Immersive tech trends ’24
Make immersive technology work for you in 2024
As we enter 2024, I thought it’d be worthwhile sharing some predictions for the year ahead. For me, it’s important that we track trends and new technology so that we can anticipate what our clients will need (and what new options we can offer them). It’s an exciting industry to be part of because we’re always looking to the future and coming up with innovative solutions.
Where we’re starting from
There was a trend with our clients over the last few years as a result of the pandemic: a big drop-off in headset-based projects because so many in-person events were cancelled. In their place we’ve had a significant increase in AR projects, fuelled partly by improvements in appless WebAR and partly by the addition of AR functionality into social apps with a larger user base (such as Instagram). With the release of the Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest 3, I’m sure we’ll see a shift back, because the AR/MR functionality of these headsets is being heavily marketed. This is likely to bring some of our existing clients to back to headset-based projects (and hopefully some new ones too!).
On the subject of phone-based AR, at Volume I’ve seen a shift with our clients from AR apps to WebAR and AR filters because they’re either appless or take advantage of an app that many people already have installed. With this strategy, we’ve definitely seen higher engagement numbers. Development software like Meta Spark Studio is quite limiting but it’s improving all the time. With some creative thinking, it’s possible to build some complex interactions.
Digital twins are something you’ll hear more about in 2024 – and you may already be using one. They’re typically created by accurately mapping a space using a point cloud generated from a laser scanner. These scanners are now a lot more portable, and mounting them to drones enables large areas to be accurately mapped. Apple even has LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology in some of its phones. Hopefully, we’ll see some Android phones following suit soon because it really improves tracking for phone-based AR. (Samsung did have a LiDAR sensor in the S20 but didn’t continue with it in later models because of cost.) Having a digital twin of industrial workspaces means that new equipment, or changes to the space, can be accurately evaluated before work starts. If you continue to scan during the construction process, it’s even possible to track progress and monitor raw material quantities, which is very important for large-scale construction projects such as housing estates. On a much smaller scale, we’ve created digital twins of office spaces for effective (and highly engaging) VR-based induction programmes. Get in touch if you’d like a demo.
Now for a trend I’ve not seen other people talking about, but one we’re using more with client websites. 3D – using the Three.js library – can really enhance the level of immersion in a website, allowing you to tell a more involved story or show a far more complex environment/object. A relatively simple example in the public domain is from Retail Insight, which uses different viewpoints in a scene to lend context to the content. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a fully interactive city that you can navigate in first-person view for various training scenarios (on a laptop or tablet). With consumer technology improving all the time, content should take advantage and enhance the end-user experience. I’ve seen the way that 3D has brought something new and valuable to our clients’ websites, so I do expect this to become a significant trend across the internet.
Where things are going
The MR/AR capabilities of headsets like the Quest 3 are blurring the lines between VR devices and dedicated MR/AR headsets. This is something I’m sure we’ll see with more headsets in 2024 and beyond. Eventually we’ll use another term for these head-mounted devices that fulfil many roles – maybe “HMD” (Head Mounted Display) will gain traction again. This new MR/AR focus for manufacturers who have traditionally focused on VR is undoubtedly led by developers who experimented with the cameras on VR headsets, and who even created games and apps to use them. The games had limited frame rates and were often in black and white, but they showed there was potential there. I’m sure the reduced cost of cameras plays a part too, as well as headset manufacturers wanting a USP for their device.
Hand tracking is something that interests me. It has progressed from requiring additional devices like a Leap Motion to being completely integrated into some XR headsets. Even Apple watches now use hand gestures with AssistiveTouch! This is something that’s becoming increasingly integrated into our daily lives. The technology doesn’t get much attention, but it significantly enhances our ability to interact with virtual objects and is likely to be a big part of getting new people to interact intuitively in virtual worlds (such as the Metaverse). Ultraleap remains a company to watch as it continues to refine its tracking capabilities and improve the fidelity. The company’s latest solution connects with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 platform. Varjo and Pimax both have Ultraleap hand-tracking integrations for their headsets and I expect more companies will join them if they don’t have their own hand-tracking solutions already.
With the shift out of the high street into sofa-based buying, Web-3D and AR product browsing will become more widespread. We’ve already seen some brands experimenting with this (including Nike, GOAT, H&M, Macy’s, Warby Parker, Farfetch, ASOS and Adidas). It’s a great brand differentiator that’s been shown to reduce return rates for online orders (which saves companies money and increases customer satisfaction). In the wake of the global pandemic and with the continued decline of the high street, this kind of shopping will become more normal in 2024, with more companies increasing their investment in online retail experiences.
We’ve seen VR headsets improve in resolution, increase field of view, and add more and more features (such as eye tracking). Now, with headsets like the VIVE Flow being released (and, more recently, Bigscreen Beyond), we’re hopefully seeing the start of a new trend to reduce the form factor and weight of HMDs to increase user comfort. This is common with all technology: once a piece of hardware is working well, the next step is to make a smaller version. We’ve seen this consistently with things like games consoles and laptops. HMDs that are smaller and lighter are good news as they make for a more comfortable experience – and the less you think about the tech you’re using, the more immersed you become in the virtual world. Increased comfort also means that the tech can be used for longer, which is important if it’s to become more integrated into our everyday lives.
Metaverse is a term I hear less often now, and I’m sure this decline will continue through 2024. The terms we use change over time; “spatial computing” and other terms are gaining popularity. This is potentially because Mark Zuckerberg has staked everything by renaming his company Meta and other companies don’t want him to have a monopoly (even a perceived one). Realistically, the Metaverse is in its infancy and will continue to evolve over many years. Adoption will definitely increase in 2024 but I think we’re a few years from any significant growth because the technology needed hasn’t been adopted by a large enough percentage of the population. When we do get there, it’ll probably just be thought of as “going online” because it’s just a newer means of connection that allows enhanced communication.
These are my thoughts on 2024 and beyond. If you’re looking to add immersive tech to your marketing mix or enhance your customer experience, let us support you on your journey.