Augmented Reality – a technology whose time has come?

August 29th, 2017

Part of the genius of Apple is the way it takes nascent technologies, which have in some instances been written off, and with a little design and innovation magic propels them into the mainstream.

There were MP3 players before the iPod, but it took Jonathan Ive’s iconic design to create a world beating product. Similarly there were touch screen phones before the iPhone, but again Apple created something new and innovative by making that interfac more effective and elegant than anything that had been available previously.

This autumn we could be seeing Apple pull off its party trick yet again in reviving a technology that has never quite made its mark – Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality, or AR as it is commonly known, has been around for a long time, I remember discussing it first more than a decade ago, and as far back as 2010 AR was being positioned as a magic bullet for print based customer publishers.

Back then companies like Layar and Blippar had developed platforms that enabled users to point their phone at the written page and access bonus digital content. It was a smart idea, but has never arguably fulfilled its potential.

There are however a trio of reasons why Augmented Reality could well be the most talked about technology of the latter months of 2017.

Firstly there’s a gold rush going on. Developers still remember the enthusiasm which greeted the arrival of the AR-powered Pokemon Go game a year or so ago. Sure it was a craze, and the numbers playing it have dropped, but it underlined some of the potential of Augmented Reality and crucially emphasised that there was a mainstream audience ready to get excited about it. In turn Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have all been experimenting with AR via various lenses they offer users.

Secondly there is perhaps a feeling that Virtual Reality needs something of a kick to establish itself in the mainstream and AR is a way of helping the technology do this. The two are, let’s face it, in the minds of many consumers, and industry people too, fairly interchangeable. The difference is that AR augments the real world, whereas VR takes the user into a wholly virtual world. Another difference is that unlike most VR, AR doesn’t always require additional hardware to make it work effectively. It can be experienced via existing phones and apps.

The third reason is that earlier in the year Apple announced its ARkit which will take the experiments of Snapchat and Facebook to a much higher level.The theory runs like this. The company has reached the point where it is having trouble differentiating its hardware from rivals like Samsung and LG as most smartphones are very similar. AR could then be the killer app which gets people excited about owning an Apple phone again – which is very useful given that the iPhone 8 is likely to launch in September/October.

ARkit

The AR features will be baked into the next iteration of the Apple iOS – 11 and it will be accessible not just on the new phone but some older models too.

If you haven’t yet experienced some of the potential of the upcoming AR features then check out this YouTube video. The AR experiences range from useful – the ruler is a very sensible and useful idea through to the downright bonkers – look at some of these demos.

Ultimately what this means for brands is a chance to take another look at AR and work out whether there are experiences that take engagement to a new level. AdWeek recently rounded some ideas for brands which range from virtual test drives through to ‘beautifying’ uninteresting spaces.

Those experiences doesn’t have to be limited to the phone either but also there is an opportunity to take real world products and enable them, via the technology to interact with phones in an unusual and intelligent way. A good example is the Virtuali-Tee from enterprising Brighton company Curiscope which enables users to take a view of another person’s internal organs in an educational way after they have activated the app and pointed it at a dedicated t shirt. There are likely to be lots of other examples of smart uses like this as the months go by.

So Augmented Reality really ought to be on high on your list of things to mull over in the coming weeks. There is a going to a be a huge new market hungry for new apps while at the same time the cost of developing the apps has dropped significantly.

AR really is a technology whose time has arrived.

Commissioned by The CMA

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