Will Affordable AR Headsets Accelerate Adoption?

Stepping towards ubiquitous AR

Until recently, if you wanted a high quality Augmented Reality experience, you’d have to fork out for an expensive Microsoft HoloLens or Google Glass headset. Aside from mobile apps, AR was (and still is) largely confined to industrial applications. From healthcare to construction, augmented reality headsets have been used to guide professionals, improve workplace safety, and increase task efficiency. However, LA startup Mira has discovered a delightfully simple way to give AR to the masses with their Prism headset. Prism could do what Google Cardboard did for mobile VR, but without the cardboard. So, how does the Prism headset work, and could it mark the beginning of high quality consumer AR?

AR, virtually everywhere
Some say Augmented Reality already cracked the mass market in 2016 with the release of Pokémon GO, despite the app merely scratching the surface of AR’s potential. In just six days, the app accumulated 100 million global users, topping both the Android and iTunes charts. What Pokémon GO didn’t offer, though, was a compatible head mounted display (HMD). This is where Mira comes in. Their Prism AR headsets are completely wireless, powered by the iPhone 7s, and enable users to do far more than collect digital creatures. This means that they can be carried from place to place, and used almost anywhere. At $99, Prism offers the first truly affordable AR HMD. Mira are far from the only AR company with an eye on the mass consumer market, however. Chinese technology company Lenovo unveiled their ‘daystAR’ headset this summer, but have yet to confirm a release date or price. In July, after a two year hiatus, Google revealed the new Google Glass Enterprise Edition. Google’s headset may be focused on the corporate market, but this isn’t the case for Lenovo and a long list of other competitors. This is good news for consumers, as healthy competition will drive down prices whilst improving product development.

AR, virtually everywhere
Once high quality AR becomes widely available, it will have a disruptive impact on various aspects of our lives. Within industry, AR has clearly demonstrated its usefulness. However, AR / mixed reality technology isn’t available to most businesses due to its price. The cheaper it gets, the more companies will be able to benefit from it. Workers will be able to use augmented overlays, contact colleagues and experts, and search for relevant information at the same time as completing tasks. AR may not be applicable to all small business, but in industries like healthcare a surgery nurse could benefit from the technology just as much as a trainee surgeon in a major hospital. Whilst AR has obvious advantages for business, the technology isn’t all work and no play. Augmented Reality is already a household name in entertainment, and the introduction of consumer HMDs could easily extent its influence. In fact, AR entertainment may even be preferable over Virtual Reality alternatives because it tethers the user to the real world, improving environmental awareness. Although there may be a lack of AR content right now, this gap in the market presents an opportunity for content creators. In terms of negative effects, workplace AR could dumb down the global workforce by allowing it to rely on technology. Of course, when the technology malfunctions, a lack of relevant skills – particularly in high risk jobs like construction or oil and gas – could be fatal.

AR seems to be following the same trajectory as Virtual Reality, which progressed from expensive developer’s kits to, well, cardboard, eventually leading to high quality consumer products with a reasonable price tag. Mainstream consumer AR has been on the cards since the early 2000s, but there are a number of setbacks which could slow adoption. One of the main problems surround content creation. On top of this, Prism is currently only compatible with the iPhone 7. The headset might be affordable, but add the cost of the iPhone and you’re looking at a combined price of $750. There’s also a considerable gap between the high end products at Google and Microsoft and those that your average person can readily afford. Nonetheless, Prism represents a vital first step towards widely available AR, and that’s a reality.

Is AR still poised to dominate the mixed reality market? Does AR have as much potential in consumer electronics as it does in industrial applications? Will Prism and other affordable AR headsets successfully attract content developers? Share your thoughts and experiences.