MENA Through The Lens Of Full Scale Immersive Technologies
I still remember being hit by a wave of fantasy and wonder the first time I saw Tom Cruise’s character John Anderton in ‘Minority Report’, tapping into the holographic overlays of his family memories in life-sized images that seem to just spring to life magnificently in the middle of the room. And then the 3D depiction of the character’s wife was something else too. It was not the first movie I saw that made use of such technological innovation, but it was certainly one of the most powerful ones.
Today, however, we are seeing the realization of far more advanced immersive technologies being unfolded in the real world that are well poised to take the entire world by storm. As a matter of fact, they already have. Just a few years back what we could only read about in books or experience by way of sci-fi movies, is all within our grasp today. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are indeed changing the dynamics of the world around us. Many industries have already been experimenting with these technologies, mainly using them for training purposes but now they are all set to go mainstream.
As the world continues to embrace them, the Middle East has become one of the fastest growing AR/VR emerging markets. Not only that, the region is also attracting entrepreneurs, experts and businesses from all over the world aiming to be in the middle of the action. The UAE has been hosting many events where professionals, startups and technologists have been pouring in to experience and take part in the technological transformation of the region. The government has set a socio-economic agenda for the future to be led by these innovative technologies.
Following suit, many industries have made heavy investments into implementing AR/VR into their business models. The idea is to improve processes, methods and consumer engagement by connecting operational data and human experience. Both, virtual and augmented realities, leverage much the similar technology, mainly tracking the head movements of the user and creating realistic virtual imaging accordingly. And while the potential is visibly obvious for virtually any type of business, healthcare is one of the most influenced and most rapidly transformed by these technologies. As the research findings by the Lumus Vision point out, the healthcare industry will have reached a whopping US$5.1 billion by 2025, followed by engineering close behind with $4.7 billion. According to the International Data Corporation, the Middle East and Africa market is expected to achieve a huge growth soaring to a massive $6 billion by 2020 for AR and VR.
But other sectors are fast catching up. For example, food industry is beginning to adopt the AR/VR technology in order to create innovative pre-purchase customer experiences. One such example is of the startup Kabaq which intends to lead the immersive experiences for restaurants by introducing the first ever augmented reality menu. Using the Custom Snapchat World Lenses, Bareburger is one of the first restaurants to offer the AR menu for their consumers at locations in the US as well as Dubai, where customers are able to view their meals from every angle before placing an order.
However, this disruptive transformation is much more monumental in the education sector where students, teachers, and institutes are experiencing a whole new world of possibilities set in motion for creative learning techniques and educational opportunities.
Recently, Dr. Sana Farid, a MENA-based pioneer AR/VR Strategist and the co-founder and CEO of Munfarid Consulting, a MENA-based AR/VR Education Consultancy consortium, was hosted by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center - Sheraa to speak about VR, its applications in the corporate sector, other related prospective growth sectors and emerging market trends, as well as the utilization of the most impressive and engaging technologies aimed at reshaping business policies in the light of future trends.
Likewise, other B2B and consumer-oriented businesses see a growth potential in adopting AR/VR technologies aiming to contribute to their customer engagement strategies, including multi-sensory engagement, intellectual engagement and emotional connections. Grand examples are Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier Etihad Airways and Dubai’s real estate giant Jumeirah Group, two of the major Gulf brands, adopting VR technology in order to create immersive customer experiences and promote their products and services.
As the awareness of these technologies grows among the public, this is not just what the businesses want to delve into, but also what customers now expect to see. And while we may only be just at the beginning and seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential that these technologies can exhibit in the future, AR and VR are already changing the face of the industries from entertainment to healthcare, from engineering to education, and from combat training to corporate world. And the important thing now is to join this revolution by devising ways to build more holistic AR and VR applications into the new business models and strategies.
Hajra Khan, a former marketing professional, currently works as a writer and blogger.