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What’s really possible with augmented reality

Augmented Reality Development
Technology, Information and Media

What’s really possible with augmented reality?

Actual understanding of what augmented reality (AR) technology can do for businesses varies widely. Many brands work hard to keep in line with their industry’s digital trends. But what about firing up new digital efforts that venture into unfamiliar tech territory (like AR)? Many of these emerging tech concepts fall flat. And it’s mostly because these two questions aren’t answered soon enough:

What is actually possible with AR?

What do I need to get started?

Awareness . Application. Impact.

If your current digital strategy doesn’t already include XR initiatives, you may not be very aware of AR capabilities. There are applications in which AR shines. These applications create user delight and business value in ways unlike any other form of technology.


AR augments–not replaces–the real world

The primary difference between AR and VR is that virtual reality drops you into an entirely simulated world, via a VR headset. It removes all visual input from your surrounding environment and transports you somewhere entirely separate from your current reality.

AR layers digital content onto the real world you see before you. You view AR content through your mobile device camera viewer, or through AR glasses. Seeing both actual surroundings and added content is what creates an augmented experience. And AR content isn’t limited to simple images–it can take the form of text, images, video, or a holographic 3D object (just not Prince).

AR experiences are best in 3D

AR has been able to support 2D text and video for some time. Two-dimensional information, like text, doesn’t change when the user moves. This experience is basically a clear layer with words superimposed on the view through a particular viewer.

Two-dimensional content doesn’t take full advantage of AR’s ability to truly augment reality. Users live in a three-dimensional world. Their own movement should cause the placement of objects to shift. 3D AR lets users move around the physical space in order to experience holistic spatial relationships.

Interior design apps are a great example of this experience. If you upload a chair from IKEA, you can use your phone to view the room with their AR app. As you move about the room, you’ll see the chair from the corresponding angle. In other words, you and that chair are sharing a moment (it’s a chair).

This digital content can be as simple as a piece of furniture, or as complex as another human being dancing next to you. You simply cannot reproduce that feeling of real world enhancement outside of augmented reality.

AR workspaces for more authentic collaboration

An emerging business application for 3D AR is seen in Spatial. This new collaboration app goes one step beyond apps like Zoom, creating “shared augmented workplaces”. Remote team members can engage face-to-face through the automated synthesis of lifelike avatars, which Spatial builds from a single 2D still photo.

Once everyone physically shares the room, users can layer 2D or 3D content on top of the environment. These can be images, documents, hand-drawings, or 3D holographic objects hung in midair or affixed to a real-life surfaces. Spatial explains that “pixels become tactile, letting you manipulate them like clay.” Spatial workspaces can be entered through a variety of devices, including laptops. Responsive to gestures such as pinching and swiping, the entire experience yields a virtual meeting that is both productive, memorable and incredibly fun.

Better engagement. More retention.

AR has the ability to bring information and situations to life, capturing and holding attention longer than other mediums. And, of course, more attention means: retention–the hero driving success metrics for advertising, instruction, tutorials, product information, and much more. Similar to VR Training, using AR content to educate users promotes faster learning, memories and more focused than they would on static content — and this means safer workplaces, more competent employees, and better sales figures.

Experiences create destinations

In an IDC survey on how enterprises are using AR, 65% of respondents reported they had seen a clear ROI in the arena of sales.

The most popular sales-related AR application in the study was demos. Being able to more completely experience the value of a product, regardless of proximity, is crucial within the sales cycle. AR is also a powerful draw at in-person exhibitions and conventions. B2B sales teams are able to conduct demonstrations and help each customer clearly visualize the product.

In retail, the Zara AR app allows customers to point their phones at a sign to see virtual models walk the store aisles, in featured outfits. The app also enables customers to buy each item with one click. This blend of capabilities transforms brick-and-mortar stores into consumer destinations.

Enhancing real world orienteering

AR changes and personalizes physical environments–museums, campuses, cruise ships, etc. Users look through their phone’s camera viewfinder to see the actual space, PLUS digital activations for certain brands, products, or highlighted features along the user journey. It can be as easy as walking toward a glowing or animated object.

Each customer can receive a different set of overlay information, combined with premiums or discounts that are based on their customer or account history. Enterprises find countless uses for location capacity. For example, DHL provides AR headsets for its warehouse workers that save time by highlighting key warehouse locations.

More context. New opportunities.

One of the most exciting developments in AR technology is recognition. Rather than just mechanically mapping a scene and superimposing information, smart AR apps like Google Lens interpret and understand real world environments. As the AI underlying such recognition becomes more sophisticated, this smart vision capability is expected to increase in parallel.

Smart image recognition opens up a whole new world of brand activation opportunities and partnerships. But, more importantly, it works toward providing solutions of a higher magnitude. An exciting development with global implications is Google’s AR microscope that uses AI to highlight potentially cancerous tissue. Through the instrument’s viewfinder, pathologists get new insight for this crucial tissue analysis.

Audio + AR

Bose, in particular, has been leading the AR + Audio charge, introducing AR-enabled products. Bose headphones and audio sunglasses work together with the AR app to layer audio content onto the real world. As a result, travelers can simply look at landmarks in order to receive audio information about them. In fact, the latest Coachella mobile app included exclusive audio content for Bose AR users, activated when they watched a certain portion of the show.

AR, only with purpose

A clear use-case and vision for any AR application should be well-defined. And the expected outcome requires the appropriate success metrics to prove ROI. AR app user experience, with such a strong emphasis on personalized journeys, must be clearly targeted, rather than remaining abstract.

While some AR capabilities engage users in a one-and-done situation, the best value of AR is recognized through long-term, actionable, and shareable experiences. As the tech required to build sustainable, alluring digital experiences becomes more accessible and affordable, AR improves its position to change the way customers transact and interact with brands.

Getting started often requires the right partnership

Some companies have the luxury of innovation labs that get a jump on mobile and emerging tech trends. But for most businesses, experts that can deliver on XR initiatives, from start to finish, aren’t found in-house.

One of the most difficult concepts to understand is how AR produces measurable results. Before the project even begins, defining success is critical to the structure, function and impact of the experience. The right digital partner makes the effort to understand your business goals and facilitates alignment around the AR project purpose, process, and ROI.

Getting started on the best-case path requires project discovery and planning to help ensure AR is the right vehicle to produce the best business solutions and user experiences. Once established you’ll collaborate to build out a UX strategy, backlog, dev sprint plan, and automated QA.

John Sommer

John Sommer worked at Mutual Mobile as a Creative Director.

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