Although it has been for quite a while now that Augmented Reality (AR) technology has failed to find a niche in the mobile sphere – due mainly to the lack of a supportive infrastructure – one only needs to look at recent statistics to see that AR has at last come into its own, finally reaching the point of sustained profitability:
- Over 864 million high-end cell phones will be AR-enabled by the end of 2014. (Semico Research)
- Revenue related to AR technology will approach $600 billion by the end of 2016. (Semico Research)
- Mobile applications with augmented reality elements are expected to account for the third-largest proportion of revenue by the end of 2015. (Juniper Research)
- The market for AR tech in the U.S. alone will grow to reach $350 million by the end of 2014, up from $6 million in 2008. (ABI Research)
What is AR?
Technically, AR uses real-time data to provide an enhanced view of the immediate surroundings enriched with digital content such as textual notations, images, video or animation. Practically speaking, AR creates an engaging, interactive user experience providing companies with benefits such as:
- An improved brand perception
- Strong and direct influence on customer buying decisions
- Detailed user analytics and data
- Unique selling points on the smartphone market
Bridging the physical and virtual worlds, augmented reality apps can introduce your product or service to consumers substantially more effectively than any marketing text. Whatever sphere your business operates within – commercial, scientific, educational, or manufacturing – the addition of AR functionality opens up a whole new world of possibilities...
The ability to turn shopping into an entertainment experience makes AR apps highly effective marketing tools, and a win-win solution: brands stand out among competitors, and customers enjoy a content-rich, enhanced-reality experience. Virtually ‘trying on’ designer clothing items or sunglasses, for example, is just one instance of how AR apps can function effectively as marketing tools. The technology can be extended to include a multitude of benefits. One example might be a smartphone-based analogue to Lego Digital Box, an AR system that allows any Lego package to be held up to an in-store display that presents a 360º view of the fully-assembled set of blocks.
The UK-based marketing communications firm Hidden Creative performed a study proving the effectiveness of AR vs. traditional marketing techniques, whereas a toy was presented to 100 parents using traditional advertising methods, and to another 100 through an AR experience. After the presentations, parents were asked if they would consider buying that particular toy, and how much they would be willing to pay for it.
Here is a summary of the results:
- After viewing a 2D-printed display advertisement, 45% of participants said they would consider buying the toy for their child, while 74% of those who viewed the AR presentation said they would consider making the purchase.
- Of those parents who viewed the print ad, an average price of £5.99 was given as the estimated retail value of the product, while participants who experienced the AR approach estimated a higher average price of £7.99.
- Parents spent an average of 12 seconds actively engaged with the print ad, while those using the AR experience interacted for an average of 1 minute 23 seconds – about seven times longer.
Since medicine deals with life and death situations, the instant immersion of AR is of utmost importance. AR technology has been successfully integrated into medical equipment such as X-ray and MRI machines, and there a number of task-specific wearables, e.g., glasses for intravenous needle insertions that help to locate and access veins.
As impressive as new medical devices themselves already are, there is a growing adoption of AR technology in app development for them. In addition, AR apps for smartphones and tablets enable medical students to gain a better understanding in theoretical courses through the use of 3D visualization and practice techniques.
As it is easier to grasp complex scientific concepts visually than by reading text, AR apps help educators to present studies in an interesting and fun way. Instead of looking at static images of constellations, for example, astronomy students can use the camera on their mobile device along with Google Sky Map for an immersive view of the universe.
While AR technology is mostly used by manufacturers to visualize and design parts and component layouts, employees can also realize benefits such as an app that provides visual instructions for a variety of other tasks. For example, an industrial mechanic could view machine parts requiring repair or replacement through a smartphone’s camera demonstrating proper maintenance or installation procedures.
Here we are not referring to just playing immersive, lifelike sports video game, but the use of AR to enhance real-life sports activities and athletic training itself. AR apps are great at explaining certain skills and techniques required for mastering specific sports, or for communicating coaching strategies during actual games.
Giving directions, language translation of signs and menus, enhancing a sightseeing experience: these are what most travel-related AR apps are all about. Today it’s difficult to imagine an app more travel-friendly than the “Swiss army knife” of AR apps known as the Wikitude World Browser. It provides practically all the necessary information on any given area by aggregating Wiki articles, YouTube videos, Tweets, Foursquare locations, etc. in one app. And who knows what the future may bring in terms of creative enhancements to these apps. The sky’s the limit (or maybe not!)...
Make your move
Technologies seem to evolve at an incredible speed, and so do their uses. If at first companies perhaps hesitated to make their presence felt in the mobile sphere by providing customers with access to mobile products and services, it is now without question that they need to do so. The challenge is how to make these products and services effective, and AR is definitely one of the solutions.
It's no longer too early to start integrating AR into your company’s mobile apps as you can offer your customers more functionality now – and you will be much better prepared for a future where “wearables” along with vision-, gesture- and voice-based systems, will be no longer the premium but the standard!