- Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) new Oculus Quest 2 VR headset is expanding the audience for VR applications, but video games are only the beginning.
- Augmented and virtual reality is becoming more viable thanks to new connectivity technology.
- Beyond video games, AR/VR is finding new uses in the workplace at a record pace and is helping people find a new place to live.
Virtual reality may conjure up sci-fi imaginings of fully immersive video game worlds like in Ready Player One, and the truth is the technology enabling such a future isn't too far off. There are the obvious bets like Facebook and its Oculus business, as well as video game developers themselves like Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA). But it's not all about video games. There are lots of companies putting virtual and augmented reality to use for other purposes.
Skyworks Solutions: Connectivity is key
Whether it's smartphone AR game hits like Jurassic World Alive and Pokemon GO or a full-blown VR experience inside a headset, mobility is the key to unlocking the full potential of virtual and augmented reality. A wired connection to a network or PC has historically been necessary for many AR/VR applications, but wireless connectivity tech has made monumental strides the last few years.
This is thanks in no small part to Skyworks Solutions, developer of the chips that create and connect to wireless network signals. The capabilities of these chips is demonstrated by Facebook's latest Oculus Quest 2 headset, designed to be unencumbered by wires running to a computer or other device and enabling fully mobile immersive experiences. Skyworks' connectivity designs are largely responsible for the next-gen VR headset's mobility.
Besides Oculus, Skyworks has a long list of other customers that manufacture everything from smartphones to routers. And speaking of those things, 5G wireless networks and WiFi 6 connectivity are major components to this company's growth story in the next few years. Since AR/VR applications require large amounts of data transfer, 5G and WiFi 6 are key ingredients in delivering AR/VR content as well as providing connectivity between the components of a VR setup (wireless communication between the headset and VR controllers, for example).
5G and WiFi 6 applications recently helped Skyworks return to year-over-year growth mode after a cyclical sales drought exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade war, and the semiconductor company thinks there is plenty of expansion left in the tank. If AR/VR adoption among consumers and enterprises continues, it could be a significant component to Skyworks' growth story in the years ahead.
PTC: AR/VR outside of the gaming world
Over the summer of 2020, I recommended industrial technologist PTC as a top AR/VR pick, and shares have done well since then. As the economy has gradually adjusted to the effects of the pandemic, manufacturing, retail, and other PTC customer activity has come back -- but with a digital twist.
The company helps organizations develop connected equipment systems and provides computer-aided design and product lifecycle management software. In the new digital era that is dawning as a result of COVID-19, those services are in increasing demand. But PTC also has an industrial augmented reality platform. In fact, PTC said bookings for its industrial AR segment increased 50% during its fiscal 2020 fourth quarter compared to a year ago.
PTC has a partnership with leading graphics computing company NVIDIA, acting as a software developer go-between for organizations trying to put NVIDIA's hardware to use. As for actual use cases, PTC's AR platform is enabling things like remote education, workforce training, and remote engineering services provided from afar using mobile headsets as virtual eyes in the field. Paired with its other connectivity and design software services, PTC is helping enterprises around the world accelerate their digital transformation and realize new and efficient operating models.
What's unique about PTC is that the company's revenue is 90% software (10% is services) versus a hardware sales-based company like Skyworks. And of the 90% software slant, 98% of that revenue is recurring subscription-based sales -- creating a highly predictable and stable business model that has proven resilient even during the downturn. PTC continues to notch record sales and expects to report record profits in 2021.
Redfin: A new way to shop for a home
Investors are likely familiar with Redfin, the technology-driven real estate agency that is disrupting the status quo with buying and selling commissions far less (less than half in some instances) than those charged by traditional agents. The company also has titling insurance and mortgage services, creating a sort of one-stop shop for home buyers.
But Redfin's value proposition extends far beyond cost competitiveness and consolidation of real estate services. The pandemic has initiated a mass migration of Americans who are no longer tied to a job at a physical office, and many are choosing to move out of the city or to another location of their choosing, now that the location of their desk is irrelevant. And the ability to tour a property online -- oftentimes in 3D -- is making those moves easier than ever. Redfin's online marketplace is helping pioneer these virtual tours.
Redfin is helping home buyers see potential home listings without making a trip, sometimes in faraway areas. Some are even making purchases without ever setting physical foot on the property. Virtual tours can ease life disruptions for sellers too. If you've ever sold a home, you know how a weekend or evening can get turned on its head by in-person tour requests from agents and their buyers. And besides revolutionizing the purchase and sale of a home, virtual property tours could also help increase real estate agent efficiency by reducing the amount of time spent on open houses and tours with buyers.
Granted, Redfin isn't much of a virtual reality company in the same way as the other two companies. Virtual property tours, for the most part, haven't reached the same level of technological sophistication as other AR/VR applications. Nevertheless, AR/VR is breaking down barriers between the virtual and real world, and today's consumer is much more likely to make even big life decisions and purchases via the internet than ever before. This trend bodes well for digital real estate agents like Redfin over the long term as they continuously overtake traditional agents in market share.