It is only a matter of time before Apple, Google and others produce augmented reality headsets for apps built on their ARKit and ARCore platforms, say leading analysts from IDC.
These products will kickstart a marked growth to the AR market, which currently lags a long way behind virtual reality (VR). Once consumer AR headsets arrive on the scene, IDC predicts the technology will see massive growth in the business and industrial sectors, with AR's market share dramatically closing in on that of VR as we go into the next decade.
Right now, virtual reality has a clear lead over augmented reality. VR can be accessed with just a mid-range smartphone and a headset made of folded cardboard and two plastic lenses — or, if you like, you can spend thousands of dollars on a high-end PC and an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift headset.
But the growth of AR, which has just arrived on the iPhone with ARKit on iOS 11, is poised to outpace VR as we go beyond 2021.
According to IDC, VR will hold a 90 percent share of the combined VR and AR market from now until 2019. But through 2020 and 2021, IDC forecasts AR to experience "exponential growth", turning its 10 percent share into 25 percent by 2021. This growth will at first come from AR apps on the iPhone and other handsets, but the real change will come from AR adoption in business and industry.
This will see the consumer share of the AR market decrease from 29.9 percent of all AR use today, to 17.5 percent by 2021. But the overall market will grow, and outpace VR, because of a massive increase in industrial AR use. Think Google Glass-type devices helping production line workers, for example.
Ahead of its time? An explosion in Glass-style AR is on the horizonGoogle
There are currently very few AR headsets on the market. Google Glass had a resurgence recently as an industry-focused product, while Microsoft continues to slowly roll out its HoloLens AR system. But this, IDC predicts, will change markedly.
"AR headset shipments today are a fraction of where we expect them to be in the next five years, both in terms of volume and functionality," says Jitesh Ubrani, a senior research analyst for IDC's Mobile Device Trackers unit. "These future AR headsets, built primarily for business use, will be far more expensive than VR headsets sold to consumers, it is predicted, considerably boosting the value of the AR market."
Ubrani adds: "AR headsets are also on track to account for over $30bn in revenue by 2021, almost twice that of VR, as most of the AR headsets will carry much higher average selling prices".
Away from industrial use, Ubrani notes that it is "only a matter of time" before systems like Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore make their way onto consumer headsets.
IDC says it expects AR to have a "profound impact on the way businesses and consumers compute," while VR headsets will "drive a near-term shift in computing."