Innovation in the software development world is constantly marching forward.
A couple of decades ago, virtual reality (VR) was a little more than a failed experiment, with abhorrent graphics, clunky hardware, a barely functional UI, and disorientation for everyone who used it.
Today, VR is heavily used in video games and interactive social experiences. It’s lighter, cheaper, graphically stunning, and truly immersive.
But we prefer looking at the future, rather than the present.
We can’t help but wonder: what’s next for VR and related mixed reality technologies?
What Is Mixed Reality?
First, let’s define our terms.
Mixed reality is sometimes used to describe a bucket of different related technologies – most notably augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). AR integrates technology with real-world experiences, layering graphical interfaces or interactive elements over your surroundings. VR is typically fully immersive, putting you in the middle of a virtual world and making you feel as if that world were real.
However, mixed reality is beginning to be used to describe the combination and interaction of AR and VR, rather than just referring to these technologies by a collective name.
According to Deloitte, “Mixed reality (MR) represents the controlled collision of the AR/VR and IoT trends. With MR, the virtual and real worlds come together to create new environments in which both digital and physical objects—and their data—can coexist and interact with one another.”
In this article, we’ll be referring to mixed reality spaces in both ways.
Where We Are
Both augmented reality and virtual reality have seen increased adoption in recent years due to a number of advancements, improving both the quality and accessibility of these virtual experiences.
These days, you can pick up a cheap, self-contained VR headset for a few hundred dollars. if you want a more advanced, more immersive system, you can spend a few grand on a beefy computer and more advanced VR hardware. And almost anyone can access AR experiences using nothing more than a smartphone.
As recently as a few years ago, VR and AR were considered technologies still in their infancy; brands were reluctant to invest in these technologies because they were seen as gimmicks that weren’t fully fleshed out.
Now, VR and AR are much more mainstream and companies of all shapes and sizes are brainstorming how they can use them to their advantage. This sets the stage for a massive explosion of developmental innovation in the mixed reality field.
What types of applications and advancements are coming next?
Wireless and Cloud Services
One of the biggest complaints users have about VR is its physical clumsiness. For the best possible experience today, you need a bulky headset that’s attached to bulky hardware with multiple fixed wires. Wireless headsets exist, but they provide an inferior experience in a few different ways.
In the future, we’ll probably see the development of much better wireless VR technology as well as cloud services that allow people to tap into processing power without purchasing hardware on their own. Imagine a reality in which you can put on a lightweight, comfortable, wireless headset and use remote, cloud processing power the same way you’d retrieve files stored in the cloud.
This move could make mixed reality experiences more accessible, more affordable, and more convenient, improving experiences and bringing more people to this platform.
Virtual Mirrors in Retail
Already, we’re starting to see the emergence of “smart mirrors,” which provide immersive, reality-bending experiences to shoppers in real-time. On the surface, the mirror looks completely normal. But when you interact with it, you can make adjustments to your appearance – virtually trying on clothes, evaluating accessories, and even seeing how you look with different glasses or makeup.
For retailers, this is valuable for a few main reasons.
The obvious benefit is that it introduces more products to more people and does so faster and more efficiently. Consumers have a fast and interesting shopping experience, enticing them to buy more products. This is also useful as an attraction to draw more people into the physical world store. AR mirrors aren’t typically found in residential households – at least not yet.
We’re only scratching the surface of what AR mirrors are capable of; in the future, they may be able to provide even more immersive and interesting experiences to shoppers.
Education and Training
Mixed reality experiences are awesome tools for education and training. Instead of reading about how surgeries are performed in a textbook, medical students can try completing a surgery on a virtual patient. Instead of dissecting real frogs, high school students can dissect virtual models of frogs and get a nearly identical educational experience.
Mixed reality is also an unexplored ground for exercising creativity. Students can learn how to draw, model, and create their own 3D experiences using mixed reality technology – and then explore them as they see fit.
The only reason we haven’t seen more mixed reality experiences in education and training is because of the currently steep cost. Once mixed reality tech gets cheaper and more widely available, we’ll likely see it in classrooms at all levels and all across the country.
