming engine, Epic has a unique insight into emerging industry trends. of the game. It was therefore revealing when Apple’s lawyer cited an internal board presentation in which the Fortnite maker indicated the need to act quickly before the AR took off and to further strengthen the high pricing structure of the App Store. The fact that Epic went on to sue the world’s most powerful company shows just how seriously Epic takes AR’s impending rise.

The potential economic implications of broad adoption of AR are vast. Despite being a free-to-play mobile game, Pokemon Go is AR’s biggest achievement to date and a compelling example of how it can impact consumer behavior. The mobile app has prompted hundreds of millions of people to venture outside to find, fight, and capture virtual creatures at physical locations. And real-life businesses have taken advantage. According to a university study, restaurants that were virtual stops inside the game generated an increase in foot traffic, better online reviews and an increase in sales of more than 4% on average. The game’s publisher, Niantic Inc., has made $ 4 billion in revenue since the app’s release in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that Pokemon Go was based on rudimentary augmented reality with basic cartoon-like overlays. Imagine what is possible with new technologies. Ecommerce software company Shopify Inc. said last September that product pages with augmented reality experiences resulted in a 94% higher conversion rate compared to traditional listings. I expect businesses to find more effective ways to reach customers as they get used to the latest tools.

After years of being an original technology on the periphery, now AR can truly be the next big thing. The confluence of major advances in software and hardware, along with the big bets of the smartest entrepreneurs, lay the foundation for the breakthrough in technology. Prepare to tie up.

(This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron’s, after a previous career as an equity analyst.)

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