The promise of the Apple Vision Pro – and other augmented reality tools (AR) – is a future where digital and physical life no longer need to be divided. Instead of either an on-screen or off-screen experience, mixed reality blends both, allowing for deeper immersion and enhanced productivity.

Using AR technology is simple: wave a hand, say the word or even a quick darting of the eyes. Instead of walking away from a computer screen and having to put a video or email on pause, it's possible to bring your digital life with you – anywhere. Without the constraints of a computer screen, this technology allows for the flexibility to move around in the actual world, while also orchestrating their own digital place to play or work.

Zoom's augmented reality applications

Wearing a headset challenges the idea of using this AR tool for work calls. To remedy that, Zoom released the Vision Pro app to give users a better way to engage face-to-face in a virtual meeting. The main feature is the "persona," a digital lookalike that's capable of representing someone's facial expressions and movements during a call. That way, Vision Pro users can participate in video calls as personably as they can.

In addition, Zoom plans to release more features soon that improve the augmented reality experience. For instance, the ability to "pin" other meeting members into your physical space without a background, further blending the boundary between digital and physical. There are also plans to share 3D objects, a tool that can be helpful for developers, animators, and more.

The purpose of building this technology is clear: "empowering the future of work," in Zoom's own words.This effort to make augmented reality a part of routine business communication signals that video conferencing is only going to become more immersive, more engaging, and more individualized as AR technology advances. With that, the known awkwardness created by the separation of a screen will be replaced with a much more engaging way to digitally connect.

What's the AR experience like?

Already, the Vision Pro is predicted to be just as ubiquitous as the iPad. Remember when Airpods were seen as a weird idea? And with remote/hybrid work remaining commonplace, technology is playing a larger role in how we communicate at work. Still, the question remains: Will augmented reality improve digital collaboration between colleagues, or be left in the dust as a failed fashion attempt?

Looking at the features of Zoom's support app, there's an emphasis on immersion and interactivity – making the unreal feel real. Unlike normal Zoom meetings, where there's a clear barrier between on- and off-screen realities, the Vision Pro merges the two into a mixed reality. Instead of your actual face, there's a persona. Instead of real people sitting in your living room, it's their digital representation pinned to the space. Instead of an object sitting on your desk, it's a 3D model, one of many virtual objects, shared between devices.

Mixed reality in the workplace

So, does this impair or improve digital work communication?

Virtual reality is nothing new in business. Already, this technology has been used by companies to train employees and, as evidence suggests, it's rewarding for productivity. Recent research has found that employees who train with virtual reality are nearly 3 times more emotionally connected to the experience than regular classroom and e-learners. There's something to be said about the element of participation – moving your hands, interacting with digital worlds, etc. – that primes an individual for learning. It's an involved experience, and experience is the best teacher. As a result, these trainees were more confident and more connected with the training material.

By understanding how virtual reality has already improved the connection people have with their work, we can see that augmented reality may have the same impact on regular video calls. More emotional connectedness engineered from these devices means more engagement and thus productivity. This points to a future where AR might be a commonplace tool to improve the workplace.

Or – maybe not.

The unwieldiness of the device is hard to ignore. Along with being expensive, comfort is the main reason why people have already returned the product. Additionally, there's the element of distraction. Although it's convenient to have so many windows open on the device, some users have questioned what real advantage it has for productivity beyond multitasking. Then there's the fact that it's pretty lonely. For one, an augmented reality that is a hyper-personalized experience can't be shared, which can be isolating.

The future of augmented reality applications

Nevertheless, while there are concerns about its practicality, comfort, and potential for distraction, the undeniable benefits in terms of better engagement, emotional connection, and productivity cannot be overlooked. The integration of AR into video conferencing platforms promises a new era of innovation and progress in how we collaborate in the workplace.

AR development is still a relatively new field and that also extends to AR app development. However, as AR content continues to grow in demand, any AR development tool will evolve to allow developers to create increasingly feature-rich augmented reality experiences.

In other words, it might be just a matter of time before augmented reality becomes a comfortable fit for business communication. Remote work isn't going anywhere, and video conferencing remains an essential tool for many businesses. Even while augmented reality isn't yet sweeping the corporate communication world by storm, a little rain might indicate a flood of technological progress to come.