The State of the XR Marketplace, with XR Intelligence’s Kathryn Bloxham

As this episode goes live, Alan’s away giving a talk at the XR Intelligence conference in San Francisco. A little while back, he sat down with Event Director Kathryn Bloxham, to get a sense of who will be there, what there is to see, and where the XR market is as 2019 comes to a close.

Alan: Hey everyone, it’s Alan here, with the XR for Business Podcast. Today, we’re speaking with Kathryn Bloxham from Reuters Events brand, XR Intelligence, about their amazing business conference, VRX happening in San Francisco, December 12th and 13th. I will be speaking at that conference on the transformation of learning with XR. We will also be discussing the findings of their 2019 XR industry report. All that and more, on the XR for Business Podcast.

Welcome to the show, Kathryn. How are you today?

Kathryn: Hi, I’m great, thanks. How are you doing?

Alan: I’m so amazing. I’m really excited for a number of things. One, your industry report is the quintessential report on what the industry is actually looking forward to in 2020 and beyond. I’m going to be speaking at your VRX conference — we’ll talk about that, and all the great things — and you also host a number of really informational webinars. So we’ll get into that. But let’s talk about you and how did you end up being in where you are right now?

Kathryn: Yeah, so I work for XR Intelligence, which was actually recently acquired by Thomson Reuters under the new Reuters Events brand, which is very exciting. We speak to people throughout the entire year about the trends, challenges, solutions, and opportunities that they see in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. So primarily our audience are end users of the technology. So it started mostly as people in gaming a few years ago and the entertainment side, and gradually is actually getting more and more focused on enterprise customers. And then we also put together various types of content throughout the year. So we do the webinars, industry surveys and reports, as well as three events throughout the year across the US and Europe. And that really allows our contacts to keep their eye on the progress of the industry and make informed business decisions about investing in immersive technologies.

Alan: Seems to be the perfect jam for the XR for Business Podcast, as our mission here is to inspire and educate business leaders to invest in XR technologies. So having said that, what are some of the findings of this industry report you guys did?

Kathryn: Yes. So it was really interesting. We’ve done it for the past few years. and this year we managed to get around 750 people take part. And there was some really interesting patterns that emerged when we looked at the 2019 survey compared with the 2018 survey. So this year, for example, the hardware, software and third party content creators to XR have seen much stronger growth in the enterprise side of that business, compared to growth in the consumer sector over the past 12 months. So I guess that’s kind of in line with people moving towards the money as people are seeing a lot more money in the enterprise side. And that’s kind of reflected in the fact that consumer adoption hasn’t been as much as people would have expected it to be at this stage. So growth is accelerating for enterprise applications, particularly maybe surprisingly in VR. So in 2018, 38 percent said that they were seeing strong or very strong growth in VR for enterprise and this rose to 46 percent in this year’s survey. So it kind of reflects the demand trends with enterprise end users seeing strong ROI. And then 93 percent of the enterprise users said that VR had had a positive impact on their business and 88 percent said the same for AR and MR.

Alan: So 93 percent said VR is having a strong impact?

Kathryn: Yes. You do kind of have to take the results with a pinch of salt, because we send our survey out to people that already know us, who have already — I guess — said that they are interested in VR and AR, by following and subscribing to us. But of all of the people that we surveyed, yeah, 93 percent of them said that VR had a really positive impact and was showing kind of ROI. And then 88 percent for the AR/MR side.

Alan: That’s incredible. I mean, even if you take it with a pinch of salt, take 10 percent off, that’s 83 and 78. That’s still amazing positive response to this technology. And I think you can’t ignore the fact that VR can train people faster than anything we’ve ever created.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Alan: It’s conducive to what we’re doing as well.

