Although we have seen a dramatic uptake in augmented reality (AR) adoption in 2021, as a consumer-facing technology, AR still has massive room for growth. In the long run, a major part of this growth will involve the evolution of new frameworks and even “metaverses”. Indeed, how consumers use AR at the end of this decade may be far beyond what we currently imagine possible. In the short term, however, AR’s development will be less dramatic. Instead of paradigm shifts, augmented reality 2022 trends are likely to see the continued progression of existing technologies and trends. From smart glasses that would make even the most committed “glassholes” envious, to conversations around the metaverse growing, it will become easier to both create and enjoy AR experiences.
1. We’ll see more and more tantalising glimpses of the future through demos recorded on smart glasses
Our prediction last year of an underwhelming debut for consumer-facing smart glasses turned out to be even more true than anticipated.
Although not a complete dud, the long-awaited Facebook’s smart Ray-Ban glasses (Ray Ban Stories) were not nearly as innovative as consumers had hoped. While the smart glasses have cameras, open-ear speakers, and a microphone, they lack an in-lens display system for augmenting the physical world with digital elements.
Except for the fact that Facebook’s smart glasses have a better camera and a voice assistant, they’re very similar to the Snapchat Spectacles launched all the way back in 2016.
Amazon’s Echo frames (2nd generation) proved even less useful. Featuring only an audio interface, Wired has described them as “a $225 way to talk to Alexa, yet require a phone to work. They don’t do anything wireless earbuds don’t do better.”
On the other hand, the most recent iteration of Snap Spectacles looks promising. The new version of Snap’s Spectacles includes an AR display that allows the wearer to overlay digital images onto the world right in front of them. Examples of what users may be able to do with this version of smart glasses include projecting neon sea creatures onto a real-world beach and laying over artworks onto a physical street. However, the new Spectacles are only available to select Snapchat creators, clearly positioned as a development tool at this stage. Still, we can expect the lessons learned from this iteration to be eventually applied to glasses aimed at consumers.
Closer to reality may be Xiaomi smart glasses. Although the launch date for this device is yet to be revealed, the company has promised that users wearing Xiaomi smart glasses will be able to see messages and notifications, translate text, and use real-time navigation — all in front of their eyes. Later this year we’ll also possibly get a chance to see Apple’s first foray into the smart glasses space – if it happens, it could prove to be the first version of a device that ultimately bridges the tricky gap from early adopters to mass market uptake.
2. The battle for definition and ownership of the metaverse will enter the public realm
Even though the term “metaverse” has, by now, entered public consciousness, we have yet to agree on what it really means — or who owns it.
Defined loosely, the metaverse is a shared virtual environment that links to the physical world. The idea is that, in the metaverse, you’ll be able to do everything you would in the real world. This includes shopping, working, and meeting friends.
However, the company’s vision has already prompted backlash. John Hanke, CEO and founder of Niantic Labs, a software development company that recently released their Lightship ARDK, said that Facebook’s metaverse vision is a nightmare. According to Hanke, Facebook’s metaverse is destined to suck people into virtual reality and away from the real world.
On the other hand, Hanke’s ambitions lie in building what he calls the “real world metaverse,” our reality as we experience it now, but infused with data, interactive creations, information, and services.
Hanke isn’t the only one opposed to Facebook building the metaverse. In an interview with The Verge, the actor Keanu Reeves said, “Can we just not have metaverse be, like, invented by Facebook.”
His wish may yet come true. Microsoft and Roblox are some of the other universe-building contenders that are looking to enter the conversation — and build the metaverse in their image. However, that might be a problem. The biggest concern most metaverse enthusiasts have right now is that rather than being open and interoperable, the metaverse will end up being owned by a single company. If that happens, the privacy consequences could be dire, with tech giants tracking our every move online — sort of like they do now but on a previously unforeseen level.
3. Shoppers will increasingly expect e-commerce experiences to include virtual try-ons and product visualisation
As shopping online continues to become more popular, virtual try-ons and product visualisation experiences will grow in demand.
About 8 in 10 customers already say that AR or VR would “somewhat” or “very likely” improve their shopping experience. Furthermore, research shows that while passive content delivers only a 1.6% engagement rate on average, AR experiences generate a 50% engagement rate.
Not only does incorporating 3D/AR functionality into an online store make it easier for customers to preview products. By showing them exactly how a specific item would fit into their life, 3D and AR experiences also increase sales and reduce returns.
Large companies like Wayfair and IKEA have been trialling this technology for quite some time. Now, however, e-commerce providers like Shopify and BigCommerce are also making these features available to smaller merchants through their developer ecosystems — as are social media networks. Platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat are hot on the heels of Pinterest and Instagram, which already offer AR features to brands.
Early in 2021, Snapchat announced that it would let businesses set up shoppable product catalogues and AR filters, making it possible for consumers to shop without leaving the social media app. As for TikTok, Gen Z’s favourite social app has recently partnered with Shopify to allow creators to create mini-storefronts on their TikTok profiles. It is also in the process of building TikTok Effect Studio, an AR development platform.
Paired with body tracking in Snapchat and, eventually, Instagram, TikTok, and Web AR, virtual makeup and clothes try-ons will soon become a fact of life.
The senior vice president of engineering at Pinterest, Jeremy King, believes that “this technology will be permanent post-pandemic. I don’t see a world where we go to the store to try on makeup anymore. It can all be done on your phone.”