When it was first introduced, native advertising revolutionized the world of digital ads. Instead of seeing clearly paid, sponsored posts, users could see and interact with ads that were somewhat disguised as “native” content. The most common application here was to frame ads as journalistic stories on a news website.
But the next frontier for native advertising and marketing across the mixed reality spectrum. Inserting products, brands, services, and other valuable materials into a fully immersive VR experience or AR experience could be a great way to introduce people to what you’re selling. You could also think of this as next-level product placement.
Travel and Tourism
The COVID-19 pandemic crippled the travel and tourism industry, forcing most people to stay indoors. But what if you could monetize the people who choose to stay home rather than traveling?
That’s the idea behind the next major advancement in mixed reality as it applies to travel and tourism. Instead of relying purely on foot traffic, museums can create interactive exhibits that anyone can access from home. To entice more people to visit the country, tourism departments can provide prospective travelers with fully immersive experiences that simulate what it’s like to visit the country.
Soon, almost anything you can do in real life will be available in a mixed reality environment. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect substitution, but it could be an attractive opportunity to generate revenue and public hype.
Comfort and User Experience
Another sequence of advancements to anticipate is improved comfort and user experience.
If you’ve ever worn a VR headset or mixed reality glasses for an intense gaming session, you know the weight of the device can tire you out after just a few hours. And we’ve already covered the inconvenience that awkward wires can introduce.
Mixed reality developers typically want their users to continue engaging with the system for as long as possible – so user comfort and better user experience are crucial.
We can reduce this to a handful of major problems to solve:
- Weight and feel. Devices and controllers should be as light and unnoticeable as possible.
- Disorientation control. Many users still get motion sickness in certain mixed reality environments. How can we reduce this?
- Intuitiveness. You shouldn’t need a background in IT or development to get a VR system up and running. Literally anyone should be able to get started.
More Advanced Tracking
The earliest iterations of VR headsets featured only the most minimalistic forms of tracking: following your head movements with a headset and following your hand movements with handheld wands or controllers. Now, headsets are much more sophisticated, and controllers can track the movement of not only your hands, but your individual fingers. Support for leg movement and ambulation are included in some systems as well.
But in the near future, we’ll be in store for much more advanced tracking. Instead of just tracking your head movements, headsets could track your eye movements. The sophistication of finger and hand tracking may improve to the point of allowing nearly full levels of personal dexterity. And eventually, people may be trackable across their entire bodies – not unlike CGI motion capture suits.
Power and Efficiency
We’re also in store for major breakthroughs in terms of the power and efficiency of mixed reality systems. All the standard specs are going to improve, including graphical resolution, audio quality, fluidity of motion, realistic interactive elements, and even power efficiency.
Engineers and innovators are driven to find ways to make these technologies objectively better, and it’s only a matter of time before they find acceptable paths forward.
This point may not spark your creativity in brainstorming new mixed reality projects, but it’s an important indication that mixed reality is only going to grow in popularity from here.
Inexpensiveness and Accessibility
Another factor pushing the popularity of mixed reality is going to be reduced expensiveness and heightened accessibility in multiple dimensions.
Tech innovation has a tendency to make things cheaper over time, even as our technological wonders grow more sophisticated. TVs are a great example of this; 25 years ago, “big screen” TVs were hundreds of pounds and thousands of dollars, making them practically irrelevant to the majority of the population. Today, you can get an even bigger, brighter, higher-resolution flat screen TV for a few hundred dollars – and mount it on your wall in an afternoon.
Expect to see novel headsets with greatly reduced costs that are designed for average people – no mega-computer or gaming system required. We also expect to see very inexpensive mixed reality headsets sold at a loss and subsidized with advertising, following the same approach as Amazon’s ad-subsidized tablets and smartphones from years back.
The goal is to get more people using mixed reality. Brands will find a way forward.
Developing Your Mixed Reality Idea
Do you have an idea for a groundbreaking VR, AR, or mixed reality application?
Do you need an expert team who can help you plan, develop, and launch that application?
DEV.co has exactly what you need for developing an application that works with both physical and digital realities.
Contact us today to learn more about our team – and how we can make your mixed reality vision a reality!
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