2018 So Far for VR and AR — Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

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I’m writing this on the summer solstice, which is traditionally seen as the halfway point of the year. So it’s as good a time as any to take a survey of the last six months in immersive media, and play with some predictions for the rest of 2018. Working on this day-to-day, you tend to lose track of the big developments and focus on all the little things — and when you pull back the camera, it appears that VR and AR have both been growing like crazy, with more exciting developments in the pipeline.

First, VR. The biggest story of the year so far has been the release of the Oculus Go, a piece of hardware I fall more in love with every day. It says something about our accelerated product timelines that the Gear headset, which was a magic future machine two years ago, is now a clunky old hunk of plastic that I’m going to donate to my neighborhood school once I get around to it. The Go is clean and beautiful, and the fact that it works without a phone is going to be a game-changer in the long run.

The VR world has also seen some big deals, most notably seven figure acquisitions at Sundance and the explosion of location-based spaces, including VR at airports and malls. But even as the technology evolves and spreads, VR is still far from mainstream. It will likely be something people encounter at work, school, or in public spaces before it becomes something they have at home and use on a regular basis. Still, this has been the path for many technologies, including the personal computer, so it’s not a huge point on concern.

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Augmented reality is on a fast track to mainstream adoption at this point, and should explode in the near future. ARKit and ARCore are both releasing updates on a regular basis and brands are starting to play in the space. News outlets are using AR to make reporting more interactive and AR banner ads are delivering real results. We’re at an exciting time, because the tech is still new enough to invite a ton of iteration and creativity, but not so out of reach that people can’t grasp the practical applications.

As we go into the last half of 2018, there’s plenty on the horizon for both VR and AR. The Oculus Santa Cruz, a wireless 6dof headset, should be released at some point this year, and while the price tag might keep it from going super wide, it’ll be great for arcades and dedicated users. WebAR might well launch before the end of the year as well, which will be instrumental in making that go even more mainstream.

There’s a slide in the Friends With Holograms deck that has three dates and logos: 1995 and AOL; 2008 and the smartphone; and 2018 and AR/VR. When we put the slide in, it felt a touch hyperbolic and optimistic — but now, it is becoming clear that we are living in a pivot point.

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