Augmented Reality Trends 2021: What to expect from AR this year

Augmented reality technology is becoming more widely available to consumers. At the end of 2020 it was estimated there were a total of 598 million AR active devices and this is projected to increase to 1.73 billion by 2024, according to research by ARtillery Intelligence.

As more consumers adopt augmented reality technology, AR will move into the mainstream and cease to be viewed as a niche technology. 2020 marked a significant period of growth for AR, with 2021 set to further expand on this.

Here is a snapshot of what 2021 has in store for augmented reality – a selection of our top trends and what to expect from the world of AR in 2021.

AR Trend #1: Smart Glasses

Facebook Smart Glasses

Smart glasses have been in circulation for the best part of a decade but so far they have failed to become widely adopted by consumers. With several new products expected to be released this year, 2021 is looking to be a promising year for AR smart glasses becoming more accessible.

2021 will see Facebook release their highly anticipated smart glasses in partnership with Ray-Ban’s parent company Luxottica. According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at Facebook Connect’s livestream event in September 2020, the smart glasses will be Facebook’s “next step on the road to augmented reality glasses.”

But Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth, Vice President of Facebook Reality Labs, has downplayed the role AR technology will have in Facebook’s 2021 smart glasses release: “These are certainly connected glasses, they are certainly providing a lot of functionality, [but] we’re being quite coy about which functionality precisely we are providing … We’re excited about it but we don’t want to over-hype it. We’re not even calling it augmented reality, we’re just calling it ‘smart glasses’.”

Facebook’s smart glasses have been teased since 2017 with great expectations, but the extent of their incorporation with augmented reality technology remains to be seen. While the release this year will enable AR smart glasses to be more accessible to consumers, mass adoption is still a way off.

But with Vuzix and Lenovo also releasing smart glasses with augmented reality technology aimed at consumers to the market in 2021, coupled with the rumour mill continuing to circulate that there will be an announcement about Apple Glass this year, it looks set for 2021 to be a tentative initial step into a future where augmented reality technology is able to excel past mainstream smartphone use.

AR Trend #2: Avatars


This year’s British Academy Film Awards was advertised as featuring a world first for augmented reality technology. With the help from their sponsors EE, the 2021 BAFTAs showcased an avatar music performance from Liam Payne in real-time augmented reality technology, utilising 5G capabilities.

The former One Direction band member, who boasts over 5.1 billion worldwide streams and has sold more than 23 million singles as a solo artist, tweeted his announcement about the unique performance on Sunday 11th April saying, “You’ve never seen me like this before… Check out my #EEBAFTAs AR performance this Sunday at 6:45pm BST. Coming live to your phone, whether you’re at home, in the park, or on the move.”

Liam Payne was wearing a custom made inertial motion capture suit with over 50 sensors and a specially designed headset, to allow the movement, facial expressions and live audio of his performance to be captured. Using 3D AR animation, viewers were able to access the live avatar performance exclusively via ‘The Round’ app using their smartphones to enjoy in their own environment.

Following the real-time AR avatar performance, the 2021 BAFTA’s was televised on BBC One and billed as a virtual celebration of talent. The show opened with an onstage performance by Payne at the Royal Albert Hall, where the platinum-selling star performed a duet with his hologram.

Speaking of his two unique performances Payne explained, “Performing live via my own avatar in thousands of peoples’ homes, gardens and parks across the country, blows my mind! On top of that, opening this year’s EE BAFTA Film Awards – it just feels incredible. I’m really excited by the things you can do in tech right now and I can’t wait to see what we can do next”.

Payne’s world first real-time AR avatar performance helps to showcase the capabilities of augmented reality technology in media, bringing new levels of entertainment to audiences in unique ways.

AR Trend #3: 5G

The Green Planet AR

It’s a trend you’ll already have heard about, with 5G being a hot topic over the last couple of years, as it’s been gradually implemented throughout the UK. 5G coverage is now available in over 100 cities nationwide, with a target of 2027 for 5G to be accessible to the majority of the population.

As part of their mission to be a Global leader in 5G, the UK government has recently pledged £28 millionto fund nine projects across the nation that support innovative new uses of 5G. So we can expect to be hearing a lot more about 5G in 2021, particularly as it continues to support augmented reality technology.

So how does 5G benefit AR? At full capacity, 5G will be 20 times faster than it’s predecessor 4G. As the fifth generation mobile network, 5G enhances the experience of using augmented reality technology by offering improved connection, reduced latency and faster data speeds, which will allow AR to become a more widely adopted technology.

