5G and Wi-Fi connectivity, multiplying volumetric video stages, smartphone developments, live broadcast experiences and avatar population growth are all expanding the marketing for augmented reality in 2022.
AR market watcher Tom Emrich reports 22 trends to watch in 2022; here’s a brief look at the eight biggest ones.
Smartphones Remain the Essential AR Machine
While 2022 will certainly deliver news and launches around AR devices worn on the head, the smartphone is still where the biggest opportunity is for consumer augmented reality.
Expect a new A16 chip from Apple with faster processing and high performing machine learning, foldable displays from Samsung and Google that increase the field of view for AR experiences, and a huge focus on more powerful low latency connectivity using 5G C-Band and WiFi 6E.
Perhaps more importantly, says Emrich, the features on today’s flagship smartphones will find their way to more affordable devices, “providing an opportunity for AR to be experienced by an even wider audience.”
Consumer MR Devices Emerging
Mixed Reality headsets designed for VR but capable of “video passthrough AR” could take off as the giants of the industry debut new gear.
Expect to learn more about the launch plans and specs on Meta’s Project Cambria and Google’s Project Iris, and possibly confirmation of similar devices from Microsoft, Samsung and Apple. When you combine this with retina display technology, foveated rendering using eye-tracking, and WiFi 6E, “the right ingredients are here to enable a consumer MR device,” says Emrich.
Nonetheless he thinks these launches more likely in 2023/2024.
C-Band 5G and Wi-Fi 6E Connectivity
2021 saw all three networks in the US achieve nationwide 5G coverage, and all of the marquee smartphones launched last year boasted 5G support. “But that’s not enough to unlock the faster speeds and lower latencies needed to take AR and VR to new heights,” says Emrich. “This is where the C-Band 5G networks come in to play.”
C-Band implementations in the US have been delayed. Rollout this year is expected to deliver “a markedly improved network performance,” but the frequencies which will deliver even greater speeds are not expected to be cleared until the end of 2023.
Like 5G C-Band, Wi-Fi 6E promises faster wireless speeds and lower latencies, in addition to less signal interference for networked devices, which creates a more stable and reliable connection. The opening of the 6GHz band is the biggest spectrum addition to Wi-Fi since 1989. The 6GHz band allows for internet speeds of greater than 1Gbps while WiFi 6E is expected to provide faster connectivity without any bandwidth drop due to other devices also in use.
However, users will need to have devices capable of connecting to 5G C-Band and WiFi-6E — another reason to either upgrade or stall AR growth.
Spatial Audio Becomes the Default Listening Experience
Immersive experiences cannot be fully immersive without being multi-sensory.
The latest Apple devices, such as AirPods Pro, feature spatial audio with dynamic head tracking and content partners like Netflix, Spotify and Apple Music. This year, Google will also begin supporting full head tracking for spatial audio on Android. Meanwhile, W3C, Dolby and High Fidelity joined Apple in providing spatial audio APIs for developers to use.
“This will further cement spatial audio as the new default audio experience for music and entertainment,” Emrich says. “We may also see next-gen hardware solution further personalize the audio experience, making the spatial audio listening experience feel even more real.”
Volumetric Video Stages Open Content Options
Volumetric capture stages are springing up at a phenomenal rate worldwide, in part accelerated by Covid-hit location travel logistics, in part to take advantage of increasingly affordable and practicable technologies and also to capitalize on demand for content to fill the metaverse.
Emrich points to real-time holograms from 8i, and applications such as Volu from Volograms, which aim to democratize the creation of holograms to the masses using a smartphone camera.
Continued growth in these areas is likely with advancements in capture hardware enabling a more portable setup, new features for editing and playback, and a distinct focus on bringing volumetric video into the mainstream whether through studios or by making use of the smartphone camera and LiDAR sensors.
AR Brings Live TV Into the Metaverse
AR creates a bridge to bring television to the metaverse in two ways.
Firstly, live broadcast events — award shows, sports — will dive deeper into the use of AR to enhance the viewing experience. “The graphics will only be able to viewed on TV but the experience in watching will feel much like the augmented reality experiences becoming more widely available outside of broadcast,” says Emrich.
Also, broadcast will prioritize companion AR experiences with ads and programming to bring the content viewers in the home. This will be facilitated by QR codes on screen or in-app downloads which link to immersive content.
“This makes the viewer a more active participant in the content often taking them deeper into the storytelling. These AR experiences not only present a new opportunity for those in television to attract and engage audiences in new ways but they will also allow them to measure these experiences in ways they couldn’t do inside the flat screen.”
The Avatar Wars Have Begun
The race to have you create and invest in a digital self is already underway, with tech giants such as Apple, Meta, Snapchat, TikTok, Microsoft, Roblox and Epic Games (Fornite) all promoting their own avatar systems.
“Your online identity has always been important but embodying it with an avatar and using this to represent you online and in virtual spaces and experiences will be a serious trend in 2022, especially as more metaverse experiences become available for us to use them in.”
A key component is cross-platform capability; “the more places you can bring your digital self the stronger your relationship is with this avatar.”
“Your online identity has always been important but embodying it with an avatar and using this to represent you online and in virtual spaces and experiences will be a serious trend in 2022, especially as more metaverse experiences become available for us to use them in.”— Tom Emrich
Startup, Ready Player Me, has an advantage with its avatar system which is touted as “the passport to the metaverse.” But Snap’s Bitmoji SDK for Games, and even Meta’s recent update to unify its avatar system across its own apps, suggest larger players are also moving in this direction.
The growing importance of creating a digital double will in turn cause many people to spend money on goods and experiences for their digital self — including AR experiences. Look no further than fashion brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren already benefiting from digital apparel.
The Future of Work
For all the activity in the consumer space, AR right now is bigger business in the enterprise.
Magic Leap 2 is expected to launch this year. Twice as powerful as the first generation, Magic Leap 2 also features a greatly expanded vertical FOV, 18 built-in cameras and sensors to enhance real-world tracking and dynamic dimming to make it possible to see 3D content in brighter environments.
Microsoft’s third-generation enterprise MR headset, HoloLens, is likely due in 2024.
The most active industries using MR headwear is military, manufacturing and healthcare.
Peggy Johnson, Magic Leap’s new CEO, summed up the reason nicely in a Bloomberg interview. It’s easiest to make inroads, she said, with “industries that are used to wearing something on their eyes.”