Kathryn: And I really hear this in my phone calls as well. So part of the kind of– I have to touch base with the industry throughout the year, in order to put together the events and put together the content. And the vast majority of enterprise users that we speak to say that they’re at least considering investing more into XR in the next few years. So everyone’s at different stages. Some people are seeing fantastic value already. Some are working in teams to move from the pilot schemes and move these into something that they can push forward and really start to see across their organizations. And some of them are really just starting to hear about XR and dip their toes in.

Alan: What are some of the companies that you’ve seen that are doing the most things? What are companies doing, what are they doing with this?

Kathryn: Yeah. So I guess in terms of application area, product design and prototyping is kind of the most common area of usage for enterprise. So another stat from the survey is that 96 percent were deploying VR to help with some kind of product design prototyping. And then there was also– a lot of these companies are using it in various different areas. So over 90 percent were using it for workforce and project collaboration, around 90 percent for educational learning, around 90 percent again for training and worker guidance, and then sales and marketing or external communication and manufacturing were 80 percent of those companies, over 80 percent of those companies were using for those applications. So there are kind of really varied applications, and that’s specific to the VR, all of those. AR/MR was being used, I guess less frequently across the board. And the most likely application was in sales and marketing. So we saw that there was a general feeling from many that AR and MR will start to speed up in terms of adoption across different use cases. And partly this is because it’s a shorter leap from phone and tablet towards AR and MR. But where the companies were saying that they had seen the most value, was these kind of high quality VR training experiences and educational learning experiences, because it is so, so immersive and different to anything that they’d had before.

Alan: Yeah, it’s transformational for sure. I know you guys host a lot of webinars. What are some of the– what are the webinars that have been kind of those ones where everybody signs up? Like what are the key ones?

Kathryn: So, I mean, this year I ran a series of six webinars. And to be honest, the one that absolutely everybody signed up to was just, what is the state of the market? I think there are still huge questions around what’s happening with adoption, what’s happening with hardware, what’s happening with software, what are the challenges still? So I think the fact that everyone– the market is a little bit fragmented, still. And there are major questions around user experience and usability. And a big question that I get from a lot of people is, “OK, we understand how all of this technology works, but we’re not quite sure how that’s going to fit into our legacy systems within our business,” or “We’re not quite sure why the current hardware or software that we’re being introduced to by vendors, if that’s going to be relevant in five years time, for example.” So I think price is something that people have seen coming down. The level that the technology is that– the functions that it can do, the quality, all of that is going up. But also there is this kind of sticking point, where people are not quite sure at what stage is right for them to invest. Is that quality? Is it? Is it good enough to do the job, or should I wait for something that’s kind of all-encompassing, not just a point solution, something that I can really integrate into my business? So, “stay off the market” is just a huge– there are lots of questions there, and lots of discussions. I also ran some other webinars in specific growth areas. So along with my research, there was– healthcare was a massive growth area, design of visualization was a massive growth area, training was a massive one. Retail and consumer was a big one as well. And all of those are actually going to be reflected in the seminars that we have at the conference in December, as well. So we’ve got some really interesting speakers talking about those different growth areas, and how they’re kind of using AR and VR to get value within their businesses across different functions and across different industries.

Alan: Okay. So let’s let’s dive into that, because you opened the door for me and I’m diving in. Who are some of the speakers? Let’s go through who are the speakers coming this year? I know I’m one of them, but people know me. So let’s talk about who else is gonna be there.

Kathryn: Yes. So, I mean, we’ve got a couple of big players everyone’s really interested to see. So we’ve got an update from HTC and Oculus on what’s the state of the hardware. So obviously, everyone’s always really interested to understand what’s going on there. And then we look at different verticals. So this event is what we would call an ecosystem event, so it’s all-encompassing, everyone in the XR world, be it entertainment, gaming, enterprise, investment. It’s all kind of coming together and looking at different applications and different ways of using this technology, but primarily to bring businesses ROI. So how do we implement these technologies and look at them more in a long term sense. So we’ve got companies from healthcare such as Bayer, we’ve got consumer companies such as Nivea and L’Oreal, then we’ve got aerospace like Lockheed Martin–

Alan: Yeah, I noticed you have Shelley [Peterson]. I had dinner with Shelley recently. She’s awesome.

