In the tech world, 2016 has arguably been the year virtual reality (VR) has been introduced to the masses. From the Oculus Rift to Samsung’s Gear VR and Playstation’s VR headsets, headlines have been dominated with how gamers are being immersed in new environments.
While we’re only going to see more progress with VR in 2017, I predict it won’t be a breakthrough year while the cost of headsets and the requirement for high spec equipment prevent many from being able to access it. For businesses looking to adopt new technology to achieve a commercial edge, there are however some advancements I’d recommend looking out for in 2017.
The AR/ MR revolution
Looking ahead to the autumn, I predict we’ll see augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) explode. When it comes to developments in these areas, all eyes will be on the launch of the iPhone 8 and after a relatively quiet few years, 2017 could be the revolutionary year we’ve been waiting for.
The rumour mill has been in overdrive since Apple’s acquisitions of businesses like 3D sensor company Primesense. I expect 2017 will be the year we see the results of some of these acquisitions, which could in turn lead to a much wider acceptance or AR and MR in people’s day to day lives.
Slow and steady for VR
I’ll be keeping an eye on mobile VR in 2017 as this tech will be opened up to a much wider audience thanks to the likes of the Google Daydream which is a reference platform for mobile VR. Consumers will now be able to immerse themselves in new worlds using a very cost effective headset which is compatible with certain Android phones.
While content for these devices is fairly limited currently, we’ll only see more people engaging with VR. The next step will be for businesses to identify commercial opportunities which will really make a difference to bottom lines.
Retailers – problem solving through tech
In the retail space, we’ve already seen several investing in great instore VR experiences which are positive for brand awareness and loyalty, but do little for driving additional online business which is such a key focus for retailers. In 2017 and beyond, retailers keen to capitilise on the latest tech should think about their end users and the specific problems they face. Then identify ways in which technology could provide a solution.
Take online fashion retail for instance. There is arguably a huge opportunity to solve the ‘problem’ of consumers not knowing if a garment will fit or suit them before they buy. While some big players have attempted to look at this, no-one has cracked it. The current offerings aren’t accurate enough and therefore haven’t resulted in conversions.
At DigitalBridge we have zeroed in on a specific problem in the home décor sector which research shows consumers face - the ‘imagination gap’. This occurs when shoppers delay or decide against buying items like wallpaper, carpets or furniture as they can’t picture what it will look like in their own homes. These are often high cost items and consumers are fearful of making the wrong decision.
A YouGov survey commissioned by DigitalBridge during our initial start-up phase revealed that 70 per cent of customers had experienced this problem in the past, with many saying the mental block has stopped them from making purchases. This could represent a significant missed opportunity for retailers in this space.
We’ve created an online tool which solves the problem of the imagination gap using augmented, virtual and mixed reality to allow consumers to ‘try on’ products from a retailer’s catalogue in their own rooms. The end users will be consumers who can take a picture of their room with a smartphone or tablet. The technology then automatically recognises the walls, floors and lighting conditions in the room. The user can then test out different products from a retailers’ catalogues before making a big design decision. The technology can recognise light and shade and other objects in the room to provide an accurate image. It’s essentially an ‘undo’ button for interior design.
The key to ensuring customers are able to engage with the platform is to not relying on advanced technology. It needs to be something that anyone with a smartphone or tablet can use and in 2017 consumers shopping with big DIY retailers will be able to use such technologies when planning their home décor projects.
Other ones to watch
Looking at some of the other developments which have grabbed headlines in recent years, I think we’ll see a slight slow down and re-focus on wearables. As FitBit has recently acquired Kickstarter product Pebble, I expect there will be less of a focus on watches and more on fitness and notifications.
The other huge issue that no business or retailer can afford to ignore is cyber security. The latest announcements from Yahoo suggest that 1 billion users have had their data breached. This is a sixth of the world’s population. This is only set to become a bigger issue in 2017 as businesses work relentlessly to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals.
We’re certainly not going to see a slowdown in new tech developments in 2017. For me I think the most exciting developments will be in augmented and mixed reality. In the background some pioneering tech start-ups have been working to bring mixed reality into the commercial arena and boost the bottom line for businesses that are able to take advantage of it.
This will be particularly significant in retail where it will allow customers to preview and virtually ‘try on’ products before buying them.