New technologies present both a great opportunity and an eternal dilemma for businesses: should they race to adopt new tech, or hold back and wait until others have already found the best, proven ways of using it?
Today, extended reality (XR) is one of those new technologies. You can’t go far without hearing about how the metaverse and XR will revolutionize the way we work and play. But what is extended reality, and does it really hold so much potential?
What is extended reality (XR)?
In simple terms, extended reality (XR) is defined as an immersive experience in which people experience virtual 3D environments as if they were ‘real’. A ‘trick of the mind’ convinces people that the virtual content is (sort of) real, even though they know it isn’t.
XR includes both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). These two types of XR have similarities, but one key difference: AR uses the real word as a backdrop for virtual content, whereas VR immerses participants in a wholly virtual world (that excludes the real one).
VR experiences generally strive to emulate real-world ones by enabling participants to manipulate virtual objects using sensor-equipped gloves or haptic/gesture controls – however this isn’t a defining feature of VR.
To confuse things a little further, we also have mixed reality (MR). Mixed reality is a subtype of AR that enables people to interact with virtual content. For example, they can manipulate a digital twin of a factory or city that appears to be floating in front of them.
It’s also worth noting that VR is steadily becoming closer to AR, as some VR goggles now have ‘pass-through’ cameras that let people see traces of the real world in their virtual experiences.
How does XR relate to the metaverse?
For most people, the metaverse seems to have suddenly popped into existence. So, what is it, and how does it relate to XR? Well, ‘the metaverse’ is essentially a 3D layer of the internet, consisting of all the virtual experiences currently in existence. It also includes virtual experiences that aren’t publicly accessible via the internet too. In an abstract way, we can think of the metaverse as ‘the place where XR happens’.
Of course, we hear a lot about ‘the metaverse’ from one company in particular: Facebook/Meta. This well-known company has jumped into metaverse technologies with great enthusiasm. Their focus is primarily on the gaming and entertainment side of XR content, but this is just one part of the metaverse landscape.
As we’ll see, there is much more to the metaverse – and a lot more potential for businesses and consumers alike. People are already using XR to share immersive training resources, educational experiences, virtual concerts and much more.
The benefits of extended reality for businesses
There are many benefits to using XR to support business activities. When we look at the unique qualities of XR, it’s clear that it has much to offer. The biggest gain comes from being able to visualize ideas, designs, and spaces. This allows businesses to explore multiple possibilities without incurring material costs or traveling to distant locations.
Extended reality can also help people explore concepts and locations that might be difficult to do otherwise, such as complex interactions, emotions and empathy, or hostile environments (like war zones, space, or volcanoes).
Both AR and VR are widely used by businesses for different purposes. VR is often utilized for immersive training, whereas AR (including MR) is more often used for collaboration. The equipment required is a frequent hurdle preventing adoption, however the costs and quality of both VR goggles and AR glasses are becoming more attractive every year.
Main benefits of XR for businesses:
- Accelerate training programs
- Better retention of acquired information
- Engage audience better
- Achieve better collaboration across distances
- Visualize ideas and experience the effects
- Engage with digital twins
- Improve operational efficiency
- Experiential marketing possibilities (a.k.a., metaverse marketing)
- Reach wider audiences with immersive content
- Reduce development costs with virtual prototyping/POCs
Examples of XR in business and industry
Soft skills are just as important as more ‘technical’ ones. Immersive VR training can help understand other people’s perspectives by stepping into their shoes and experiencing the world like they do.
Meeting in an extended reality 3D virtual environment can help fuel inspiration and creativity. Businesses use the Fectar MeetUp platform to collaborate with colleagues using a variety of devices, in both VR and/or AR. No matter where they are in the world, people can discuss the same 3D models, and test virtual prototypes in a shared space.
Optimizing staff performance
XR technology is used by DHL to assist in warehouse picking, guiding them with the optimal routes and helping load vans in the most space-efficient way.
XR is used to help remotely troubleshoot and fix problems with complex equipment. Volkswagen, for example, uses their own XR platform to help technicians repair engines and identify unfamiliar parts. First Time Right Diagnosis can help remote engineers identify the problem, so if they need to make a visit, they will come prepared with everything they need – resolving problems much faster.
