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What is Extended Reality (XR)?

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What is Extended Reality (XR)?

What is Extended Reality (XR)?

It’s the year 2030, and you have a busy day scheduled. You need to check on your production lines in China, visit Mars during your lunch break, and attend a business meeting in Brazil – all from the comfort of your office in New York.

While it might sound far-fetched now, this future might be within our grasp thanks to advancements in Extended Reality (XR). Today’s infographic from Raconteur illustrates the growth of XR technology, and its potential to transform business across industries.

Understanding Extended Reality

To understand Extended Reality (XR), we’ll begin by defining three of its main components: virtual, augmented, and mixed reality.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) applications use headsets to fully immerse users in a computer-simulated reality. These headsets generate realistic sounds and images, engaging all five senses to create an interactive virtual world.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) is not a new reality, but a layer on top of your existing one. Rather than immersing users, AR relies on a device – usually the camera in your phone or tablet – to overlay digital graphics and sounds into a real-world environment. Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters are commonplace examples of this kind of technology.

Mixed Reality

Mixed Reality (MR) lies somewhere in between VR and AR. It blends real and virtual worlds to create complex environments where physical and digital elements can interact in real time. Like AR, it overlays synthetic content in a real-world environment; and like VR, this content is interactive, and users can manipulate the digital objects in their physical space.

With their Spectator View, Microsoft has used MR as a complement to their HoloLens AR product. The Spectator View app offers users a third-party perspective of a HoloLens user and their AR content in real time.

Extended Reality

Extended Reality (XR) is the umbrella term used for VR, AR, and MR, as well as all future realities such technology might bring. XR covers the full spectrum of real and virtual environments.

The use of an umbrella term speaks to the future of XR as a fundamental shift in the way people interact with media. In the future, instead of saying “I’m using AR to attend a business meeting” – it will just be another day at the office. People will interact with the real and virtual worlds in seamless ways, without mention of extended reality’s distinct categories and their underpinning technology.

To use an umbrella term is to recognize the intersection of these technologies, and the many ways they will work together to disrupt our everyday tasks.

XR for Business

Extended reality is changing the landscape in a number of industries. It’s expected to grow eightfold, reaching an estimated market size of more than $209 billion by 2022.

Extended reality forecast market size 2022

A glance at current use cases shows the potential for XR across industries:

  • Entertainment
    XR brings immersive experiences to the entertainment world, and offers consumers an opportunity to virtually experience live music and sporting events from the comfort of their VR headset. While a majority of market share leans heavily towards entertainment, it’s not the only one gearing up for a virtual expansion.
  • Marketing
    Virtual realities have opened new ways for brands to engage with consumers, offering immersive ways to interact with new products.
  • Training
    Extended reality opens new avenues for training and education. People who work in high-risk conditions – like chemists and pilots – can train in safety from a more conventional classroom setting. Medical students, meanwhile, can get hands-on practice on virtual patients.
  • Real Estate
    Property managers can streamline the rental process by allowing potential tenants to view properties virtually, while architects and interior designers can leverage XR to bring their designs to life.
  • Remote Work
    XR removes distance barriers, allowing remote employees to seamlessly access data from anywhere in the world.

Extended reality is not without its challenges. The spread of data presents a new layer of vulnerability for cyber attacks, while the high cost of implementation is a barrier to entry for many companies.

But even these challenges can’t slow the progress of XR, and the question remains: how will businesses define reality five years from now?

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History

Internet Browser Market Share (1996–2019)

This animation provides a nostalgic look back at the market share of various web browsers, from Netscape Navigator to Google Chrome.

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browser market share

Internet Browser Market Share (1996–2019)

Web browsers are a ubiquitous part of the internet experience and one of the most commonly used digital tools of the modern era.

Since the first rudimentary interfaces were created in the 1990s, a number of browsers have entered the market, with a select few achieving market dominance over our access to web content.

Today’s bar chart race video, by the YouTube channel Data is Beautiful, is a nostalgic look back at how people used to access the internet, from Mosaic to Chrome.

The First Wave of Browsers

Simply put, web browsers are the software applications that act as our portal to the internet. Today, aside from the occasional pop-up box, we barely notice them. In the early ’90s though, when the web was in its infancy, the crude, boxy interfaces were a revolutionary step in making the internet usable to people with access to a computer.

The first step in this journey came in 1990, when the legendary Tim Berners-Lee developed the first-ever web browser called “WorldWideWeb” – later renamed Nexus. Nexus was a graphical user interface (GUI) that allowed users to view text on web pages. Images were still beyond reach, but since most connections were dial-up, that wasn’t much of a limitation at the time.

Nexus browser example

The precurser to the modern browser was Mosaic, originally developed as a temporary project by the the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

After his graduation from UIUC in 1993, Marc Andreessen teamed up with Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, to produce a commercial version of the browser. The resulting software, Netscape Navigator, became the first widely used browser, moving the internet from an abstract concept to a network that was accessible to everyday people. The company soon staged a wildly popular IPO, which saw the 16-month-old startup reach a valuation of nearly $3 billion.

Naturally, the fanfare surrounding Netscape had captured Microsoft’s attention. Immediately after Netscape’s IPO, the first version of Internet Explorer (building off a licensed version of Mozilla) was released. The browser wars had begun.

The Internet Explorer Era

In 1995, Bill Gates was looking to capitalize on the “Internet Tidal Wave”, and was up to the challenge of eating into Netscape’s market share, which stood at about 90%.

