Augmented reality software is fascinating and can potentially significantly disrupt the software landscape in the next few years. I've been excited about AR technology for a while, first writing about it in 2017 when ARKit came out for iOS 11, and again a few months later when looking at the larger corporate landscape in the field of AR. Augmented reality was also the focus of another article! A lot has changed over the past few years concerning AR technology, but one thing hasn't: it has not gone mainstream yet.
There are endless AR technology applications that are possible, and the industry continues to make progress in developing the infrastructure necessary for such technology to succeed. In this article, we'll dig into AR sentiment through developers' lens focused on iOS. Dave Verwer and the iOS Dev Weekly community have just completed their annual survey. This year's survey would not have been possible without the herculean efforts of Chris Hefferman and Dragos Laurentiu Dobrean, members of the iOS Dev Weekly community who volunteered to help. With over 1000 responses to four AR-specific questions, we have exciting data to understand this specific community's current sentiment.
To start, what were the questions?
These were all rated on a scale of 1 to 10.
2. Rate your business's current level of interest in AR technologies with today's hardware.
3. How important is AR technology to your business's future plans?
4. How important would AR technology be to your business's future plans if Apple announced/shipped some kind of glasses or other augmented-reality hardware?
These questions were asked last year, and you can find Dave's analysis of those responses here. When comparing these scores against the year before, we don't see a large difference or shift. The score of 4.6 for question 1 was 4.7 in 2019, while the score for question 2 dropped a bit more from 3.3 to 2.8. Question 3 average rating also fell slightly to 2.7, from 3.1, and question 4 dropped from 4.0 to 3.8. Overall we see a slight decrease in optimism about AR.
2020 was, as overused as this term has become, an unprecedented year, though. Many AR applications that make sense involve being outdoors and having a heads-up display, of sorts, that provides rich contextual information about the world around you while also providing access, as desired, to productivity functionalities like email, chat, and note-taking. That said, a year where everyone was locked in their homes, especially in the US, which alone represents a third of the survey responses, would not tend to yield more optimism towards this technology. It could also be argued that COVID-19 and recent current events shifted overall perception towards pessimism, which could affect these results. All that to say, I'm personally not concerned about this slight drop in scores and have never been more excited about the prospect of AR technology!
By digging into this data a tiny bit further, some additional insights are quite intriguing. When slicing the data for these four questions by age, the cohort age 30-39 showed the lowest scores regarding AR. For question 1, the average score for anyone under 30 was 5.4, while it was just 4.3 for those 30-39. Even more intriguing, though, is that the score goes back up to 5.1 on average for individuals 40 or older.
Individuals aged 30-39 being the least optimistic is not what I would have expected. Without seeing this data, I would have assumed that the younger the cohort, the more positive their AR outlook would be. This age group could potentially have been more negatively impacted than others during the past year, but it's otherwise unclear why this cohort has the outlook difference we see.
When slicing the data by organizational size, another exciting insight revealed itself: those that don't create apps professionally that responded to this survey were considerably more optimistic about AR! Again just looking at question 1, the average score for those not developing apps professionally was 5.6, while it was below 5 for all other cohorts. Perhaps the complexity of actually building applications makes AR applications look too challenging to bring to life.
Similar to age, there was another U-shape in the data, where individuals at companies with less than five people, or more than 500, generally had higher average scores than individuals at companies with sizes between 5 and 500. This seems to suggest that small to midsize companies are not prepared, nor making preparations, for AR technology, while there might be more optimism in large companies with more resources, and small startups that may be more nimble.
While interesting, this data reflects a snapshot in time of sentiment about AR technology that is highly specific to the iOS community. While this data is limited, this space continues to be fun to watch, as Apple is not the only player, by any stretch of the imagination, that is well-positioned to make a dent in the AR software landscape. That said, I'm particularly excited about the prospect of an Apple glasses type device, fingers crossed that comes to life sooner rather than later!
Benjamin is a passionate software engineer with a strong technical background, with ambitions to deliver a delightful experience to as many users as possible. He previously interned at Google, Apple and LinkedIn. He built his first PC at 15, and has recently upgraded to iOS/crypto-currency experiments. Benjamin holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from UCLA and is completing a master’s degree in Software Engineering at Harvard University.