For the better part of the last decade, I've been keeping my distance from augmented- and virtual-reality technology and its use in the enterprise.
Sure, a use case pops up every so often, such as Boeing using Microsoft's HoloLens for aircraft maintenance and training, but there has yet to be a broad use case that brings AR and VR to the masses. Though the desktop virtualization nerd in me did think "I wonder if I can turn this into a thin client?" when I was setting up my kids' Meta Quest 2 this past Christmas.
The future of AR and VR in the enterprise could be as a desktop
When I moved to my current role as an EUC analyst, I started to cast a wider net that included all areas of EUC -- not just desktop virtualization and unified endpoint management. Late last year, I spoke with Meta about the Quest Pro and learned about their initial plans for their enterprise-facing platform. Today, you can't throw a stone without hitting someone talking about the Apple Vision Pro or its hefty price tag. One thing is certain -- despite the lack of a broad, utilitarian use case, AR and VR are getting headlines.
I started thinking about what potential use cases might get me to wear an unwieldy headset -- or face set -- as part of my job. Video calls might be interesting, spare the fact that everyone would have on the headsets. That's why the options on the market thus far are using avatars, but that somehow seems like an unnecessary step back. Hopefully, vendors will improve on this in the near future. Couple this with AI-generated video in a few years and maybe it's something viable, but is it something that's necessary or even useful?
As an office worker, training amounts to tasks such as how to identify phishing emails and learning about diversity, equity and inclusion. All of these are important, but they don't really miss anything without an AR and VR component.
Then I noticed my desktop and its dozens of open windows -- one of which was a browser with another 10+ open tabs, plus the apps I'd minimized to make room for the ones that were jockeying for position within eyesight. And it hit me -- unlimited screen real estate! If you've seen Minority Report, you have an idea of what I'm talking about. They relied on some sort of gesture-drive projection in the futuristic action movie, but the overall effect could be the same.
As you put on the headgear, your 'desktop' opens up in front of you. It's literally everything you use in a 360-degree view. Need email? Turn to the right. Browser? Left. Want to write something without seeing all the other apps and distractions? Word is running behind you, and you can literally turn your back on everything else. Head tracking makes this possible and could lead to features like quiet zones, where looking in one direction mutes alerts or fades into the background the audio from sources you're not looking at.
This unlimited screen real estate -- well, not unlimited just unbound by traditional monitor dimensions -- could free up a new level of productivity and creativity. And since the device contains both the display and the compute capabilities, it's functionally a laptop or PC replacement, which makes that $3,500 price tag an easier pill to swallow.
Of course, we're still a ways from that, but I could picture the office of the future -- home or otherwise -- resembling more of a Ready Player One environment as opposed to a desk with a monitor and computer on it. We still need to figure out what to do with the keyboard, but I bet we can solve some of that with AI and dictation.
Though it might be odd to think of a desk without those ubiquitous things on it, consider that just forty years ago that's how most desks were, and those workers couldn't envision a future without a desk blotter and a rolodex and an admin to do all their typing for them.
That's one vision of what this current wave of AR and VR activity could turn into. Then again, it could go the way of 3D TV -- kind of ok but, after you get it, you realize the old way wasn't really that bad to begin with.
I honestly don't have a strong feeling either way about AR and VR. It's easy to be negative about the prospects of any new technology or to completely fan out without considering anything, so I decided to put some thought into what the future could look like in a typical office-worker type scenario. I don't know if it will pan out or not, but if AR and VR is to have that broad, utilitarian use case, it will likely have to be something along these lines.
Gabe Knuth is the senior end user computing analyst for TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group. He writes publicly for TechTarget in addition to his analyst work. If you'd like to reach out, see his profile on LinkedIn or send an email to [email protected].
Note: Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget. Its analysts have business relationships with technology vendors.