A new competitor “born” on the Internet is Netscape. We have to match and beat their offerings…

– Bill Gates

Ultimately, Netscape was no match for Internet Explorer (IE) once it was bundled with the Windows operating system. By the dawn of the new millennium (beware Y2K!) the situation had reversed, with IE capturing over 75% of the browser market share.

With Netscape mostly out of the picture, IE had a stranglehold on the market. In fact, Microsoft’s position was so comfortable that after IE6 was released 2001, the next full version wouldn’t ship until 2006.

It was during this time that a new player came onto the scene. Mozilla Firefox was officially launched in 2004, seeing over 60 million downloads within its first nine months. For the first time in years, Microsoft began to feel the heat of competition.

Goliath and Goliath

Despite the growing popularity for Mozilla Firefox, it was a browser backed by another tech giant that would eventually lead to IE’s downfall – Google Chrome.

Chrome was pitched to the public in 2008 as “a fresh take on the browser”. While Microsoft struggled with open web standards, Chrome’s source code was openly available through Google’s Chromium project.

By 2011, Firefox and Chrome had eroded IE’s market share to below 50%, and a year later, Chrome would end Internet Explorer’s 14-year reign as the world’s top internet browser.

Today, the browser market has come full circle. Chrome has now become the dominant browser on the market, while competitors fight to increase their single-digit market shares. IE has dropped to fourth place.

Looking Back at the Peaks

In the 25 years since Netscape gave people access to the internet, a few browsers have had their moment in the sun. Here are the years of peak market share for all the major browsers:

BrowserPeak Market SharePeak Year
Netscape Navigator90%1995
Internet Explorer95%2004
Opera3%2009
Mozilla Firefox32%2010
Safari7%2012

Once a browser becomes popular, it can be incredibly difficult to carve into its market share. Even during the height of the iPhone era, Apple’s browser, Safari, was only able to manage a 7% market share.

For now, it looks like Chrome will continue to be the world’s preferred method of experiencing the internet. If Chrome’s current trajectory continues, it could become the third major browser to surpass a 90% market share.

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Chart of the Week

The Sum of Its Parts: The Smartphone Multiplier Market

Every day, 3.3 billion people rely on their smartphones to stay connected. The products and services enabling this—the smartphone multiplier market—is now worth $459 billion.

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The Sum of Its Parts: The Smartphone Multiplier Market

There’s a 60% chance you’re reading this article on a smartphone right now—a testament to how ubiquitous these devices have truly become in our lives.

We rely on smartphones every waking minute to stay connected. However, the various products and services—also known as the smartphone multiplier market—that allow us to use these devices in the first place can often be an afterthought.

Today’s chart uses data from Deloitte Insights to show just how sizable this ecosystem is becoming, and why it’s heating up as a battleground for big technology companies such as Apple, Alphabet, and Amazon.

The Smartphone Plateau

There are over 3.3 billion smartphone users in the world today.

The smartphone economy—estimated to pull in $944 billion in total revenue in 2020—is so massive that it rivals the GDP of countries like Indonesia and the Netherlands.

At the moment, the smartphones themselves contribute over half the market value. Despite the continued hype surrounding the release of new models, global unit shipments of smartphone devices appears to have reached a saturation point:

Smartphone Sales

There are two theories as to why shipments are leveling off. First, product innovation is more iterative today than in the past, which means there are fewer groundbreaking features to entice consumers into purchasing new devices. A second factor is that people are simply holding onto their devices for longer than in the past.

As device sales plateau, tech giants are diversifying efforts to find new ways to lure customers back in—and another related market is growing more lucrative as a result.

What is a “Smartphone Multiplier”?

When people think of the smartphone market, hardware likely springs to mind first, but an equally important part of the equation is the plethora of apps, services, accessories, and complementary devices that help us connect with the digital world.

The ecosystem of these products and services are known as smartphone multipliers. According to Deloitte, this ecosystem will drive $459 billion of revenues in 2020, an impressive 15% increase from the prior year.

The market can be broken down into three main categories:

CategoryMarket Value (2020e)Sub-categories
Content$312B
(68% of total)
$176B: Mobile ads
$118B: Apps
$10B: Music
$8B: Video
Hardware$111B
(24% of total)
$77B: Accessories
$25B: Wearables
$9B: Smart speakers
Services$37B
(8% of total)
$18B: Insurance
$12B: Repairs
$4B: Others
$3B: Storage

Largely driven by mobile advertising and app sales, content is by far the largest subcategory, accounting for 68% of revenues:

  • Mobile advertising surpassed TV as the largest advertising channel in 2019, partially thanks to the relentless growth of online video and social media, making ads virtually unavoidable on a smartphone.
  • Gaming apps are benefiting from the immense processing power of today’s smartphones—and will bring in over two-thirds of total app revenue in 2020. Apple’s app store brought in approximately $1.8 billion in sales between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day alone.
    • If you’ve ever owned a pair of headphones or a powerbank, it’s easy to understand why accessories are the third-largest subcategory in the smartphone multiplier market. With more people ditching the cable for wireless headphones, this subcategory is also set to grow even more.

      The Next $1T Economy?

      In the U.S., 73% of adults go online several times a day or almost constantly, which makes it clear that they aren’t going to give up their smartphones anytime soon.

      As a result, smartphone multipliers will continue to evolve and flourish, presenting a unique opportunity for investors and businesses.

      Altogether, it’s expected that the smartphone multiplier market will grow between 5 and 10% annually through 2023, likely propelling the entire smartphone economy past the $1 trillion benchmark in the coming years.

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