People think of the iPhone and the smartphones it inspired as “revolutionary” devices.
But we’re on the cusp of something that could represent an even bigger transformation in computing: augmented reality.
Augmented reality, or AR, overlays digital images on top of views of the real world. And it’s something that many in the tech industry, including the head honchos at Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and Google, all expect will be the next big thing.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that he thinks AR could replace anything in your life with a screen, including your TV. Even sooner than that, many tech experts think AR could one day replace your smartphone. After all, why carry a separate phone if your e-mails, texts, calls, and spreadsheets are projected straight into your field of view?
AR may sound like science fiction, but it’s already starting to make its way into the real world. And one of the first places you can see it is in the workplace, whether that’s the front-office or the factory floor.
While factory workers, technicians, and maintenance workers have used AR for decades, you’ll rarely find AR being used by office workers. After all, why would office workers need to wear headsets that display holographic information? And coupled with the fact that the computers and corresponding software applications office workers have been using seem rather intuitive, it doesn’t really make sense to use AR in the office – or does it?
Architects and designers have been turning to AR to overcome some of the productivity limitations inherent to working with 3D models and designs in 2D (our brains have evolved to become finely attuned to navigating the 3D world around us). And while powerful CAD and modeling software like SolidWorks and Revit (along with more traditional tools like pencils and paper) continue to help architects and designers, AR architectural applications like Schema – which enable users to quickly concept, prototype, and build 3D structures in the first stage of the architectural design process – are further streamlining architects’ existing workflows.
It’s one thing to analyze rows of data across several Excel sheets. It’s another thing creating charts and graphs that clearly communicate what the data means. And while it’s considered best practice to refrain from displaying 3D bar charts or lines on a 2D surface such as papers and screens, those 3D bar charts and lines become useful and add an extra layer of informational cues that help people better understand the data they’re interpreting.
That’s a consideration that Great Wave, a professional services firm with extensive experience in developing business and productivity apps, has taken into account as part of their work on data visualization for AR. They recently built an application, Analytics AR, that takes organizations’ Salesforce sales data and visualizes the data in AR so that users can do what they’ve always wanted to do: touch and directly manipulate the data they’re analyzing. Not only does Analytics AR make data analysis and visualization more compelling, but it allows people to literally dive and dig into their data.
Enterprises will likely benefit from that fervor as well. As we can already see the early examples of enterprise-class AR, there’s a real need for businesses to interact with computers in a way that goes beyond what you can do with a smartphone or PC.