During a recent Apple earnings call with analysts, CEO Tim Cook made a bold prediction, saying: “AR is going to change everything.”

I have to agree. The fact is augmented reality (AR) is remodeling mass technology use. After all, it hasn’t taken long for us to move from typing on our PC keyboards, to swiping and tapping smartphones, to simply asking Alexa or Siri to give us answers and fulfil commands. Now AR brings us to the age of holographic computing. Along with animojies, Pokémon and face filters, a fresh and futuristic user interface is emerging.

Holographic computing is coming to us now through our phone screens instead of the lasers required for textbook holography. As a result, we are seeing a big uptick in the use of hologram-like 3D that will completely change how we interact with the world – and with each other.

The evidence of this shift is all around us. The release of Apple’s iOS11 puts AR into the hands of more than 400 million consumers. The iPhoneX has been designed to deliver enhanced AR experiences with 3D cameras and “bionic” processors. We also have Google’s recent launch of the Poly platform for finding and distributing virtual and augmented reality objects, while Amazon has released Sumerian for creating realistic virtual environments in the cloud. At the same time, an AR-native content creation movement is in full swing, just as a steady stream of AR features comes from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and a host of other tech players.

The captivating user experiences of 3D are obviously attractive for gaming and entertainment, but are capable of so much more. As familiarity with the holographic experience spreads through popular games and filters, this new interface will begin to dominate other functions that are well-suited to its capabilities.

Harnessing the potential of holography for training and customer service

Two areas where the technology is already making substantial inroads are training and customer experience. Holography is useful in training for virtual hands-on guidance to explain a process, complete a form or orient a user. It also can simulate real-life emergencies, sales interactions and countless other scenarios.

Holographic computing interfaces complement traditional instruction with added dimensionality. AR enhancements can be overlaid for greater depth and variety in the presentation of information by creating, for example, floating text bubbles to provide detail about a particular physical object. They enable chronological procedure mapping for performing a task and provide virtual arrows pointing to the correct button to push on a console.

“In customer experience, consumers are using AR and holographic computing for self-selection, self-service, and self-help.”

There are countless opportunities for adding more digital information to almost anything within range of a phone camera. There is, for instance, less need for anyone to travel to a classroom if you can launch interactive, immersive 3D presentations on any desk, wall, or floor and “experience” them through the screen in your hand. And unlike passively watching video, holographic interfaces add an extra experiential element to the training process. As a result, users can more readily contextualise what they are learning.

In customer experience, consumers are using AR and holographic computing for self-selection, self-service, and self-help. And the range of uses will soon expand. IKEA’s AR app, for example, enables a consumer to point their phone at their dining room to see how a new table will look in the space. But, why stop here? What if a customer could simply point a phone at the delivery box to get step by step assembly instructions courtesy of a hologram?

Holographic computing will also emerge as the preferred means of getting product information and interacting with service agents. The ability to “walk through” hotel rooms and holiday destinations with a 3D virtual tour guide, travel planner or salesperson will become a reality before long.

IKEA’s AR app lets users view how furniture would look in their home.

Image courtesy of IKEA

Unlimited possibilities: developing future applications for holographic interfaces

There are other appealing use cases, of course. And as adoption and implementation spread, there will be many instances where this new user interface is preferable and will quickly become second nature.

Along with the giants Apple, Google and Facebook, there are a number of new entrants to the AR contest. The sheer amount of money being thrown at speedy development shows that the ultimate nature of the holographic user interface is up for grabs. Yet it remains to be seen whether it is phone-based, involves glasses, or will shift to desktop. It may move beyond our current hardware and into on-eye projection technology, or it may include all of the above. Who can say?

One thing we know for certain is that significant intellectual resources are being invested by companies of all types seeking to develop and build on this emerging technology. The increased dispersal of AR experiences in all their guises, combined with the instant accessibility afforded by our smartphones, will drive mass adoption and create widespread affinity for the holographic interface.

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