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Time for developers to get real about augmented reality technology

It's bigger than Pokémon. Augmented reality blends virtual reality's make-believe with the real world to create useful interactive experiences. Developers, start your toolkits.

Augmented reality technology -- an interactive, immersive computing experience that combines the real world with...

virtual computerized fabrications -- is poised for explosive growth. It's yet another technology in which application developers need to quickly acquire expertise.

Daryl Plummer, chief of research at Gartner, said he believes by 2020, 100 million consumers will leverage augmented reality technology for online retail, an experience he characterized as "immersive shopping." It's coming quickly; Plummer predicted 20% of global retail brands will adopt some form of augmented reality during 2017.

That augmented reality technology experience comes in many forms: placing virtual furniture in a home, trying on virtual makeup, interactive gaming and even Home Depot's mobile app for virtually repainting any room into, well, virtually any color. If you were swept up by the Pokémon Go craze of mid-2016, you've already been immersed in augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are not the same. Where virtual reality creates an artificial or simulated spatial environment that exists entirely within the computer, augmented reality creates an interactive experience that blends virtual components -- images of furniture, a palette of paint colors or Pokémon characters -- with actual real-life scenes. Augmented reality lets users interact with the real world, whereas virtual reality confines them to a conjured-up experience that is completely artificial.

Developer toolkits and platforms are already here, with ARToolKit and Vuforia among them. According to Vuforia President Jay Wright, developers need to think differently when creating VR apps. While AR is amazing to experience, it is tricky to develop for, because the canvas is no longer constrained to a rectangular screen, but is now the actual physical world, he said.

Growing 'real' fast

Twenty percent of global retail brands will adopt some form of augmented reality during 2017.

The most real part of augmented reality technology is the market in the United States is expected to reach a value of $100 billion in 2024, according to a May 2016 study published by Grand View Research. While hardware -- smartphones, tablets, head-mounted display, smart eyewear and automotive -- is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate exceeding 90% from 2016 to 2024, the underlying embedded and applications software needed to breathe reality into those devices is forecast to grow at CAGR of 55%.

According to the study, key areas of application development encompass aerospace, automotive, defense, e-commerce and retail, gaming, industrial and medical.

Not just for games

To think of augmented reality technology as an enabling technology for gaming or home remodeling would be missing the point, according to Vinod Baya, director of the center for technology and innovation at PwC, based in New York. In a 2016 white paper examining the business opportunities afforded by augmented reality technology, Baya noted enterprise-class use cases are already in production. These applications include warehouse workers at DHL using smart glasses to guide them as they pick products for order fulfillment and factory trainees at Boeing using the technology to assemble virtual airplane wings.

Writing in the white paper, Baya said the key challenge is to make the tech "so easily plug-and-play that the industry gets past the early adopters and expands the depth and breadth of use cases the technology can support."

Joel Shore is news writer for TechTarget's Business Applications and Architecture Media Group. Write to him at [email protected] or follow @JshoreTT on Twitter.

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