Will AR glasses replace smartphones? It sure looks like it

Alternate realities have historically dominated fact and fiction. From the use of augmented and virtual reality in aerial combat training to sci-fi stories and novels about looking into a crystal ball, these surrogate realities have often helped humanity operate better or cope with the harsh truths of the real world.

Step into the future, we can see virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are becoming commonplace in our daily lives. The combined AR and VR headset market is expected to tenfold from 2021 to 2028, and for the future to come, AR could potentially replace the one gadget our lives depend so much on: our smartphones.

Woman in augmented reality glasses checking her digital tablet.
Qi Yang/Getty Images

Admittedly, the future of the Internet — and how it envelops our lives — isn’t going to move forward in a straight line. But the amazing overuse of buzzwords (like the metaverse) reflects the growing intrigue surrounding immersive experiences. Watching screens no longer makes us tick like we used to, and we now want to surrender and perceive our surroundings through the expansion of reality. Technologies like AR and VR can satisfy this desire to magnify our existing reality or escape to a more comforting one.

Why AR (and not VR) is the best smartphone replacement

While both AR and VR manipulate our vision and psyche in the same way, virtual reality experiences are much more immersive and take us into a whole new realm. This exposure can be exciting at first, but can eventually become alienating as it disconnects us from the real world. Moreover, because VR experiences completely shut out our actual reality, making confuse our sensesthey may feel nauseous if used for a long time.

Meanwhile, augmented reality bridges the gap between reality and a continuous VR experience. As the name suggests, augmented reality only supplements our experience of the real world through additional information that may not be readily available. This enriches our imagination without withdrawing from the reality in which we exist and live.

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We can already use our smartphones or tablets to gauge our environment. For example, we can point our smartphone cameras at food menus or road signs in foreign languages ​​to translate them using apps like Google Lens. We can also learn about the surrounding buildings and streets, or get turn-by-turn navigation using Google Maps or Apple Maps.

While VR can be as entertaining, useful or impressive as AR, the latter seems to be a more future successor to our smartphones. We list a few more reasons below that support this argument.

Ease of use

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An AR headset is light and easy to handle because it only adds a few aspects to the real world instead of having to create a whole new virtual realm. Second, the quality of an AR headset’s graphics isn’t exactly tied to the screen’s resolution, as we’re still seeing the real world in all its glory. Because an AR headset’s screen has to display and process fewer elements, it can rely on less demanding hardware (or even a smartphone) for its processing needs. That’s why most AR headsets are available as glasses.

In fact, companies like Oppo and Qualcomm have predicted AR headsets as extensions of smartphones† While that may seem correct for the next few years, putting AR headsets in our lives rather than smartphones seems to be the more natural evolution — even if we’re a few years away from it.

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Digital concept Smart Glasses close up with graphical user interface.
Olemedia/Getty Images

In the US alone, nearly 200 million people wear corrective vision glasses, according to the Vision Council of Americawhile global usage is at . state more than two billion† These statistics testify that humanity has had an intimate relationship with glasses – and has been for centuries.

In general, people tend to go to products that are known for them, and this familiarity with glasses could potentially be a major driver for AR glasses adoption. By comparison, VR remains relatively exclusive to enthusiasts and professionals who use it to game, experience the multiverse, or learn. As of 2020, the number of AR users reported are nearly 1.5 times that of VR, and the gap is expected to widen in the coming years.

A young man shows off his
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One of the main contributors to the use of AR – even without special AR glasses – is filters on social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, etc. As we approach a future with deeper penetration of AR, we can expect that our social interactions are significantly enriched through the use of AR.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to hear someone’s name just once in a social setting and not forget it because your AR glasses will remember it and flash it before your eyes without the other person knowing? That’s what could enable an evolution from smartphones to AR glasses.

Your daily environment, enhanced

In addition to the growth of technologies such as AR and VR, we can expect machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to flourish in the coming years. Assuming AI does not become aware and conquer the world, computer vision is only expected to improve in the near future. With these advancements, the chances of AI analyzing the world on our behalf as we look at it through our AR glasses are exceptionally high.

as Nvidia notesComputer vision – also known as video intelligence – can be used to identify objects, faces, gestures, poses and the general optical flow. Combined with cloud computing, computer vision can become widely available and quite beneficial for companies to deploy on their AR glasses.

Imagine seeing the world as Iron Man! With AR glasses becoming a part of our lives, humanity will gain a superpower that phones may never be able to replicate.

Growing interest of big tech in AR

A man tries on AR glasses.
Chicken Chunchen/VCG via Getty Images

There is some evidence that almost everything Apple touches gets as hot as gold. Apple’s rumored AR headset is is expected in “late 2024”, but it is interest in technology the entire smartphone industry could probably take a whole new path. In fact, according to acclaimed Apple analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, Apple is planning to… replace the iPhone with AR glasses in the next ten years. That seems very plausible given the growth of technology.

Even before Apple, we see less mainstream brands like Oppo demonstrating the use case of AR glasses as extensions to smartphones. Just replace the smartphone with cloud processing, and we should have a standalone AR headset tailored to give you a walled garden

At the same time, Meta’s AR glasses could hit the shelves months before Apple† Since the company has a very successful portfolio of Oculus VR headsets, success with augmented reality and metaverse experiences is almost guaranteed.

And while the Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens may have been early to market, the expertise of the computer vision companies will enable them to offer AR experiences integrated with the world’s most widely used operating systems – Android and Windows.

Problems AR glasses don’t solve

people immersed in using their smartphones in a subway.
Zhang Peng / Getty

AR is likely to dominate our social and personal lives significantly in the future, but problems associated with today’s smartphones can also be carried over to future technologies. People could expect and experience the same “dopamine rush” that phones would deliver. Zoning or selectively blocking certain aspects of reality may be more accessible, while withdrawing from a convincingly objective reality can become more complex than simply pressing the power button on our smartphones.

At the same time, there are major challenges for engineers developing proven AR glasses. Mapping and calibrating AR to be accurate may require an extensive infrastructure of sensors and superfast wireless networks. The best way to solve this problem is to create a ubiquitous machine-to-machine (M2M) mesh network in which every machine or gadget communicates with every other device. Not only that, every physical object, building and maybe even natural elements in the world will have to be supplemented with sensors. In this way, each device broadcasts its information instead of the AR glasses having to detect and identify objects in their environment. That in itself is going to be a huge task. Meanwhile, security and privacy concerns are opening up another can of worms that we don’t have time to delve into.

Finally, eliminating bias in AI will be one of the major challenges engineers will have to address. Unlike humans, computers do not naturally know and experience emotions. It will be an arduous task to teach them to judge and, most importantly, to respect human values.

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