In the wake of pandemic working, virtual learning, NFTs and Facebook’s great rebranding scheme, the entry point to the metaverse and Web 3.0 is sure to become more visible within the next year. This means that the internet as we know it is also poised to become more interlaced with all of VR’s offerings, providing users with access to an unprecedented number of immersive applications and experiences.
As the metaverse becomes more ubiquitous over time, it will certainly have a direct impact on the future of VR, AR and wearable technology. Back in 2020, the AR and VR market was worth only $7 billion. However, in our post-pandemic climate, we have seen exponential increases in virtualised activity across various sectors. It’s now estimated that the industry will rack up a total of $152 billion by 2030.
Let’s take a look at some of our biggest predictions for what’s to come for XR technology in 2022.
Big Tech players will shake up the XR market
Remote working, home quarantine and other pandemic-related changes have accelerated the global take-up of XR technology over the past two years. This has provided users with better insight into how they can play games, work, communicate and collaborate virtually.
This major cultural shift has also pushed major tech players towards developing better XR tools for Web 3.0. In 2022, these devices are projected to play a significant role in widening the entry point into the metaverse.
Meta has big plans to upend the modern-day internet and spearhead what CEO Mark Zuckerberg has dubbed the “successor to the mobile internet” — an immersive and interactive space within the metaverse. In October 2021, the tech supergiant officially announced that it would be changing its name to Meta in light of its new focus.
To increase the development of its VR infrastructure, Meta also declared that it would be appointing Andrew Bosworth, VP of AR and VR and leader of Facebook Reality Labs, to become the company’s next chief technology officer. As part of this shift, Bosworth has declared that the company will be ditching the Oculus brand (that initiated its move into VR) and rebranding it to Meta Quest and the Meta Quest app in early 2022.
Meta will also be investing a reported $10 billion into developing more advanced AR and VR products for the metaverse. This includes a robotic hand, high-tech VR glasses and more robust software applications. It is expected by tech analysts that Meta will spend a total of $50 billion by the end of 2022 to achieve its promise of an “embodied internet” experience through XR technology.
And while Apple has yet to make any official announcements, analysts have long predicted that the company will eventually enter the AR and VR market with a ‘mixed reality’ headset. This tool is rumoured to encompass both AR and VR, with the ability to handle high-performance games in top-quality virtual reality.
Rumours about Apple’s dedicated headset have circulated for quite some time now, with some reports claiming that we will see a release of smart glasses (such as the purported “Apple Glass”, which is apparently designed to resemble every day glasses and feature LiDAR technology).
According to noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is projected to release their own headset by the end of 2022. Apple’s long-awaited entry into the XR world may also come equipped with two processors — a higher-end variation that offers a similar level of computing power as the M1 processor (currently found in its MacBook Air and Pro lineup) and a lower-end processor that will be in charge of sensor-related computing.
We will see the advancement of medtech through XR technology
The COVID-19 pandemic placed new value on bringing various industries into the virtual world — with the medical industry being one sector that truly found its footing with immersive technologies. 2022 is set to be the year when medtech grows to new heights.
According to a recent market research report from Facts and Factors, the market for VR in healthcare is estimated to grow by 35% annually between 2021 and 2026 — leading to a predicted industry growth of $40 billion.
Heru, a burgeoning ophthalmology-based startup, recently raised $30 million in VC funding to launch its re:Vive VR-based vision testing platform. This platform, which is set to scale within the next year, tests for visual field deficiencies, color blindness, contrast sensitivity and other ophthalmologic conditions. Tests are also being conducted to use AR technology to better identify gaps in a patient’s point of view and provide intelligent vision correction.
Companies such as Activ Surgical and Beyeonics are also trailing the path for XR-based robotic surgery. Both companies have recently raised $45 million and $36 million in funding respectively, providing them with the support to develop immersive technology that will guide surgeons through virtual procedures.
These startups are included on a long list of innovators — a clear sign that immersive technology is set to transform the course of the healthcare industry in 2022 and beyond.
More companies will adopt VR software to improve operations
One of the biggest trends we will see in 2022 is the use of XR and immersive technology in various different workplace settings.
Over the course of the pandemic, popular tools such as Zoom, Slack and Miro have made it easier for teams to collaborate over a flat screen. However, organizations are now seeking ways for employees to connect in more immersive and intuitive ways that can only be achieved through the use of XR tools. Unlike 2D applications, VR brings infinite space to the workplace experience — providing employees with access to expandable rooms, whiteboards, augmented objects and limitless displays.
