Extended Reality (XR) – encompassing the full spectrum of augmented, virtual and mixed reality experiences – has moved beyond novelty.
SXSW 2018 will rightfully tout XR’s traction as a strategic channel and medium plenty ripe for brand and business adoption. The timing is apt: Accenture’s just-released Technology Vision 2018 report shows that more than half (52%) of businesses are developing an XR strategy, and 79% believe XR will have a widespread, cross-industry impact over the next three years. But innovative brands are already applying XR’s immersive capabilities to bring us closer to content (and each other) through unprecedented digital experiences.
XR is not new technology for the sake of new technology – the business benefits are there for the taking. This is an evolution that is fundamentally reinventing experiences. It is an evolution that enables us to explore unreachable locations, create without physical limitations, and learn by doing. And the brands most creatively applying these capabilities will achieve closer interpersonal communication, greater dexterity with data, and stronger human-brand connections.
Across people, information, and experiences, XR technologies and visions on display at SXSW will call for an end of distance as we know it – and should not be missed. Here’s what to expect:
1) Person-to-person access and interaction like never before.
Even while eliminating the physical barriers and distance between people, the most adept XR applications don’t take anything away from the real-world benefits of interpersonal engagement. For consumers, this means a sea of change in what it means to socialize and share their lives with friends and family across geographies. For businesses, it’s an opportunity to develop XR applications that optimize access to colleagues and training.
SXSW attendees can experience this for themselves with Unearth, an ARENA (Agnostic Real-time Extended Reality Network Application) experience. This real-time collaborative tool enables multiple people to interact in a virtual, platform-agnostic 3-D environment. Breaking down both physical and technological barriers, Unearth successfully brings people together across distances whether they have access to a Vive, Oculus, iPad or other networked devices. The SXSW demo provides a four-player game set in outer space, where teams use a mix of VR headsets and AR tablet technology to communicate and compete in an immersive world.
Other innovations in this realm include Nvidia Holodeck, which enables remote teams to collaboratively design within a photorealistic VR environment. And – representing a possible future of music shows – TheWaveVR gathers passionate music lovers in shared virtual venues, allowing fans to socialize, host parties, and even DJ with others across the world. Look for other applications debuting at this year’s SXSW that tap into similar XR strategies for interpersonal engagement.
2) Closer access to information when you need it most.
As a channel for delivering information, XR can effectively place rich data in ways that have previously seemed unimaginable. When done effectively, this accelerates our understanding of the world around us and enhances our perceptions. For businesses, contextual data helps with workflow, reduces errors, and improves productivity. For consumers, contextual data becomes an active (and welcome) part of decision making.
For example, an AR platform being demoed at SXSW for Whole Foods Market 365 will enable customers to visualize and rapidly digest data to discover new products. It also empowers shoppers with a far greater supply of product knowledge. The goal with this exercise, while just a proof of concept, is ultimately to show how AR could increase the convenience – and perhaps enjoyment – of the connected grocery shopping experience.
Similarly, the recent launch of Google’s ARCore lets millions of users experience AR on their phones and get closer to information. Amazon’s AR Viewer has already tapped into ARCore to provide product previsualization – allowing shoppers to view products within their own homes ahead of purchase. Demos at SXSW from Mackevision will allow attendees to explore and customize their own Mercedes-Benz; other experiences will highlight the importance of the digital twin in VR, as well as 3D-model production that will drive adoption of XR across industries such as automotive and retail. Expect more applications displayed at SXSW to pursue the tactic of XR-guided information access as a means to more meaningful and fascinating connections with an audience.
3) Experiences redefined by XR.
The evolution of mixed reality and technologies such as Magic Leap – blurring physical and virtual worlds – is redefining experience. At the same time, the ability to deliver experiences that forge emotional connections – and bring brands and consumers closer – is arguably XR’s biggest potential. Doing this right will earn positive, lasting brand sentiment, a customer advocate and, perhaps, a sustainable revenue stream.
SXSW attendees can envision this future for themselves by going inside (via Microsoft’s HoloLens) a Boeing 777x aircraft. The immersive, holographic aircraft enables would-be flyers to experience sitting in first class and walk throughout (and even around) the plane. This is also an example of how to tailor experiences to different groups of users, since the data and content displayed might vary by audience or sales scenario.
Across industries, XR is bringing forth new worlds of experiences, whether it be for immersive play with Star Wars Jedi Challenge, exploring real-world places through the transportive technology of Matterport, or even training for the Olympics. Bringing content closer to product through XR-defined experiences will be a significant theme at SXSW.
Finally, expect XR showcases at SXSW to more concretely define the space, and to set more accurate expectations around the emerging technology. Too many brands still need to understand that XR is not a replacement for preceding media – it’s not the future of television, magazines, etc. – but rather its own transformative medium. XR is set apart by the mental and often physical effort that its engagement requires. It calls for a mindset more akin to attending an event than cozying up with more passive home media. But even while the user expectations for XR continue to crystalize, the time for many businesses to act on these immersive technologies is now.
As XR becomes pervasive, and an inextricable part of business growth strategies, immersive experiences will eliminate the most important distance of all: the distance between where businesses are today and where they want to be in the future.
SXSW Interactive attendees will be able to see demos of these innovations at Accenture Interactive’s Experience Cantina, located at Micheladas.
Rori DuBoff is head of content innovation – XR at Accenture Interactive. She tweets @roriduboff