Kathryn: Oh, yeah, she’s great. She’s so enthusiastic, and she knows her stuff.

Alan: She definitely does. If you Google “Lockheed Martin Hololens”, there’s a picture of some people wearing a Hololens in a NASA shuttle training simulator, and she’s there in the picture. It’s an iconic photo of use of XR.

Kathryn: It’s good, yeah. She’s– I mean, she’s just a great ambassador in general, because she really knows her stuff. She’s one of those people that is really happy to– a lot of companies have this thing, where they’re scared to show their figures, and scared to show the data around. How much money this has saved us, or how much this has improved our process, all of those things. And she’s one of those people that’s willing to share those, because we are in a stage of the– I guess, in a stage of the industry where nobody is quite sure the best route to go down. We’ve got some idea, but sharing those statistics is something that we’re really kind of encouraging our speakers to do this year.

Alan: Yeah, it’s– I’m looking at– I’m just scrolling down the list here, and it feels like I’m scrolling down the list of my friends. [laughs] You’ve got Tipatat [Chennavasin] from the VR Fund. You’ve got Anne McKinnon from The Boolean, and also of VR Days. Vinay Narayan, he’s one of our mentors at XR Ignite. Oh man. It’s just everybody who’s anybody. Ted Schilowitz from Paramount. Terry Schussler from Deutsche Telekom, another one of our mentors.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Alan: This is a conference that you don’t wanna miss. Stephanie Llamas from SuperData. Oh man, it’s– Amy Lameyer from WXR Fund, they run the Women’s XR Fund. Bob Fine from the Virtual Reality Health Care Alliance. Wow. Amy Peck. It’s a really great– oh, you even have Walter Greenleaf, medical expert. Wow. This is gonna be a great conference. I’m really excited for it.

Kathryn: Yeah, we’re excited as well. I think we’ve got a really good mix of kind of VR/AR experts and companies that are so enthusiastic. They’re — again — all at different levels of implementing this technology. For example, Fern [Nibauer-Cohen], who is from Penn Medicine and she’s speaking. They’ve trialed all sorts of things around improving patient experience or providing their patients with a bit more insight into what their treatment will be like. And this is all using immersive technologies. But she admits we’re not 100 percent there yet. We want to attend this conference as well, to find out what other people are doing and how they’re getting the best results from using this technology.

Alan: It comes down to– and I noticed a couple of years ago when I used to go to these conferences, it was all about what we could do. “Imagine what we could do in VR. We could do this, and we could do this.” And that was great. And then it kind of inspired people to go and try and do those things. And now it’s less around what we could do and it’s more around “This is what has been done. This is what we’ve done. These are the learnings that we’ve made, and this is the benefit that we found.” So it’s really an exciting time to watch an industry go from, “Hey, we have this thing that barely works. And we could do all these things with it,” to “We’ve done these things. And it works.”

Kathryn: Yeah. And I do think you need a bit of both, because we’ve got some speakers, Ted, for example, at Paramount. He can see where this is going in 10 years time. He knows what it’s gonna be like walking around as a consumer. We consume so much information per day, we go through our phones so we can see loads of information. We walk around around. There’s lots of different ways that we can kind of interact with things. And sometimes technology’s involved, sometimes it isn’t. And that’s that kind of head down, head up approach. At the moment we’re head down on our phones. But I guess that people that can see where this is going is saying, “no, everything’s gonna be head up, we’re gonna be fully immersed. We’re going to be able to interact with our space.” But there is a lot of work to be done to get there. And those kind of case study examples where, “Well, this is what we tried. This is what worked, and didn’t work. This is the money that we saved, or this is what we’d like to improve. And these were all of the different aspects of either the technology or the process that we went through.” Those are the really important things from actually getting to that ideal future that everyone in this space is kind of foreseeing.

