Technological innovation has accelerated to the degree that our world is gradually seeing a melding of realities.
Conversations around virtual reality (VR), augmented reality and mixed reality as emerging technologies have been on the rise. According to Statista, it is estimated that the projected economic impact of VR and augmented reality technologies will be $15.6 billion by 2020.
Mixed reality is the convergence of the real world and virtual reality. The implications for entertainment are clear. When it comes to the communications field, thoughts immediately drift to immersive campaigns with advertisers preoccupied with conveying “immersive brand stories”. This usually leads to 360-degree videos of folks selling solar panels, for no other reason than the novelty of the technology in question.
However, the benefits go far beyond mere novelty.
Thanks to the Oculus, the HTC Vive and our smartphones, VR and AR are gateway technologies to a mixed-reality future. Anyone who has ever tried an HTC Vive and seen the swirling colours first-hand in 3D, or witnessed graphics jump off a cereal box through their phone, would agree that entertainment has definitely been taken care of.
VR takes you somewhere else … but blocks out the real world. There is far greater utility to AR as it adds a layer of digital engagement and augmentation to the physical world, but is restricted to the 2D plane of a screen, with your mobile device being the door to an enriched world.
Mixed reality is the penultimate goal. It removes the 2D augmentation plane of AR and the real-world blindness of VR. MR is the future that Google Glass envisioned, and what Microsoft HoloLens is pushing forward with its newly launched development kit.
However, utility and mass adoption are blocked by two elements at this stage: the first is sheer bulk. No one wants to run around with a giant facial halo strapped to their head, swiping away at imaginary objects.
The second is the cost of usage. This does not just refer to the price point for entry into a MR world, but also the short battery life and travel limitations. Again, no one wants to walks around with an electrical umbilical cord dangling from their head as they push around a massive generator to power their experience.
What does the future hold? A hassle-free engagement through better battery technologies, like those emerging out of Asia, and faster self-charging times will accelerate MR adoption and development. As will smaller, more reality-integrated technology.
Devices like the Vive, Oculus and HoloLens will appear in informatics the same way old-school mobile phones from the 1990s did, comparing their size and appearance to slimmer, sleeker technology with everyday wear in mind.
We can also expect a convergence of technologies, such as the physical web, mixed reality and AI, where each will play a role in the world, creating a connected, intuitive, screenless layer of interactive augmentation.
The coming years will see everything and anything connected, and functioning as a screen before us. Every surface will be our workspace. What does all this mean for communications? Hyper-personalisation, in which news preferences and location-based services are personalised from historical data and integrated AI, will make it harder for messages to break through our traditional media bubble and achieve organic traction.
The more information we control, the less we will see things that we do not want to see. As a communicator, how do you adapt to that world — and more importantly, to the changes that are already happening?
We are so reliant on the ever-flowing market research that is freely available social data. But what do we do when that public sharing moves to private sharing, such as ephemeral Instagram stories and Snapchat? Conversations will essentially go dark and ephemeral.
Will the new technology force consumers to forego real-world interaction, much like the unprecedented and short-lived Pokémon Go phenomenon? Or will the fact that it’s merely another layer free us up to engage in the real world, instead of burying our heads in yet another screen. I assume the latter, but only time will tell. It may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, and as exciting or as scary as the implications are, the future is right here on our doorstep. One day, our kids will wonder aloud about how we used to connect without a lens and we will find ourselves fondly reminiscing about screens.
The writer is Regional Director and Global Innovation Lead, Social & Innovation, FleishmanHillard M.E.