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Why businesses are preparing for an Extended Reality (XR)

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) are enabling businesses to explore the art of the possible. But it's the convergence of these technologies that is paving the way for an extended reality (XR) as the digital divide between our physical and digital worlds slowly fades away. 

Global revenue in the extended reality (XR) market is predicted to explode with 48.3% CAGR between 2020 and 2030. According to P&S Intelligence, this will see the industry value rocket from just $18.5 billion in 2019 to more than $1,005.9 billion by 2030. But what will these extended realities look like? 

Katy Perry explored how XR would enable her to deliver a unique and innovative performance on the final of American Idol. The video reached a global audience of over 9 million viewers. The new form of virtual production made it possible to tear down the divide between our physical and digital worlds so she could invite audiences to enter a new extended reality.

The coronavirus has decimated the event industry and forced event planners to explore new ways to bring virtual events to life and reimagine the live experience. In a post-pandemic world, we can expect global audiences to be a mixture of physical and digital attendees as conferences break out of the confines of the venue's four walls.

We already personalize Zoom and Microsoft Teams sessions with various backdrops. But there is also an increasing expectation from consumers for immersive experiences that make them feel as if they are physically present at an event. All while collaborating with others to meaningfully connect in the same way they would on a busy show floor.

It's time to upgrade traditional digital experiences with XR touchpoints that extend the aging web and mobile channels to mobile. 

By combining AR, VR, and MR, a new immersive, collaborative, and interactive XR event planner was born. Accenture piloted the solution in partnership with Qualcomm and the Intercontinental Hotel Group.

XR was used to help event planners and buyers to think differently. The result offered many more tangible benefits than you might imagine. Rather than return to the old way of doing things, XR experiences provided a fresh pair of eyes that could help shorten the sales cycle while also increasing sales and reducing costs when choosing an event space.

Remote working and learning have become the norm over the last twelve months. However, anyone who has suffered from Zoom fatigue or feels an inner rage building every time they hear the Slack notification sound will testify that it's no substitute for good old-fashioned human interaction in the workplace.

HTC is attempting to tackle these issues with its recently announced Vive XR Suite. The concept pitches remote workers with an emerging virtual remote collaboration set. 

From virtual conferences to brainstorming sessions, XR is used to track everything from eye movements and body language.

But the price of expensive headsets combined with licencing costs of $30 per seat a month or $250 per seat for the year mean that it’s less likely to catch on with cash-strapped businesses.

The hybrid of our physical and digital worlds has also paved the way for new so-called 'phygital' retail experiences. Social distancing has forced many retailers to introduce AI-powered personal assistants and virtual changing rooms. Dressing virtual versions of yourself or checking how that new sofa will look in your living room are just a few areas where this technology is proving to be a hit.

As restrictions lift and shopping malls reopen, XR will also enable new in-store shopping experiences. A tech-fueled magic mirror promises to help shoppers create a 360-degree video of themselves inside a store and allow them to virtually try on as many outfits as they can while having Facetime-like video chats with their friends. 

There are many challenges for XR to overcome before it can provide mainstream audiences with the wow factor that they demand. The high costs of devices and implementation will continue to be a barrier to entry for those that are outside of tech circles. The introduction of further vulnerabilities will also worry cybersecurity professionals. But solutions to all of these potential problems are already in progress.

Qualcomm is working towards the convergence of the smartphone, VR headset, and AR glasses into a single XR wearable. One device that will replace all of the screens in our lives. Mark Twain famously said that "You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." 

We are entering a period where businesses of all sizes must upgrade their legacy mindset and accept that their future reality will depend on how they prepare today.

The arrival of a global pandemic combined with the speed of technological change over the last twelve months famously transformed how we work and live. But businesses also need to accept that the pace of change will never move this slow again. As these technologies converge and further accelerate the progress of XR, it will be how businesses define reality 5-10 years from now that will determine their future success.

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