Alan: Absolutely. I think it’s one of those things that because we’re so early in this — and I say “early” because there’s still so much ways to go — but people are willing to share their failures. And I think this is the key. And one of the reasons I started this podcast was to ask people what did you do wrong? What can people learn from, so they don’t have to make those mistakes? Because I think this is really one of those times where things are happening fast. People are breaking stuff on a daily basis. And if you’re not breaking stuff, you’re not really pushing the limits. And a lot of things that we did years ago — like 360 video stuff — is now kind of coming around full circle and saying, “Oh, well, 360 video is good for training, and we don’t have to fully CG render everything. It can be just filmed.” And I think it’s one of those learning things that you kind of have to go through. But if you can learn a little bit before you do it, rather than make those mistakes, if you can save a little bit of time not making those mistakes, it’s invaluable.

Kathryn: And I mean, I won’t say the company — because I don’t want to jinx my chances of getting them as a speaker — but I was speaking to a large retailer — just last week, actually — and I was asking them, what do you see as being the ideal future for you with VR and AR? And they were saying, “Well, we’d love to have a virtual shopping experience, where somebody can either look at a browser or put on a headset and they’re in our store. And they can go around and they can look objects and they can see the price. They can view the information, they can put them in that basket.” And all of those things add up. The difference between online shopping and going to the store is that you don’t find out a lot about the product. You don’t get to touch it. All of those human things that are kind of missing. The shopping industry is really interesting one, because a lot of things are changing in terms of the experience. And I think one thing that some of these large retailers are seeing is, “Well, actually, everything’s online now, but we can bring in some of that experience again and we can really provide a good experience for our customers and help them make informed decisions. And they can still do from the home and they can still click ‘buy’ on their basket. And it will come to them super quick, super easy. And they haven’t missed out on learning about all of those different products and walking around the store and things like that.” So that was really interesting one.

Alan: I think retailers need to stop thinking in terms of recreating a store, and think in terms of recreating an experience or a feeling that you want your brand to be associated with. Because a lot of– I’ve seen a lot of retail stuff and it’s like, “Here’s a grocery store in VR.” You know what? I don’t want to go to a real grocery store. Why the hell would you recreate it in VR? Why not put me on a seaside where I can look at the fish market, and choose my fish on a seaside fish market? Or I can go to a ranch and kind of in a ranch theme and buy my steaks or whatever? Why are we re-creating a physical store where you have neon lighting and really bad music, with aisle upon aisle of the same thing I can walk down to the store? And I don’t want to do that either, I get my groceries delivered now. So I think retailers need to think outside the box and think, “OK, what is the experience that I can give that will give people a really, really powerful experience?” When you look at something like the Samsung store in New York and their building kind of all over, you can’t even buy things in the store. It’s just an experience center. I think the Nike’s making one. People are starting to realize that people are going to buy online. That’s fine. They can order it. It’s going to come to their house. But what can we give people that that makes them feel viscerally connected to the brand? And VR can deliver that in ways that you can’t do in real world. You can create a brand experience where you’re on Mars and your brand is associated with going to Mars. That’s not something you can do in real life.

Kathryn: Definitely. And actually, one of our speakers on day one at the VRX Conference, Anne [Stephens] from AP InBev. She’s going to be doing a talk around what is the AR future. So she’s talking about how brands are moving away from “You can buy products and this is it,” because everyone these days does look and compare products. It can’t just be “These are the different products and these are the different prices.” But it also has to be “Why am I loyal to this brand? Why do I associate a positive thing going on in my life?” or “How is this brand going to enhance my life and make me feel better?” And she’s looking at how the first person perspective. So in this case, a person wearing an AR headset, for example. How do they interact with things — physically and psychologically — in their day to day lives? And how can they actually improve their offering in future based around that research? So they’re actually doing quite a bit of research into that. There’s gonna be loads of interesting discussions about different approaches. There’s other things going on. 5G, AI, machine learning, which all have different applications within businesses. And all of them — to be honest at this stage — are really open discussions. But there are a few companies that are making really good steps in the right direction and kind of leading the way.

