AWE Nite Asia returned live after a two-year hiatus to discuss the State of the Global XR Market. The event, which streamed early on the morning of June 10 for American viewers, highlighted the changes to the XR market during the pandemic, as well as the future of XR going forward.
The panel discussion was moderated by the President of Sunrise International President and AWE Asia, Gavin Newton-Tanzer. Also on the panel were Unity Enterprise Solutions Executive Elizabeth Baron, Holo-Light CMO and co-founder Luis Bollinger, XR Strategist Catherine Henry of MediaMonks, and 8th Wall founder and CEO Erik Murphy-Chutorian.
Adoption and Resistance
“Even though the last year was difficult for people, we saw significant growth,” said Bollinger.
It’s a theme that’s been repeated, with respectful reluctance, by XR market analysts and industry figures over the last two years. Adoption of XR solutions, and in particular collaboration solutions, exploded during the pandemic.
A less commonly expressed but still important sentiment, which also came up during this AWE Nite, was the question of why it took a pandemic to create this kind of growth in XR markets.
“What surprised me the most was the resilience of the communities to adopt XR,” said Baron. “This was born out of necessity.”
Changing XR Markets and Uses
Of course, XR markets and technologies didn’t arrive during the pandemic – they were already here. The story of the pandemic and XR isn’t only one of adoption, it’s also one of change.
“There were so many kinds of AR that, as soon as the pandemic broke out, they completely disappeared,” Murphy-Chutorian said of location-based experiences, live event promotion, and similar uses. “Then, a few months later, we saw all of these new use cases,” he said of experiences like social distance guidelines and sanitation instructions expressed with AR.
While these pandemic use cases may not stick around forever, they remain important. These uses encouraged people to use their existing technology to understand and interact with the world around them in productive and organic ways and that’s what the future of XR and emerging XR markets is all about.
“What we saw during the pandemic is that we finally started using XR the way it is supposed to be used,” said Henry. “We always had the technology but we never had the impetus.”
Adapting Existing Technology
In part because XR adoption took off so quickly, many people first experienced or implemented it on existing hardware and networks. Bolinger pointed out that, in enterprise use cases in particular, AR experiences were unable to run at high fidelity over these devices and networks. This has contributed to the rise of streaming and web-based experiences instead of apps.
“An app is a commitment,” said Murphy-Chutorian. “What WebAR is offering is the ability to have instant AR on-device the same way that users browse [other forms of media].”
Murphy-Chutorian also pointed out that WebAR makes it easier for the company behind an experience to monitor engagement in ways that are changing how brands interact with consumers.
“E-commerce, or as I call it: V-commerce, has really taken off,” Henry said. “The relationship with customers is advancing in a very sophisticated way.”
Recent and Anticipated Hardware
Of course, WebAR and mobile AR aren’t the only ways that many people interact with XR anymore. There have been some huge hardware announcements over the last two years. Bollinger pointed to Facebook moving away from tethered headsets as an indication that users are starting to expect wireless experiences and XR markets are rising to meet that challenge.
Henry connected Facebook, a social media company building on its existing offerings with XR hardware, to Snap, which recently announced the next generation of Spectacles. Henry also commented on anticipation of an AR headset from Apple, which she doesn’t predict before late next year. But, recent Apple announcements like object capture and 3D mapping may be telling.
“All of these little steps, looking at the signals and trying to see where they’re all going, for me this is all laying the groundwork for glasses,” said Henry.
When asked about the life of WebAR in a heads-up world, Murphy-Chutorian predicted “a clear transition” from mobile to headset-based experiences similar to the transition from desktop to mobile experiences. This would, Murphy-Chutorian said, give software providers ample time to adapt to changing XR markets provided they continue to prioritize hardware compatibility.
Murphy-Chutorian also said that there were existing XR market opportunities for software providers to form partnerships, as hardware providers form relationships with infrastructure providers but overlook experiences.
5G, AI and the Future of XR
No conversation about the present or future of XR markets would be complete without talking about AI and 5G. Artificial intelligence is already making XR experiences more smooth, but AI could also help to generate data so large that XR is the only way to make sense of it. Similarly, 5G – already available in some cities – has the potential to enable more fluid and potent XR experiences.
As 5G, AI and wearables come together, our current predictions of the future may seem increasingly stale, according to Henry.
“Glasses are going to see the iPhone moment where we get something that we think has a specific use case and then someone picks it up and says ‘Let’s use this to do something completely different’,” said Henry.
A Note on AWE Nites
It’s no surprise that the event focused on industry shifts that accelerated during the pandemic, as the event itself was largely pandemic-inspired. AWE global chapters had met in between larger summit events prior to the pandemic but weren’t accessible in the way they are now.
However, AWE Founder and CEO Ori Inbar told ARPost in a May interview on XR events and AWE 2021 that adding new energy to local meetups is part of the organization’s strategy going forward.
“Almost every week you have two or three of these events going on, and it creates this kind of ongoing drumbeat,” said Inbar.
While this event took place via Zoom, more of these events are meant to begin taking place in spatial platforms like Spatial and Altspace.
For More on XR
The next Augmented World Expo is taking place in early November. But, if you need more on XR markets and technology between now and then, check out the AWE YouTube channel for recordings of past AWE events including AWE Nites and regional meetups.