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BOSTON -- The future looks a lot like the world of The Jetsons, with robots, virtual reality systems, smart houses and self-driving cars becoming part of daily life.
Mobility is at the center of this digital transformation, with devices capable of providing a portal to augmented and virtual realities. Mobility and the internet of things (IoT) are also traveling on a concurrent path, and the two will intersect even more when 5G networks come into play in the next few years.
"Science fiction is reality now," said George Westerman, a research scientist with the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy.
Westerman and others discussed the future of mobility and its role in cloud computing, social media, artificial intelligence and IoT here at this week's IDC Directions conference. Together, these technologies are "creating a wave of change we have never seen before," Westerman said.
AR and VR: Keys to the future of mobility
There are different types of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) systems hitting the marketplace, including hardware from Google and Samsung, as well as stand-alone and self-contained products that run on Windows and Android operating systems.
"The hardware piece is coming together," said Tom Mainelli, an IDC vice president. "VR has reached maturity, and now there's a race to reach scale. Companies will begin to battle for a place at the table."
VR generates images and sounds to create an artificial environment, as opposed to AR, which enhances the existing physical reality by overlaying information on top of it.
The increase in AR and VR products on the market could lead to more enterprise use cases and opportunities.
Carrie MacGillivrayvice president at IDC
"Silicon Valley is already using VR in business," Mainelli said. NVIDIA is one example; the company is in the midst of building a new headquarters, using VR to visualize the entire structure before breaking ground. Other companies may utilize VR to hold virtual meetings and collaborate with co-workers in other parts of the world.
AR is the "real game-changer," however, Mainelli said. Major technology vendors, such as Microsoft, Google and Apple, are starting to duke it out with DAQRI, Meta, Magic Leap and other lesser-known companies.
There will be strong IT decision-maker interest in augmented reality, because the technology works on mobile devices and enables hands-free work, Mainelli said.
"There is an entire group of people who can't use computers because they are using their hands at work," he said.
By 2020, the healthcare, construction and retail industries will spend $7.5 billion on VR technology and $25 billion on AR technology, according to IDC.
AR ready for prime time?
Augmented reality has been the domain of startups, but that may be about to change.
Microsoft has its HoloLens. Google is using Tango, its 3D mapping camera technology, to offer an AR experience on smartphones. And Apple's next iPhone could come with an AR component, "based on acquisitions and the fact that [CEO] Tim Cook can't stop talking about AR," said Tom Mainelli, an IDC vice president.
Mobility and IoT collide in 5G
Another innovation on the way is 5G, which will come online in 2020.
The 5G network is the fifth generation of wireless wide area network technology. It promises faster speed, lower latency and better battery life. The improvements are still a few years away, but they will have major implications for mobile and IoT devices, said Carrie MacGillivray, an IDC vice president.
Once smartphones are connected to 5G, "we will be able to interact in a way we haven't before," she said. And IoT endpoints will be able to communicate without human interaction.
"The technology eventually replaces people," MacGillivray said.
By 2025, close to 90 billion endpoints will be connected to 5G, according to IDC.
Connected cars bring it all together
The connected car will be another driving force in the future of mobility. But the market is still young, making digital services ripe for business collaborations. For instance, an automaker could work with a city planner to introduce a smart parking application.
"It's going to be life-changing when it gets here," said Brian Haven, an IDC senior research analyst. "And it will get here. It's a futuristic vision, but the pieces are in place."
Mobile technology has already become a standard feature in vehicles, with auto manufacturers using operating systems and service-built apps that use the data the car generates. AR and VR will soon come into play to display information on windshields.
"All are extending the mobile experience we have on our handset, moving that into the vehicle, allowing us to live a more connected, immersed experience," Haven said.
The 5G network will also create more opportunities for automakers, technology vendors and network providers. The connected car provides the perfect use case for 5G, said Heather Ashton, an IDC research manager.
"The car is a mobile device," Ashton said, adding that the auto industry "is trying to reinvent itself around mobility services."
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