7 Key Trends in Augmented Reality for 2018-2020
Andrew Makarov

The Apple WWDC and Augmented World Expo were two events that indicated the direction of augmented reality technology trends for 2018. Both showed us the present state of AR technology and where it's likely to go in the next couple of years. Below are 7 trends that will keep garnering attention in the field of AR.

1. AR on Mobile Platforms is Transforming the Market

Apple established itself as a leader of the AR market after bringing the technology to mass audiences using its mobile devices. At WWDC 2018, they revealed ARKit 2.0, which put mobile AR technologies on the same level as those for AR headsets. Some of the improvements were not surprising, such as rendering, measuring, and tracking features, but they also added detection of 3D objects and environmental lighting, which is a major incentive for adopting Apple's ARKit.

Apple's announcement also covered the addition of a new AR file format and persistent AR spaces. Named Universal Scene Description (USDZ) basing on Pixar's existing one, this new file format was announced open for third-party vendors to use in their AR apps.

2. The Present of AR Headsets is Still Murky

Augmented World Expo featured a host of AR and MR headsets that were just not quite ready for prime time in the AR market, which leaves AR technology observers still unsure about the future of headset AR. It's a niche lacking a clear lead company driving its development forwards. Microsoft's HoloLens had looked like a contender, but difficulty of use and price issues continue to be barriers.

3. AR Innovation Continues to be the Focus of R&D

Innovative solutions to common and unaddressed problems will continue to be the way to success in business, especially when it comes to technology products. AR technology is not different. One of the difficulties companies continue to face is the need to find a compelling problem that AR solves for consumers.

We found a number of compelling innovative solutions showcased at 2018's Augmented World Expo. Some of the solutions were all about AR for indoor navigation. Those products hit all the features we'd expect from such an application, such as providing starting points, scene positioning, and marks, but user experience was lacking because they sacrificed performance for high-quality visuals.

Still, these AR apps show promise. They just need to fine-tune their performance and user friendliness. SDKs like Apple's ARKit
will make it easier for developers to focus on UX and less on the back end performance of their AR software.

4. AR User Experience is Improving

Finding ways to make gesture recognition better in AR apps was a common topic of conversation at AWE, but we also found the subject of tracking the direction of a user's gaze interesting. Intuitive user controls were on the menu for most developers to make user experience natural enough to give AR software mass appeal. In the case of gaze detection, it means having the software focus on objects that a user's eyes look at, which is the natural way vision works in the real world. We don't expect to have to turn our heads to look at something in front of us. It's easier to detect head movements than direction of gaze, but easier implementation does not mean better experience.

One company we visited at the Expo was working on reducing the lag that happens when the AR view tracks back and forth, which reduces the immersive feeling of VR apps. Even when the lags were only a few milliseconds, they were distracting or even uncomfortable for users. Attention to such details becomes a vital part of product success.

5. Watch for XR to Turn Into a Major Trend

Extended Reality is turning into the umbrella buzzword that encompasses Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR). Extended Reality creates an acronym to cover them all: XR. Given that all three of these technologies add or alter the reality we live in, it does seem apt to conveniently unite them under a single banner.

6. Entertainment is Still the Main Game in Town for XR Software

There are many business use cases that can apply to XR apps, but entertainment is still the path of least resistance as companies grapple with the need to develop XR apps with mass appeal.

When XR technologies become mature enough to find its way into widespread business solutions remains to be seen. But where Apple showed shared AR inside a game, we saw opportunities for, say, shared operations or education. The rapid development of the current AR makes it more viable for both business owners and development companies .

7. Evolution Gradually Replaces Revolution

The hype of "revolutionary" technologies may be in the past, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Technologies embrace evolution, gradually become more mature, find practical uses, gain acceptance, becoming the basis for digital transformation. Now it's time for businesses to stir their own mini-revolutions with innovative products in their respective domains.

2018 may not be the year that AR technologies achieve a substantial breakthrough, but technology leaders like Apple are still on board with bringing it to mass audiences. At the AWE, we even saw demand for cross-platform AR, as some people are interested in using browsers instead of downloading mobile apps.