By David Nedohin

In 2017, we saw a turning point for augmented reality (AR). Gone are the days where AR was simply a buzzworthy topic following on the heels of virtual reality (VR). In fact, IDC forecast AR and VR revenues will likely total $9.1 billion this year. Additionally, the firm expects AR/VR sales to increase nearly 95 percent in 2018 to reach $17.8 billion.  The majority of that spending is expected to be done by businesses. According to an IDC press release, “The commercial sectors will represent more than 60 percent of AR/VR spending in 2018 and grow to more than 85 percent of the worldwide total in 2021.”

It’s clear enterprise companies are now seeing the real value in AR and seizing opportunities to leverage its capabilities to more easily share knowledge across their organizations. This got us thinking about the year ahead and what’s really driving the proliferation of augmented reality. Here are the top three trends we see driving the AR industry in 2018:

1. New industries adopting full-scale AR

As equipment becomes more complicated, technicians may not have the knowledge or resources to fix problems in a timely manner, and those with the expertise are often hours or days away. This leaves an enormous gap in expertise. Organizations are looking to find a way to put their expert knowledge where they need it, when they need it. Existing communication tools and workflows aren’t cutting it in today’s modern workplace, The good news? AR has the potential to be the answer. While the industry is seeing some benefit from things like video calling and tablets loaded with PDFs, these gains pale in significance next to the potential of AR.

In industries such as utilities, telecoms and manufacturing, where enterprise organizations have a large, distributed workforce of remote workers, the value of AR is already being realized. Being able to scale organizational expertise through remote support is key in an industry where veteran workers are reaching retirement age.  With augmented reality, non-technical workers can create highly interactive instructions, training materials or service and support documentation, streamlining the process for new and existing employees. We are also starting to see industries like healthcare and education leverage these capabilities. There are already healthcare companies, for instance, building AR tools that can be used in the operating room for surgical training. Teachers, on the other hand, can use augmented reality to create more immersive and collaborative learning experiences in the classroom.

2. AR will increasingly become more present in consumers’ daily lives

Pokemon Go received a lot of buzz in the media and it drew a lot of attention from technology leaders, but it all seemed to be a flash in the pan. In 2018, we will see enterprise companies build on that momentum and increased consumer interest in leveraging AR to make tasks in their daily lives easier. In other words, we will see businesses of all shapes and sizes using AR in order to create more valuable relationships with customers.

There’s more to AR than gaming or adding stormtroopers to live photos. SMBs, in particular, can leverage AR-based collaboration tools to explore the use of this technology with their customers. One excellent example of this is “see what I see” support. An auto repair shop, for instance, can leverage live video-calling solutions so a mechanic can walk a consumer through the repairs needed on the customer’s vehicle, drawing on the real-world view to highlight or circle the exact parts that are broken.

3. Augmented Reality will eclipse Virtual Reality

Most new technologies receive a considerable amount of publicity when they are first introduced. VR was hyped extensively until the industry saw poor headset sales and investment interest dried up. Unlike VR, however, many tech industry leaders – including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft – are investing heavily in AR hardware, software and tools. Frameworks like ARKit and ARCore have made it easier than ever to create meaningful content.

With solutions like WorkLink, employees with no prior coding knowledge can develop simple, engaging instructions leveraging augmented reality – what we like to call “smart instructions.” Employees can use wearables such as HoloLens headsets or even their smartphones to view 3D computer generated imagery overlaid on top of the real world. Picture a construction worker who can repair a piece of machinery by simply holding up his phone and seeing step-by-step instructions. Interactive instructions like these have the power to make enterprise workforces more efficient than ever.

So what’s next in 2018?

AR has already shown tremendous value in terms of enterprise use-cases. Enterprise organizations will be looking for solutions that are future-proofed and designed to work with their existing systems. Companies that invest early in an AR strategy will be able to better serve their customers and stay ahead of their competition.

What other trends will drive augmented reality in 2018?