Augmented reality hasn’t lived up to expectations, but don’t rule it out just yet

A businessman uses virtual reality to access the metaverse.
Image: DIgilife/Adobe Stock

Augmented reality technologies have been touted as empowering employees, but according to a new report from Forrester, the promise has generated more hype than actual results.

The research firm surveyed 20 end-user and supplier companies to understand how XR and the metaverse technologies can be usefully applied to building the future of work. The results suggested that XR did not catch on for a myriad of reasons, including the cost, practical and perceived benefits of the technology.

“Theoretically, head-mounted displays will allow employees to work hands-free (AR/MR) or access immersive experiences (VR),” the report said. “However, employees continue to use these tools anemic a decade after they appeared on the scene.”


Cost, technology shortfalls, human behavior stop the use of XR

When asked which devices they would prefer to use for work, 56% of respondents mentioned a laptop, 45% a desktop computer, and 41% a smartphone. Only four percent referred to a VR head-mounted device, and only two percent referred to an AR or mixed reality device.

  • Augmented reality According to Forrester, a technology that overlays computer images onto the human field of vision to create a new perception or understanding of physical reality.
  • Augmented reality It refers to computer-generated simulations that integrate the real world and are superimposed on a device and allow movement.
  • Virtual reality a headset or special room is required to create a computer-generated environment with real-looking scenes and objects; This allows the user to immerse themselves in their environment while remaining in the same location.

Among the problems interviewed with XR were lack of hardware and high up-front costs, although these costs have come down sharply. In 2016, XR projects typically kicked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees for paid pilots; According to the report, similar projects these days can have a free trial or even be free.

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But other upfront costs, such as acquiring 3D tools, scanning or importing visual spatial data, adapting content to workflows, and training the workforce, also add friction, Forrester reports.

“Employees must have the right skills, attitudes, beliefs and support to successfully adopt emerging technologies in the workplace,” it said.

“Employees are unfamiliar with these tools and often don’t know why they would use them, including whether the desired benefit is for them or the organization.”

Examples of declining interest in XR

According to Forrester, the low adoption of XR is partly due to the fact that companies have not invested significantly in the technology, while others have announced large-scale XR plans that have not materialized.

Several interviewees cited inertia, lack of awareness, and mistrust among executives as inhibiting XR adoption, with one bank executive telling Forrester, “The perception that VR and the metaverse is tied to shady web3 and cryptocurrency stuff , moreover, many people don’t even want to wear a headset at all.

One example of weak interest cited by Forrester was enterprise smartglasses retailer RealWear, which has “long been hailed as a leader in augmented reality.” One interviewee called RealWear “far and away the leader in employee wearables,” and there is not a close second.

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Still, Forrester noted that RealWear recently reported an overwhelming 70,000 units installed. Furthermore, a respondent from a service company told the research firm, “I saw closets full of unused RealWear devices that employees didn’t want to use.”

In another example, the IT head of a North American retail bank described the rapid rollout of VR headsets in 2020 and early 2021 as “an exciting way to connect IT teams when offices are closed due to the pandemic.”

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However, momentum for this technology at the bank waned after the pandemic restrictions eased. “We realized that VR was not a complete replacement for travel, so people started traveling again,” the IT executive said, according to the report. The bank hasn’t given up on its XR efforts, but it’s putting more energy into training and coaching instead of collaboration.

Over promised, under delivered

Overall, “XR’s inflated promises fell short of practical reality,” the report concluded, adding that “you can’t just hand employees a tool and expect success; you have to invest up front to design a workflow.”

Forrester predicts that 2023 will be a “metaverse winter” that cools overheated expectations and will take a decade of effort to realize the promise of the metaverse. The metaverse “does not exist today,” the report noted, though it was a hot topic in 2021 and 2022.

On a more practical level, XR deployments often require companies to redesign their entire workflow, requiring routing, lots of experimentation and investment in training that managers sometimes see as risky, Forrester said.

Other reasons for lack of interest in XR include:

  • Major vendors such as Meta and Microsoft have scaled back or reoriented their strategies.
  • Pragmatic alternatives have not made significant progress.
  • The interest catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled.

Tips for successful XR, metaverse investing

Despite the discouraging comments and lack of enthusiasm, the survey found that business leaders plan to invest in XR and metaverse and other emerging technologies as part of their digital transformation efforts. 31 percent of interviewees said they intend to invest in AR or VR; at the same time, other technologies were cited as being of greater interest: the Internet of Things (47%), AI/ML (45%) and 5G (40%).

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Create a solid business case for XR

For those looking to make XR and the metaverse a successful part of their future work strategy, there are several considerations to consider. It starts with a solid business case that is “pragmatic, specific and humanized” to solve a specific problem, the report said.

“I would say don’t specifically drive an XR; it’s not a good idea to say, ‘We want to use technology X, but we don’t know how to use it,’” said JP Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. “Instead, focus on employee issues. If XR solves these problems, you can put it in.”

Focus on mature use cases

Today, the main mature use cases are either VR-based training, onboarding and learning, or AR-based remote assistance for field workers, Gownder said.

Training of employees

If you decide that XR offerings can be useful, it’s crucial that IT educates employees about their use. A company official told Gownder that they spend 20 minutes teaching employees about the VR device used for training, allowing them to learn how to use the device before they begin training.

“An ongoing training and change management program can help employees of all ages and digital maturity understand the value of their device, why they will benefit from using it, and how to master its features,” he said.

It may not always be a one-off, Gownder added. Some employees may need to master basic skills before touching an XR device.