Alan: Wow. I can’t wait. I’m just so excited. This week is the VR/AR Global Summit. And I’m speaking of that. But then it’s a different audience. I think your audience is going to be more of industry. It sounds like there’s a lot of people from industry looking for answers on how they utilize these technologies. I’m really, really excited to learn from all of these amazing speakers. What else do you want people to know about the new XR Intelligence?

Kathryn: Yes. So, XR Intelligence was kind of a natural step for us. So with our Reuters acquisition, so now that we’re Reuters Events, we thought this is a perfect time. We’re going to have to rebrand, anyway. And all of the discussions I’ve been having with people, VR Intelligence was just about outdated. It’s not that we didn’t cover VR/AR/MR content before. It’s just that everyone is kind of looking at all different aspects of this technology. XR is the all-encompassing, I guess word — is it a word? kind of — for this industry. And XR just resonated a lot better with some of the amazing companies that are doing work in AR and MR in this space. So we still see it as a very inclusive industry. There are lots of people sharing different ideas. There’s plenty of startups. We actually have a pitch fest going on this year, which is something that we haven’t had before. We’ve kind of always had senior level speakers from giant brands. And this year we’re like, “No, we really want to help the startup and let the startups have a way to be involved as well.” So we’re introducing a pitch fest. And yes, it’s really gonna be–

Alan: Exciting.

Kathryn: Yeah, it’s gonna to be a great event, and it’s gonna be lots of demos on the floor, big speakers in the room. And those smaller companies doing really innovative things involved as well.

Alan: Super exciting. Oh my goodness. We– I’m going to put a shameless plug in here. We have our own accelerator, XR Ignite. And we’ll be making some some connections with our startups through the accelerator, to come and be at your pitch.

Kathryn: Yeah. Great. Thank you so much. Yeah. Try and get them involved. Can’t wait.

Alan: Of course we will. That’s the whole point. The whole point of starting the accelerator and community hub was to foster the growth of the entire industry, because what we realized is that in the next three to five years, every company in the world will have a VR and AR strategy. They will use it for training, they’ll use it for retail, they’ll use it for marketing, they’ll use it for sales, design, whatever it is, they will be using VR and AR in the next three to five years. And if that’s the case — and I fully believe it will be — then we’re going to have a very big shortage of qualified developers and studios and startups, if we don’t start fostering the growth of the industry together right now. And that’s why XR Intelligence and VRX are such an important part of growing this ecosystem. So thank you for that.

Kathryn: Thank you very much. Yeah. I mean, just on that point, I was going to say I don’t think it’s just a feeling anymore, that this will be a real thing within all businesses in five years. There is evidence, some colloquial evidence, evidence written down from surveys and reports and people providing data on this. It is coming, but it’s coming in different leaps and bounds, and in different forms. But, yeah, I definitely agree with you that we don’t want there to be a skills gap or we don’t want there to be a lack of the right content. And that’s what all of these kind of conferences and reports are for, so that people understand what’s going on, where the gaps are to exploit, but also how they can kind of make the most of this movement.

Alan: That seems like a really great mission and goal to have for XR Intelligence, a Reuters Events company. So, what problem in the world do you want to see solved using XR technologies?

Kathryn: Oh. I would love to see that XR can– I would like to see it being used in a diversity context. So I would like XR to be used positively, in a way that would improve the quality of life for people, whether it’s an aging population that that doesn’t have much access anymore to getting out on about. Whether it’s building homes through a mixture of 3D printing and XR and visualization and all of these things, I think it would be fantastic if we can use these technologies to enhance the quality of life for people.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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