COVID-19 Increasing Demand for Virtual and Augmented Reality

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The world has changed dramatically over the past three months – much more than most people expected it would.  Many of these changes were bound to happen anyway, but COVID-19 pushed the tech sector into hyperdrive to deliver solutions that would enable a rapid transition to teleworking, faster testing, contact tracing, safe re-opening, better workplace health and safety resources.

For many companies, it was a question of fast-tracking technology investments they had been putting off, like moving to cloud-based communications services and other business applications.  There’s also little doubt many of the changes will become permanent fixtures in work and personal lives, simply because they create better opportunities and experiences. 

“While no one knows for sure how much the COVID-19 pandemic will impact us, there is strong evidence to support there will be long-lasting effects.  Some companies, like Facebook, have already amended work from home policies that extend beyond the current pandemic and provide early glimpses into what a new normal might look in the workplace.”

Michael Inouye, Principal Analyst, ABI Research

The communications and collaboration space was already evolving and seeing consistent growth.  The stability of cloud-based communications is one of the reasons so many companies were able to quickly enable remote workforces.  It was an opportunity many vendors were quick to take advantage of, and several launched free services to help companies remain operational.  Not surprisingly, many have seen sharp increases in usage through the first half of the year.

ABI Research also sees significant opportunity in a subset of the communications space, the XR market – which includes Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).  Collectively, the company predicts the XR industry will grow from less than $12 million last year to more than $400 million by 2025.

“The cancellation of events and inability to meet in person has driven demand for video calling services and tools and is opening new doors and exposure to more immersive solutions like XR.”

Michael Inouye

While the unified communications space is littered with well known brands, and a consistent group of market leaders, the XR space is much less developed and without the same awareness and proven use cases, though immersive collaboration is certainly in the wheelhouse of some major brands, like Microsoft, Facebook, HTC, and others, with several dozen others showing interest.  IKIN, for instance, has developed holographic imaging technology that could be applicable in many markets.

The opportunities are almost endless.  From shopping to tech support to gaming and many other use cases, adding a new level of visual collaboration can enhance customer experiences and create opportunities for brands to differentiate themselves. 

With so much uncertainty about COVID-19, there will be a continued demand for enhanced experiences. 

Take the virtual escape rooms that companies have designed.  Imagine, if instead of relying on a body camera on a human playing the game for a team, the game used VR technology to put players in a digital escape room. 

Distance learning could certainly benefit. So many students have complained that they did not feel part of a classroom experience through Zoom or similar solutions. Why not actually put them in their virtual classrooms, where they can raise hands and interact as though they were physically in school?

Or, if you’ve grown tired of all the virtual concerts, how about a true VR concert that would place you in a 50,000-seat arena with your fellow fans, where you can interact, engage, and watch your favorite band perform.  Or think about how much more exciting choosing vacation spots could be if you can have immersive tours of resorts or cruise ships.  Or a conference, where you can actually walk into booths on a virtual show floor, instead of just going to a static marketing web page.

It was going to happen eventually. COVID-19 is just likely to speed up development time for many of these applications as businesses look to give customers better experiences and generate maximum revenue in the process.