• Many consumers already interact with AR even if they don’t realize it. According to InfoTrends’ survey data, about 70% of total consumers have tried at least one AR experience.
  • Although 5G will be an important development for AR advancement, the absence of 5G is not a complete barrier to entry.
  • Most consumers don’t own AR headsets for personal use, but the overwhelming majority do own smartphones or tablet computers. These devices are more than capable of providing worthwhile AR experiences.

By Colin McMahon


Augmented reality (AR) might still sound like something out of science fiction for certain people. Many individuals continue to associate AR with holograms, futuristic glasses, and artificial intelligence (AI) assistants. While all of these things are part of the AR ecosystem, they are certainly not representative of the entire technology. In reality, AR is part of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled workplace. Its already widely used in a number of vertical industries, including production, medical, and utilities/telecommunications—not to mention the military.

As today’s print service providers (PSPs) consider if and how AR solutions might improve their product offerings, let’s explore some of the perceived barriers to AR adoption. Although some of these barriers are very real, some PSPs may be surprised to learn that the impact of others has been exaggerated.

Just How Many Consumers Have Tried AR?

Those who are seeking AR success stories need to look no further than the business space. In the consumer market, however, things are a bit different. According to data from Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends’ annual Immersive Imaging Survey, over half of respondents report that they have never used AR. Nevertheless, the reality is that many consumers interact with AR without being aware of it. Apps like furniture placement tools (think IKEA) and image filters (Snapchat and Facebook) have become quite popular among consumers, even if most don’t realize that these are AR experiences. Any app that overlays digital information of any kind over the real, physical world is an example of AR software.

To help determine the real number of consumers who had tried AR, InfoTrends asked specific follow-up questions about these apps. The result? Roughly half of those consumers who previously reported that they had never tried AR had actually done so without realizing it. Of the total consumer respondent pool, about 70% had tried at least one AR experience. What this means is that most people are familiar with AR, even if they think they’re not! This is encouraging news as it speaks to the appeal of the technology, even if it highlights a gap in consumer awareness. If PSPs choose to implement AR solutions, they really won’t be asking consumers to try experiences that are completely new to them.

Is 5G Required?

When technology enthusiasts talk AR, they usually also mention 5G. For those who might not be familiar with the term, 5G represents an improvement on the current 4G wireless Internet structure. It will represent the next generation for mobile networks. Many major network providers (including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) currently have plans to start implementing 5G connectivity next year, and some have already implemented trial coverage in certain cities.

When 5G goes live, the mobile network will become faster. Download and upload speeds will increase and users will have quicker access to more sophisticated forms of information. Latency speeds—the delay that occurs when networks are wirelessly transmitting data—will also be reduced. This actually means a lot for AR—especially when it comes to more sophisticated experiences. Many AR solutions already function as cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, and this is particularly true in the print space. Most of the processing is done over the network, so as the network becomes more powerful, the experience in turn can also become more powerful. This will be especially helpful for reactive AR experiences where the consumer can interact and receive responses in real time.

Although 5G will be an important development for AR advancement, the absence of 5G is not a complete barrier to entry. Many simple AR experiences are already possible on a 4G network, and companies like Snapchat have formed successful business models that are largely focused on sharing short AR-enhanced experiences. PSPs that are considering AR should not let a lack of 5G deter them, especially when that landscape looks to be changing within the next year.

Does AR Need a Headset?

A headset is something that certain people hold as a benchmark for AR, and some believe that AR will not become fully established until a commercially viable headset is popular and available to the masses. At this time, no such product has been released or even announced. While AR headsets like the Microsoft Hololens have met with some success, these products are only intended for the business space. Google Glass was a notable attempt at a consumer-friendly AR headset, but it raised privacy concerns and was largely dismissed as an unfashionable piece of hardware. Although Google Glass has since found success in the business word, Google ultimately cancelled its consumer line. Apple is now rumored to be very invested in the development of its own consumer AR headset, but PSPs don’t need to wait for the development of a mainstream headset to provide their customers with AR experiences. Most consumers don’t own headsets for personal use, but the overwhelming majority do own smartphones or tablet computers. These devices are more than capable of providing worthwhile AR experiences.

Meanwhile, AR software providers—especially those serving PSPs—are working to make their creation platforms as user-friendly as possible for mobile phones. Companies like HP, Konica Minolta, and Ricoh are all prioritizing intuitiveness with their software solutions. Furthermore, AR print provider RealityBLU has stated that its software is intended for use by graphic designers rather than those with specialized IT knowledge. Creating AR apps for smartphones may not be as easy as downloading them, but it is certainly not a complicated skill set.

The Bottom Line

AR may seem about as far away from the printing world as it is possible to be, but the two areas can actually overlap and enhance one another. AR works best with a compelling physical platform to build from, and print can be given new life with immersive AR experiences. When combined, the two technologies can transform traditional marketing initiatives and bring additional depth to books, magazines, and catalogs.

AR is a young technology that still has room for development, but PSPs that are considering its implementation do not need to worry about barriers like consumer awareness, the advent of 5G, or the lack of a popular headset. Implementing AR may not even require a heavy investment in new personnel. The technology has already become a robust tool with a wide variety of uses and applications, and PSPs can use AR to enhance their offerings today!

Colin McMahon is a Research Analyst at Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends. He primarily supports the Business Development Strategies and Customer Communications services. In this role, he creates and refines much of InfoTrends’ written content, including forecasts, industry analysis, and research/multi-client studies. He also assists with the editing and formatting processes for many types of deliverables.