£2.3million of the UK government’s pledge will fund an augmented reality app fronted by a hologram of Sir David Attenborough. The Green Planet augmented reality app will see Attenborough act as a holographic tour guide, with plants and animals digitally enhanced on real-world settings throughout the UK.

Matt Warman, the minister for digital infrastructure, explains: “This cutting-edge app, fronted by broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough, is set to be an inspiring example of how new technology can reconnect us with the natural world while demonstrating the power of 5G to a huge new audience.”

The Green Planet AR app will be released to support the upcoming BBC series of the same name. Although the release of the series is scheduled for 2022, it’s anticipated the app will start consumer trials in 2021 ahead of its wider launch next year.

AR Trend #4: Education

As education continues to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the reliance on distance learning continues, we’re going to see an increase in AR technology being optimised to enhance the education experience of students in 2021.

Augmented reality in education allows students of all ages to learn immersively. Eleftheria Kouri, Research Analyst at ABI Research explains how augmented reality technology applied in education helps to “shift the learning process from passive to active, allowing students to interact with content and practice their knowledge in real-time conditions.”

Kouri adds that, “Learning by experience leads to better understanding, enhances knowledge recall, and strengthens retention. Immersive and interactive experiences stimulate student’s motivation and increase their engagement level, which are fundamental factors for achieving learning goals.”

In January, legendary guitar brand Gibson launched their ‘Epic’ app, to offer an immersive and interactive learning experience. The Gibson app uses audio augmented reality, allowing users to hear themselves playing guitar with a virtual band, with the app providing feedback as they do so.

Gibson claims the app offers an “empowering and engaging experience” with an emphasis on “progressive learning” for guitarists of all abilities from beginners to pros. Gibson CEO JC Curleigh explains the app brings “guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way.”

It’s predicted that by 2023 the value of AR in education will be $5.3billion, according to ABI. Principal Analyst for the company Eric Abbruzzese claims that the use of augmented reality in education can “significantly enhance learning experiences for all age groups and assist educational efforts through greater student interest and interactivity, leading to objective improvements in learning efficacy.”

AR Trend #5: Theme Park Rides

Spring 2021 will see the opening of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan, featuring a Mario Kart augmented reality attraction. Originally due to open in Summer 2020 before being postponed to February this year, the opening has been delayed again due to the pandemic situation in Osaka, Japan.

Mario Kart: Koopa’s challenge will see it’s users riding branded carts of up to 4 people, while wearing Mario themed headsets with built in augmented reality technology that allow guests to believe they are racing for the 5 minute duration, despite the ride being set on a rail.

There is also a Super Nintendo World under construction at Universal Studios Hollywood, with unconfirmed rumours that this theme park will also showcase an augmented reality ride. Although progress is halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s expected that updates will be available later on this year.

2021 will also see the opening of Legoland New York, featuring AR ride Lego Factory Adventure. The Lego themed park is due to open later on this year when Covid restrictions are lifted. Accessible for all ages, Lego Factory Adventure will see guests transformed into Lego minifigures using augmented reality technology.

With theme parks being closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hoped that innovative rides utilising augmented reality technology will help to entice visitors back to theme parks when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

AR Trend #6: LiDAR


LiDAR technology is not new, having been around for decades, with multiple uses across different industries. But LiDAR technology has recently been utilised by Apple to improve the AR capabilities on a selection of their premium devices, with rumours that the technology could be adopted further into 2021.

LiDAR stands for ‘light and detection ranging’ and is essentially a sensor that measures depth. Also known as  ‘time of flight’ camera, as it measures how long it takes for light to bounce off objects and return to the sensor. The precision timing, coupled with depth information enhances augmented reality experiences by providing a faster display with greater accuracy.

Apple first incorporated LiDAR technology with a rear-mounted scanner on the iPad pro in 2020, claiming the breakthrough LiDAR scanner “extends the lead of iPad Pro as the world’s best device for augmented reality.”

Since then, LiDAR technology has now been utilised by Apple for the iPhone Pro 12 and iPhone Pro 12 Max. Although currently available on their premium products only, it is speculated that the next generation of iPhone’s due to be released in 2021 will all have the LiDAR sensor included as standard.

Watch out 2021!

So there you have it – our top trends to look out for in 2021 in the virtual world of augmented reality. If our predictions are correct, we should see AR capabilities increase in 2021, thanks to increased 5G and LiDAR technology adoption.

Prepare to be entertained by AR avatars, keep an eye out for announcements and new releases in the smart glasses sphere and get used to augmented reality technology being utilised to enhance education this year. And with Covid-19 restrictions hopefully easing in 2021, we should be hearing some first hand accounts of those worldwide who are able to experience the thrills of augmented reality attractions.


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