Just a few years ago, virtual reality and artificial intelligence were nothing more than a sci-fi dream. Yet today, these futuristic features have become reality, and clever technology is rapidly integrating with an item owned by nearly 45 million Brits: the smartphone.

New data has not only revealed the sharp increase in demand for virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence as part of our everyday lives, but also how popularity is encouraging the game-changing technical advancements that will shape the capabilities of tomorrow’s smartphones.

Augmented Reality (AR): A live view of a real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video or graphics i.e. Pokémon Go

Virtual Reality (VR): Technology that generates realistic images, sounds and other sensations that replicate a real environment (or create an imaginary setting), and simulate a user's physical presence in this environment i.e. VR Crossy Road with Google Cardboard

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Intelligence exhibited by machines. In computer science, the field of AI research defines itself as the study of "intelligent agents": any device that perceives its environment and takes actions to achieve a goal i.e. Alexa via Amazon’s Echo

View a brief history of AR, VR and AI right here.

Using Google Trends, we have been able to determine changes in UK consumer interest in certain technologies, in the last 12 months. The research revealed a 300% increase in Google searches for ‘VR’, a 56% increase for ‘AI’, and a 24% increase for ‘AR’.

UK interest over time in ‘AI’ (source: Google Trends)

UK interest over time in ‘AR’ (source: Google Trends)

UK interest over time in ‘VR’ (source: Google Trends)

In sharp contrast, Google searches for ‘wearable technology’, which has previously been hailed as ‘the next big thing’, dropped by 18%, suggesting that awareness has peaked, and interest is now beginning to abate.

UK interest over time in ‘Wearable Technology’ (source: Google Trends)

UK interest over time in ‘Google Cardboard’ (source: Google Trends)

UK interest over time in ‘Google Daydream’ (source: Google Trends)

This data highlights what people want, and the numbers are pretty clear – technology that encourages escapism, or helps to make our lives simpler is key. Technology that encourages us to track and moderate our behaviour is becoming a less appealing norm.

Our smartphones are important to us, and being offered the option to do more with them, for work or play, is very appealing. So many of us want to try the latest tech, and knowing that a new handset can deliver more than just a quicker operating system or extra battery life really is driving sales. In turn, this is encouraging manufacturers to invest in the development of smartphone-friendly technology.

What do industry experts think?

Sean Duffy, Technical Director of Holosphere VR (based in Birmingham. Holosphere VR has a wealth of experience in VR, AR and AAA game production and APP development for the creative industries. The team have many years industry experience, and has worked with some of the world’s leading brands to deliver award winning games and campaigns."

How is VR developing?
"Google’s Daydream is a Virtual Reality platform deeply integrated into the latest version of Android's latest operating system. It calls for devices to have a minimum spec, which allow for the best possible mobile VR experience and there are a growing number of compatible devices on the market including Google’s own Pixel phones which helped launch it.”

What advancements in VR can people expect to see in the near future, and what might this mean for smartphone users?
“2017 should see a boom in Daydream ready devices on the higher end of the android ecosystem, and this has the potential to bring quality VR experiences to the masses via the world’s most wide reaching mobile Operating System.

“Android’s software distribution network mixed with rapid advances in mobile graphics capability mean it’s only a matter of time before most devices on the market will be ‘VR ready’. We see this as a game-changer when it comes to the widespread adoption of this technology and it will disrupt all sorts of sectors from entertainment to education, shopping to socialising".

Unit sales in millions of VR headsets (source: Statista)

Professor Steven van Belleghem.
Steven is regarded as one of Europe’s thought-leaders in the field of customer engagement in the digital world, and as part of that world, he is an expert in how companies are using AI, what is coming soon, and how it will transform the lives and expectations of the average household.

How is AI developing?
“AI has reached a tipping point since the moment Google Deepmind defeated the world champion in Go. That moment changed everything. That was the moment when the world knew: machines are learning on their own and we are 10 years ahead of schedule.

“Since that day, we have seen many examples of focussed AI applications. For instance in customer service, we see the rise of automated bots to help customers with AI technology. It will take some more time before we have ‘broad’ AI. But that day is getting closer by the minute.”

What advancements in AI can people expect to see in the near future?
“We will see an increase in both product and service quality because of behind the scenes AI. The key aspect in the next decade will be how AI helps to boost the performance of humans. It will be a state of intelligence augmented where humans collaborate with AI to boost the quality of products and services”

What might it mean for smartphone users?
“It will be fantastic. The consumer benefits are very clear: faster than real time customers service where AI helps to solve problems before they occur. Think about machines that can talk to other machines to get them fixed, elevators that talk to maintenance people to pre-empt and prevent issues. Proactivity will be a huge thing because of AI.

“What’s more, personalisation will improve significantly. The AI engines will get to know us really well and that will lead to highly personalised services. Pretty soon, we will all have virtual personal assistants to make our lives easier. Something that was once the privilege of top managers and celebrities will soon become available for everyone.”

Madhusudan Therani, Chief Technology Officer at Near Madhusudan.
A technologist who has been developing AI since the 1990s.

How is AI developing?
“Artificial intelligence (AI) has experienced major growth in the past decade. Developments have been driven by the convergence of three main trends – the availability of large amounts of data, improvements in computer hardware and technology, and better algorithms.

“These developments are enabling AI systems to be embedded into a wide variety of everyday applications, such as consumer software and devices like Siri and Echo, robotic applications such as driverless cars, and numerous business applications from running robotic factories to managing an organisation’s data.

“Many “simple” but structured tasks are also becoming automated, such as searching for information or managing our diaries. Several commercial uses of AI have attracted major investments in developing the technology for mainstream consumer usage.”

What advancements in AI can people expect to see in the near future?
“The everyday consumer will see AI-based systems slowly show up in the screens and personal devices they engage with on a daily basis, and their lives will adapt alongside. For example:

a) Voice-user interfaces will improve so that consumers can better communicate with their personal devices b) Home systems for energy management, cooking, shopping etc. will provide consumers with a more cost-effective way of living
c) Public and private transportation systems will become more streamlined and efficient
d) Public services will improve as governments go smart and digital
e) Healthcare and education will be transformed with better tools and data management practices

“At work, smart systems will play a key role in enabling various information intensive or labour intensive tasks to become more efficient. People will have to work in tandem with these AI systems."

What might it mean for smartphone users?
“We expect our personal devices to know what we’re looking for and what we want, and offer this information in a matter of seconds. Why? Because – thanks to the development of AI – our smartphones have become our very own personal assistants, enabling us to navigate our online and offline worlds in a seamless way.

“We’re increasingly managing our lives from our smartphones – coordinating diaries, confirming travel plans, researching destinations, and managing smart home systems like Nest or Amazon Alexa. As this behaviour continues to become the norm, our smartphones will develop to become even more complex. For example, you’ll be using your smartphone to begin cooking dinner and turn on your heating before you’ve even left work.”

Our conclusion? Even now, the digital landscape continues to change, and blend fresh capabilities with new capabilities. Next stop, 5G…