Virtual reality and augmented reality headsets are set to grow dramatically in popularity, IDC projects, with 2018 sales expected to hit 12.4 million units — up from roughly 8 million in 2017. This year’s gains are expected to be the first in a series of five annual increases averaging 52.5 percent, leading to 2022 sales of 68.9 million VR and AR headsets. IDC’s latest predictions arrive after a soft 2017 for the mixed-reality technologies, which it expects will improve thanks to changes in hardware, software, and pricing.
A key to the projections is an expected shift away from “screenless” viewers — fabric lens- and device-holders that turn phones into headsets — toward standalone and tethered devices. IDC notes that consumers have shown little interest in purchasing these accessories separately, and companies have stopped bundling them with smartphones.
Still, with an estimated 41.6 percent of the total AR/VR market this year, screenless viewers are expected to dominate AR and rank No. 2 in the VR space in 2018. Lenovo’s Jedi Challenges headset is one of the commercially successful pairings of software content with a screenless AR headset. By 2022, however, the screenless category is forecast to represent just under 10 percent of the AR/VR market.
Thanks to Facebook’s Oculus Go, Lenovo’s Mirage Solo, and similar “standalone” headsets that contain all of the screen, CPU, and GPU hardware necessary to power VR and AR experiences, standalone headsets will grow from 14.1 percent of 2018’s AR/VR market to nearly half of the market by 2022, IDC projects. Standalone headsets will be 19.1 percent of the AR market, versus a 29.8 percent share for VR headsets.
Led by new devices such as HTC’s Vive Pro, tethered headsets’ share of the AR/VR market is projected to shrink only slightly from 44.3 percent in 2018 to 41.2 percent in 2022, though those numbers mask a major change. Tethered VR will decline from 43.3 percent to 23.3 percent, IDC expects, and tethered AR will increase from 1 percent to nearly 18 percent of all units sold.
IDC doesn’t identify the specific tethered AR devices that will lead that growth, but it appears to think that Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality devices will play a role in at least the VR side of the tethered equation. Microsoft has publicly shown HoloLens, a wearable augmented reality viewer designed for use with apps and games. Meanwhile, rival Magic Leap recently emerged from years of quiet development to unveil a pair of augmented reality glasses called Magic Leap One.