The adoption of 3D tools in the metaverse will also allow companies to achieve better diversity and inclusion targets within the workplace. Technology such as Gravity Sketch, which allows cross-disciplinary teams to meet and collaborate inside a virtual studio, will make it easier for organizations to hire globally and attract more diverse talent within a highly competitive job market.
By making collaborative technology more accessible through the means of XR, we may also see the barrier to entry be lowered in 2022. This can allow more organizations to provide easier access to tools, helping them accommodate and support a more diverse workforce.
XR technology will be used to achieve better sustainability efforts
In the coming year, sustainability will also be a driving force within the XR space. Many organizations across the globe have become increasingly more conscious of their carbon footprint, leading to more companies seeking innovative technology as a means of meeting more eco-friendly targets.
AR and VR technology has presented an ideal solution for this. Digital twins have shown companies new ways to shorten production times and reduce overall sampling waste, while organizing team meetings through VR now reduces a need for business travel. Major brands such as Adidas, Volkswagen and Ford have already adopted VR technology to make their processes more sustainable.
We’ll see better AR detection through machine learning
In terms of both device reach and development tools, AR is rapidly reaching a stage of greater sophistication — a trend we will continue to see grow in 2022. With the leverage of machine learning, AR will continue to become better at detecting environments, as well as objects and surroundings within those environments.
Machine learning will also continue to help AR become better at offering tailored content for individuals. Given its ability to track and understand the 3D world, machine learning can enhance AR applications and equip them with extra details, allowing them to build more individualized and immersive experiences for each individual user.
Neural networks and deep learning techniques also have the power to learn from any collected data, giving them the ability to further enrich the user experience by adding more interactivity to AR scenes. For example, IKEA Place enables users to gauge how a furniture item would appear in their homes through XR technology. Within the next year, we will see machine learning make these applications smarter, more enhanced and more suggestive based on physical dimensions and predictive data.
We’ll see more cross-application content
When it comes to building the metaverse effectively, one of the biggest challenges that is posed is the issue of interoperability. Porting content between different applications is still not a simple task, given the different data structures or code languages attached to different programs and applications. However, within the next year, we will be sure to see the adoption of more open file formats, such as gITF and USD (both created by Khronos Group and Pixar).
Providing access to content across various applications will be key to achieving better interoperability in the metaverse and allowing us to unify our user experiences within a larger virtual space. While we still have a long way to go before XR will become more ubiquitous, we will get closer to achieving this goal if we are able to see tools become better at supporting more diverse types of user-generated content.
VR will play a larger role in classrooms
VR technology is widely predicted to play a key role in classrooms in 2022, serving as the ideal bridging gap between engagement levels and at-home learning as a result of COVID-19. According to edtech gaming company Kuata Studios, a reported 55% of parents in the UK and 60% of parents in the US believe it will be incorporated into the classroom over the next five years.
Following the pandemic, at-home learning presented significant learning challenges for children — including proper mental stimulation and online engagement. Teachers were also confronted with a long list of difficulties in a remote classroom, such as meeting the individual needs of each of their students or properly engaging children through online resources.
XR technology will make virtual classrooms appear more real, providing young learners with a myriad of educational benefits — such as more immediate engagement, a more immersive experience, a more hands-on approach through augmented reality and better visualisation to aid them in understanding more complex subjects or concepts.
Tools will become more ergonomic
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been introduced to more gesture technology and hologram technology — with more users desiring contactless interactive experiences. More XR platforms are starting to see gesture-based interaction — a trend that is sure to accelerate over the course of 2022. Notable examples include gesture-based interaction, such as Ultraleap — or more wireless technology integration, such as HTC’s wireless adapter for their VR headsets.
Over time, we will surely see a reduction in the number of controllers, wires and other physical hindrances. In the next year, we will also see XR devices become more comfortable for longer wear and include more sophisticated optics for better text clarity.
We will hopefully see an end to pandemic life in the coming year. However, we will also emerge from a world that has been lined with prime opportunities for startups, corporations and innovators to capitalise on the numerous benefits of XR technology. And with the evolution of the metaverse at play, we can expect to see all major industries adopt XR in the near future.