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Virtual reality devices are the next generation of computing, IDC says

BOSTON — When evaluating wearables, IT can’t leave out augmented and virtual reality devices, which are poised to have a major effect on the enterprise.

The wearables market overall will see profound growth over the next three years. It is projected to surpass $20 billion this year, and the market will grow to up to $54 billion in 2019, IDC analysts said here at this week’s IDC Directions conference.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets will be a key driver of wearables growth as major IT vendors invest in this area, IDC vice president Tom Mainelli said during a session. Those vendors include Canon, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, Intel, Facebook and Apple, he said.

“This is not a toy,” he added. “This is not something that is just cool to have. This is the next generation of compute.”

AR devices such as Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens add digital information or objects to users’ line of vision. Users can still see and hear everything in the real world, but the devices have see-through lenses that layer data and images onto them. Virtual reality devices such as the Samsung Gear VR completely replace users’ vision (and sometimes hearing) with information they present on screens and in headsets.

There are many business use cases that companies are testing today, Mainelli said.

In hospitals, for example, doctors can use AR headsets to view data during surgeries or talk to patients while viewing their vital signs and other health information right in the lenses. In education, AR devices can allow students to learn more information about museum exhibits they’re viewing, and virtual reality devices can provide simulations that help with job training.

One of the biggest use cases is in manufacturing, where these devices can provide workers with step-by-step instructions or even blueprints for building something. Warehouse workers could use AR headsets to map out the quickest routes to locations where items are stored based on bar codes. Daqri, a software and hardware vendor in Los Angeles, has already developed a “smart hardhat,” a helmet with an augmented reality screen on the front that construction sites and oil rigs are piloting now.

“[AR and VR are] going to have as big an impact on business as the PC had,” Mainelli said. “It’s going to change the way we interact with technology. It’s going to happen across many businesses over time.”