Selling virtual products
Companies can still benefit from the gaming industry – even when they have no direct exposure to it. For example, Gucci sold virtual products for players of Roblox, and Nike have sold virtual versions of their sneakers, called Cryptokicks.
Reaching potential customers as they enjoy XR for leisure is a special quality of metaverse marketing. Chipotle created a virtual ‘burrito-rolling challenge’ in Roblox, enabling players to earn vouchers for (real-world) food, driving them to physical stores directly from the metaverse.
Training on hazardous equipment
By using XR, businesses can train employees on hazardous or hard-to-replace equipment. This makes training safer and more accessible. Using VR training, for example, forklift drivers can be trained more efficiently, without risk.
How consumers use XR
Most consumers use extended reality for leisure purposes. Indeed, many of us use AR every day, without even realizing it, whenever we use a filter or customized background for a videocall.
And plenty of people have played Pokémon GO! – the trailblazing AR game that kick-started widespread adoption of augmented reality.
Because augmented reality can be accessed with a smartphone, AR is more widely used by consumers. However, VR is also very popular among gamers and is used for educational experiences too.
Consumers can enjoy a number of XR entertainment experiences, including AR concerts in their own living room, and virtual museum visits. Many museums also offer in-house VR exhibits that immerse visitors in the context behind items on display, enabling them to step back in time, or visit distant worlds.
This is one area where XR is really taking off. Using 3D content, consumers can try out different products before committing to a purchase. Very important for expensive or bulky purchases – or something that affects your personal appearance.
Using augmented reality (either on their phone or an in-store AR mirror), shoppers can try on glasses, makeup, shoes, and much more. And they can do it conveniently from their sofa. Speaking of which, IKEA’s ‘Place’ app can help consumers make sure the sofa fits before it’s ordered.
Enhancing social interaction
Yes, those Snapchat filters, floating emojis, and customized backgrounds for video calls and livestreams are all a type of augmented reality. Filters and floating emojis have now become part of our social vocabulary. These are probably the most common instances of XR, because they’re used so widely!
Educational XR experiences can break down barriers to learning. They are accessible to huge audiences of smartphone users (in the case of AR), and make learning more engaging.
Because XR can let people experience things in a virtual way, it can be used to make the world safer. People can be taught about dangers, and shown how to avoid them without coming into direct contact with the hazards involved.
A good example is an educational app created by Fectar, made in response to a pressing need to educate Ukrainian children about the dangers of unexploded ordnance and landmines.
Since being invaded by Russia, the country has been littered with banned cluster bombs, unexploded ammunition, and banned anti-personnel landmines (which are designed to look like toys). These landmines cover 174,000 sq kilometers (67,182 sq miles) of Ukrainian soil – an area larger than Washington state (or Greece and Denmark combined).
Thanks to this app, it is much easier for children to recognize and avoid this significant, widespread risk.
XR technology first entered public consciousness when mainstream VR games were introduced (back in 1991) with the ‘Virtuality’ Arcade Games. Since then, gaming has retained its position as a leading sector within XR technologies.
How to create XR experiences
Extended reality can deliver strong value to businesses in every sector. From training programs to metaverse marketing, these need to reflect and enhance your USPs as a business. This means it’s essential you can create your own XR experiences, with 3D content and environments that match your own. Experiences like these will become especially valuable as AR and VR gain more widespread consumer adoption.
The possibilities for immersive brand experiences in XR are huge, and can reach large audiences around the world. Compared to the costs of traditional marketing and advertising, they come out looking quite competitive.
Creating experiences for AR and VR can take some work. However, you can make it easier by using proven technologies as the framework for your content and virtual spaces.
At Fectar, we offer the Fectar Studio app, which enables non-technical users to build amazing XR experiences using uploaded content. You can either create your own 3D content, or use pre-built assets from libraries and marketplaces. And, once you’re ready, you can share it with the over 6 million users of the Fectar XR platform thanks to the Fectar app.
Learn more about creating your own VR/AR experience here.