In addition to being CMO and President of RE’FLEKT, Dirk Schart is an industry expert who has been involved with Augmented Reality (AR) to one extent or another for a decade. Recently, he drew upon this perspective to explore what he sees as an inflection point in the continuing history of AR. His thesis, as detailed in his personal blog, is that a newfound urgency driven by COVID-19 is leading to an imminent upswing in AR adoption. We spoke to Dirk to discuss his ideas further.
AREA: What is different about this moment in the history of AR? What has changed?
Schart: Two things have changed. One is that we’re not focusing on technology anymore, but rather on solutions for enterprises. Second, we’re seeing a higher level of urgency that we hadn’t seen before. These factors, to use the term from Geoffrey Moore’s 30-year-old classic book, suggest that AR is “Crossing the Chasm.” We’re moving from experimental early adopters to a more mainstream market that expects a ready-to-use, ready-to-integrate solution. COVID-19 is acting as the accelerator. COVID is driving people to use AR in real scenarios in their daily work lives. So now we have real users coming back with more specific requirements for their solutions. We’re not crossing the chasm yet, but we’re coming closer to it.
AREA: Is the pandemic accelerating certain use cases more than others?
Schart: In the past, when we talked about use cases, we talked about maintenance, operations, and training – a very high-level description of use cases. Now, we’re talking about, for example, onboarding new employees for a product launch. It’s much more concrete. We’re seeing use cases that are driven by the travel bans caused by the pandemic. The most popular one is remote support. You don’t need to have any specific hardware; you just take your phone, call, and you get guidance immediately. There are others, as well: as I mentioned, onboarding of new operators, as well as production line changeovers, as companies move production from one facility to another.
AREA: If a working vaccine is developed for COVID-19, hopefully in the near future, do you think the adoption of AR will continue at the same pace, or will companies go back to the way they did things before?
Schart: It’s a fair question. A major factor is human behavior – and humans don’t like change. But people are seeing now that they can handle things more easily with AR. And all of the managers at these companies are realizing, “We don’t need all that travel. We can save a lot of money by not traveling.” Now they realize they have the tools to do it without traveling. But it will take time. This year I expect remote support will be the catalyst for everything. But by 2021 or 2022, I think you’ll have more use cases with AR as it starts to deliver more value than existing tools. There’s also a big focus now on making more tasks digital and automated by leveraging AR and AI. That will have a big impact. At RE’FLEKT, we’ve seen a 300% increase in our monthly active users, even hitting a peak of 600% – and they’re still using it. That gives me the confidence that we’re finally showing the value. Of course, there are still problems to solve; content creation has to be easier, smart glasses are not ready, but I’m confident that we will see new use cases next year.
To read the full text of Dirk Schart’s article, please visit his blog page.