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Augmented Reality

Augmented and virtual reality provide an immersive experience with simulations of real or imagined environments using three-dimensional graphics and audio. Augmented reality (AR) involves bringing simulated objects into a user’s world, while virtual reality (VR) brings the user into a simulated world. Both AR and VR rely on special equipment, such as head-mounted displays, earphones and haptic controllers, to deliver these experiences.

While the technologies are still in the early stages of adoption, virtual reality is more widely used so far. The availability of cheaper sensors and demand for realistic human-tech interactions are unlocking more possibilities for augmented and virtual reality.

How companies use augmented reality

Companies adopting augmented reality tend to sell products and services to other businesses, but consumer-oriented products are on the horizon. B2B uses of augmented reality include:

  • Industrials. An oil and gas company might use AR to handle remote diagnostics and maintenance, or to create machine-assisted workflows.
  • Healthcare. Hospitals and physicians can use these tools to offer remote appointments and diagnostics, as well as to assist in surgeries.
  • Training and education. In healthcare, for example, AR can be used to train providers.

Companies use virtual reality to target consumers in the following ways:

  • Gaming. Enthusiasts can experience first-person simulations and fantasy locales.
  • Entertainment and media. Companies can create experiences around concerts, events, news, travel and immersive journalism.
  • Retail. Shoppers can browse virtual malls and showrooms, view interactive ads and signs, and even “try on” clothes.
  • Training. Aviation companies, for example, can train pilots to use new equipment.

Key considerations with augmented reality

Augmented and virtual reality can only take off when all sides of the ecosystem are in place, specifically:

  • Hardware. AR and VR require specialized equipment with the right sensors, processing power, battery life and form factor, among other characteristics. Virtual reality usually relies on standalone devices or those tethered to a smartphone or computer. Augmented reality headsets are no longer just a cool tech gadget, but also a fashion item.
  • Content. Virtual reality depends on having the right game or entertainment content, while augmented reality relies on vertical-specific applications. In either case, companies typically decide whether to have a closed ecosystem (as with game consoles) or an open ecosystem that attracts third-party developers (as with smartphones). The former ensures quality and a great user experience, while the latter might generate more apps and innovation.
  • Data transmission and analytics. Companies can develop these capabilities either in-house or through partnerships. Data and analytics will be especially important for consumer-facing augmented reality tools, if AR glasses are ever going to displace smartphones. Companies must also transmit and process massive amounts of data—with potential help from 5G network technology and machine learning algorithms—and decide where to compute it. Equipping devices with real-time analytics requires more computing power locally, and the battery size and capacity to match. Analytics that involves large data sets or latency usually requires cloud storage.
  • Users. Consumers and enterprises must perceive compelling value before they adopt augmented and virtual reality. Businesses typically want to see proven returns on investment before they jump in, while consumers seek attractive hardware design and robust app ecosystems.
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