Improving on reality: What AR and VR mean for SMEs

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Goldman Sachs estimates the size of the VR/AR market may reach $182bn by 2025. Scott Shillum, head of VisMedia, finds out why.

The age of virtual and augmented reality is upon us. Like the Bronze Age, Stone Age and Industrial Age before it, the advantage possible to the early adopter will be significant and potentially game-changing. And it’s not just for the big boys.

The technology moves fast in this ground-breaking area. Over the past 12 months, the quality of output and equipment has risen and price has fallen bringing the technique well into the SME budget.

In 2015 Google commissioned an immersive tour of the Abbey Road Studios to showcase what amazing things can be done with new browser technology. Have a look. If you’re a music fan, like me, you could explore for hours (insideabbeyroad.withgoogle.com/en).

At VisMedia we have utilised that technology and new developments in hardware and software to create an immersive tour of the SkyGarden at the top of the Walkie Talkie building (20 Fenchurch Street) in London to showcase the amazing space that is 36 floors up in the sky (skygarden360.co.uk).

Although you will initially view these tours on a desktop, laptop or tablet screen they can also be turned into apps that can enable them to be viewed in a VR headset creating a truly incredible experience.

Goldman Sachs estimates the size of the VR/AR market for hardware and software as between $80bn and a staggering $182bn by 2025. So, clearly they don’t see it as a passing fad.

If 2016 was the year when the general public became aware of the technology, 2017 is going to be the year when companies really understand the opportunities to reach their respective audiences in ways that were unimaginable a few years ago.

So what is the difference between AR and VR?

The dictionary definition of VR or virtual reality is “An artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment”.

However, you can also put real 360 video and photography content into a VR environment so in effect it becomes “reality reality”. AR or augmented reality is when you view an imagined or software-created environment overlaid on a real one. The best example is the phenomenally successful Pokémon Go. With the likes of Facebook (with Oculus) Google (with Daydream), Sony, HTC, Microsoft and Apple all spending billions of dollars on this technology you know that we are at the start of a new era of engagement.

Communication is key to success in business – and in life too. If people understand what you’re doing and why, what you’re offering and how it can help, they are more likely to engage with you. Engagement leads to sales and that affects the bottom line. But it isn’t just about retail and that classic B2C play. Training and productivity are another two areas that can be enhanced by using this new communications medium. More informed colleagues with a better understanding of strategy and what is expected of them, will be more engaged.

We’re currently working with a number of financial institutions and trade bodies on enhancing and improving their training experience.

Ok, so the technology is there and we have identified the possible areas that can, and will, be disrupted but, like all areas, you need creativity to thrive. SMEs are rich in this resource – they have to be. As the owner of an SME for many years I know how much we rely on creativity to drive profitable change within our own organisation and to produce engaging content for clients.

I love working with people to solve their problems through visual media – we’ve always worked that way. VR and AR give us professionals at communications agencies a new tool in our armoury to help our customers. It’s always been a creative industry but this adds to the spectrum of possibilities in an extraordinarily rich way. It’s more fun for us and more engaging for you.