In the world of technology, the real buzz and ‘buzz words’ both get bandied around at a dizzying speed. However, one buzz term we think is the real-deal, and one you’ll be hearing a lot more in the weeks, months and years ahead is Augmented Reality (AR).
AR is technology that takes an image captured by a user on a device (think pointing a smartphone camera at an object), then places digital elements on top of the image, or modifies the image, in real-time.
Is it new, well not really - AR has been around longer than you think. In fact, the first example of AR dates back to 1968, which has been summarised in this excellent infographic.
Whilst the term Augmented Reality has become ubiquitous in today’s digital landscape, few organisations and marketers have developed strategies that take advantage of the technology.
However, things are about to change, particularly since Apple last month released the iPhone X.Alongside the standard improvements we are all now accustomed to (improved chipset, brighter/crisper display, better camera etc.), Apple have also rolled out iOS 11 which includes an AR engine, known as ‘ARKit’, integrated into the operating system itself.
Why is this significant?
Until now, organisations who have wanted to implement AR into an app, have needed to develop AR engines themselves. This has meant AR implementation has been very expensive and cost prohibitive for most organisations seeking a ROI. It has also meant that AR user experiences have been hit-and-miss as there has been no common framework to guide designers and developers.
ARKit solves both these problems, but it’s not all about Apple.
Whilst Apple made the headlines, Google has quietly released their own AR platform (ARCore) a few weeks prior to Apple’s announcement, allowing developers to develop AR apps on Google Android devices. The platform works on Google Pixel, Pixel XL and Samsung Galaxy S8 devices.
Both announcements have industry commentators ushering in a new wave of app development, though most see Apple having a slight advantage given that ARKit is built into the iOS itself. This means that Apple’s AR engine will be installed on hundreds of millions of devices as users quickly upgrade their iOS version to 11.
Google have the complexity of supporting hundreds of device variations, hence the limited roll-out initially and anticipated slower uptake.
Predictions of the size of the Augmented Reality industry vary considerably, with a recent report by Greenlight Insights predicting revenue for AR devices and content could hit US $36.4 billion in 2023. Others are claiming it as high as US $108 billion!
Whilst US $108 billion may be bullish, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is clearly backing AR to hit the mainstream in the next couple of years, as per his comments in an interview with the Independent earlier in the year:
“I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don't have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives.”
Apart from the obvious implications for the gaming industry (remember Pokémon Go?), there are a number of brands leaping ahead with AR experiences to complement and enhance their customers’ experience. Here’s a few:
IKEA released its new ‘IKEA Place’ app in the US which was used by Apple as a showcase for the ARKit engine. The app allows users to point their phone at a space where they would like to visualise an IKEA product. Users then choose an item from IKEA’s catalogue and insert and move it into the desired place. The app essentially allows users to preview how the product will look in your home and check whether the item will fit your space. Users can then reserve the item to pick up in store. IKEA had an existing set of 3d renders of their catalogue saving a huge chunk of time, however amazingly the app was developed in a period of only 7 weeks using the ARKit engine.
With approximately 2300 stores worldwide, French-based company Sephora is one of the world’s largest cosmetic retailers. Already possessing a large digital footprint and strong focus on eCommerce, in 2016 Sephora released a major update to its new app – called ‘Sephora Virtual Artist’.
Sephora Virtual Artist allows customers to scan their face, calculates where their lips and eyes are, then allows customers to experiment with different eyeshadows, lipstick colours and false lash styles. The app also overlays a tutorial on the customers face with instructions on how to apply different styles of makeup. When a customer is happy with the look, the customer can buy the makeup directly from the app.
Major League Baseball (MLB)Whilst not officially launched yet, MLB is currently developing an app using ARKit. The app will allow fans attending a live baseball game to point their device on the field. The app will then overlay statistics on the field in real-time. For example, if a player hits the ball the app will show the launch angle and velocity for batted balls. Pointing the device at a player will display the players name and their match statistics.
The app is still very much in early stages of development but offers a fascinating glimpse into how technology will enhance a customer’s experience at live events in the very near future.
Game of Thrones hardly needs any more hype than it already receives, however HBO sent fans into even more of a frenzy by creating a secret Snapchat filter prior to the release of the penultimate season. Fans first had to locate the filter then unlock it on their phone. Once unlocked, the filter allowed fans to turn themselves into a White Walker.
Whilst the filter is likely to have John Snow setting sail for Braavos, the app became a viral hit, with thousands of users posting their White Walker selfies on social channels.
You can check out some fan creations here.
What does it mean for the digital marketer?
Australian brands have been very slow off the mark to the AR scene, with many organisations seeing the technology as cost prohibitive and not willing to be first movers. Apple’s new ARKit and Google’s ARCore, means AR is instantly now within reach. IKEA’s 7 week AR development time being a case in point.
In today’s app saturated market, where consumer fatigue is high and attention low, AR offers an exciting opportunity to engage, educate and entertain users. Australian companies that are first movers in AR have a great opportunity to build their brand, differentiate themselves from competitors and be seen as market leaders in the eyes of consumers.
It’s an exciting time for marketers and consumers alike, and it will be fascinating to see how brands introduce AR into their communications mix as the technology continues to mature over the next couple of years.