Of course, virtual try-ons won’t be as realistic for all types of garments and accessories — at least not initially. Nevertheless, in 2022, we can expect to see certain clothing items become available for try-ons, with fashion brands like H&M and Amazon currently working on virtual fitting rooms.
4. The fashion industry will continue to innovate in new and unorthodox ways
Following on from Balenciaga’s GTA-esque game, which is how the luxury fashion house launched its Fall 2021 collection, and its in-game clothing range in Fortnite, disruptive fashion brands will continue to find new ways to reach young audiences.
However, while more fashion retailers will experiment with non-fungible tokens in 2022 (note recent NFT lines from Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Hermes), NFTs won’t be a runaway success in 2022 as the Web3 ecosystem they are suited for will take a number of years to unfold – likely happening slowly and then all at once.
NFTs are one of a kind digital assets that live on the blockchain that will more than likely act as a revenue model for the metaverse.
Although the technology underpinning the metaverse continues to evolve to the point where brands like Nike are launching their own experiences within virtual worlds, there is an open question as to which platforms will become dominant. Moreover, services and platforms still need to agree on interfaces and build trust.
Nevertheless, while that is happening, companies like The Fabricant will carry on developing impressive simulations of clothes to enable realistic digital garment previews, which will then one day live within these virtual worlds.
5. Virtual showrooms, spaces, and exhibitions will become more prevalent
In 2022, virtual showrooms and museums powered by companies like Matterport and Emperia, which specialise in creating “digital twins” of physical spaces, will help transport people to specific environments, real or otherwise, without them having to leave their homes.
For instance, in 2021, to celebrate the release of Burberry’s Olympia bag, the luxury retail institution Harrods collaborated with Emperia to create an immersive online space that sits alongside Harrods’ physical store. In this space, users can take a look at the different bags available for sale, click on them to learn more about them, view them in 3D, and buy them (or book an in-store appointment).
What’s cool about this concept is that, because companies like Emperia can create a retailer’s product collection with 100% precision (including allowing a hyper-detailed 500% zoom on products), brands can use these virtual spaces as a digital version of their flagship store, continually updating their products, rather than a one-off marketing campaign.
On the other hand, Microsoft’s integration of immersive 3D spaces into Teams enables co-workers to communicate and collaborate in shared virtual areas (3D environments) through animated avatars.
Thanks to AI, your avatar will even be able to replicate your actual vocal cues and movements without you having to turn on your camera or wear a VR or AR headset. The avatars are supposed to work in normal 2D and 3D meetings, too, and from various different devices.
6. Augmented reality experiences will be increasingly accessible in virtual reality environments and vice versa
The terms augmented reality and virtual reality are sometimes used interchangeably. But they’re not the same thing.
Augmented reality, which refers to the act of overlaying computer-generated content on top of the real world, is distinctly different from virtual reality, which immerses people in simulated environments that are closed off to the real world.
Currently, AR and VR experiences are predominantly accessed through separate technologies. However, in 2022, it will become easier to author an experience once and deliver it to both AR and VR environments. With the Meta Quest having introduced the ability to build apps that leverage its passthrough mode in black and white and the next iteration likely to support full-colour passthrough, the two formats will begin to converge.
Similarly, 8th Wall’s WebAR engine being made available across desktop, tablet, mobile, and VR and AR headsets will make authoring experiences for all environments easier.
7. Photogrammetry and Lidar will open the door to 3D modelling at scale
Traditionally, brands have been wary of introducing AR experiences due to the cost associated with developing photorealistic 3D models of their products. Likewise, companies that build their catalogues in 3D are often selective of the types of items they want to create 3D models of.
Technologies like Apple’s free Object Capture tool and apps such as Polycam’s introduction of a photo stitching mode will significantly decrease the cost of creating digital versions of objects.
The introduction of Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging, a technology that makes placing AR objects and tracking people’s location faster and easier) into the iPhone range over the last couple of years enables support for a wider variety of use cases. This is particularly relevant for commerce, where 3D modelling of products will soon be key for success.
8. Barriers to entry for accessing AR experiences will continue to lower
“The app boom is over,” wrote Vox in 2016. Whereas previously, apps were novel enough for users to go to the hassle of downloading every single one that caught their eye onto their phones, for a long time now, the opposite has been true. Today, users go to great lengths to avoid downloading apps they don’t desperately need.
Unfortunately, seeing how many AR experiences are launched from an app, this has meant that in the past, users have had to weigh up the pros and cons of downloading an app to start an AR experience. But no more.
Apple’s App Clips and Android Instant Apps (essentially mini-apps) allow users to access high quality AR experiences without requiring them to perform a full app install or download by making the advanced features offered by ARKit and ARCore available to them. Users can therefore enjoy an AR experience right away without having to wait for the full app to download, reducing drop off through higher barriers to entry and longer loading times.
Similarly, continued improvements to Apple’s Quick Look and Android’s Scene Viewer 3D model viewing technology will allow users to view realistic 3D models in AR directly from the web or apps they already have.
Web-based SDKs and machine learning models will further mature in 2022 and beyond, offering a greater range of experiences directly through the browser for more niche purposes such as body tracking, hand tracking and hair segmentation.
Augmented reality 2022 trends and beyond
We can only speculate as to what the future of AR holds. However, as demonstrated by the growing interest in this space (Meta alone is looking to create 10,000 jobs in AR and VR in the EU over the next five years), there is no denying that at least right now, it’s looking like a bright one.