Recent rumors that Apple will announce a set of Augmented Reality (AR) glasses for $499 in the next two years has stirred up a conversation around what it would mean for consumers. Clients are also asking, “how would an experience on a headset be fundamentally different than one on a smartphone?”

Today’s AR experiences on smartphones aren’t the gimmicky experiences of the past. Today, they are damn good. The digital overlays are realistic. They are 3D, show fabric textures or colors, sit – not float on surfaces, and persist in their realism despite movement in a room. AR now offers viable alternatives to visiting stores, working in labs to dissect frogs, visiting a planetarium, getting coaching such as physical therapy and more. We just updated our research on how far AR has come in the “State of Augmented Reality for Consumers: 2020.” The same research took a deep dive into the AR opportunities in retail in, “The State of Augmented Reality in Retail in 2020.” (see report). Our glossary offers a tutorial if you are uncertain what occlusion means in an AR context.

So far, AR headsets have gained more traction in the work environment rather than for consumers, due to a number of issues, including privacy. But a pair of Apple AR wireless glasses at $499 would offer consumers new opportunities especially with gesture-based control (and this would have to be the case, obviously).  Handsfree AR gives consumers the ability to interact with digital objects in their field of vision with two hands. Smartphones typically give us just one hand. Glasses can make AR experiences designed for smartphones even better.  Imagine experiences first on a tabletop or in a room. Consumers could do anything from play checkers (and maybe with a friend) to dissect a frog depending on how granular the motion tracking is. Consumers could also move around in the world (cautiously – some vision is likely obscured with digital). We may even see initial versions of the glasses that don’t work if a consumer is moving – for safety.

Next up and new are AR experiences that demand two hands. Beyond games, top of the list might be the ability to democratize access to expertise. Depending on how precise the overlay of the digital assets is, repair services could spring up to allow consumers to repair their own dishwashers or color a spouse’s hair in times of COVID. Music teachers could scale their businesses by working with developers to create experiences that guide consumers through learning to play new pieces on a piano or guitar. In healthcare, AR glasses could guide consumers through more remote data collection or even treatment e.g., injections or diagnoses.

In the near term, videos will provide a better consumer experience than AR. Consumers watch more than 5 billion videos on YouTube daily. (source) If a consumer can just as easily watch a video to learn (go back and forth between watching and doing), AR glasses may not make a difference. If a consumer can get instruction while doing something in real time, then AR glasses are a game-changer. I know I swim faster when I can see my speed in my FORM swim goggles.