If you have not really heard about augmented reality (AR), firstly where have you been? And secondly, It’s something that you probably have already come across in some form and maybe just not realised it.
This is because, unlike its cousin, virtual reality (VR) which requires a special headset in order to remove us from this world and immerse it into another, AR just uses your smartphone camera to turn the real world into a canvas that is able to be enriched with interactive virtual objects.
But how on earth does that work, We hear you ask? AR works by using computer vision and tracking through your camera in order to anchor a virtual object to a physical point in your environment. As you move your camera around it whether it be closer or further away, the object is able to maintain its scale and location in your view of the real world… Mind blown.
However, even with all the potential, there is for technology like this, the quality of the experiences so far meant it was still really easy to write off AR as just a gimmick rather than a game-changer in the world of commerce and even eCommerce.
… Until Now!
Augmented Reality: Not-So-New But Now Vastly Improved
The initial term “augmented reality” was first used back in the early 90’s. It was developed by the US Air Force’s Armstrong Labs and involved a seriously complicated setup.
Since then there have been several attempts, for example, the ‘Google Glass’ at creating a lightweight headset that allows you to view augmented reality while on the go. However, these were never really made with the masses in mind and the technology at the time was just not ready to jump on board yet.
This wasn’t the case for mobile AR, with the likes of Snapchats lenses and the game that dominated the year of 2016, Pokemon Go it has allowed users to start properly interacting with virtual objects through their smartphone camera. This is where handheld VR really started to come into play and us as consumers were starting to embrace this new world.
The technology was far from perfect though. Objects would not always stay in place if you moved the camera, neither would they be realistically scaled in size based on the distance from them. As a result, users could very easily distinguish the real from the augmented reality.
That now has all changed. When Apple announced IOS11 and ARKit, it gave developers the tools in order to create much more refined and far more realistic AR experiences where the virtual objects that were being dropped in a real-life surrounding are almost indistinguishable. With this type of technology, augmented reality’s potential has moved beyond just the games and mildly amusing tricks on your favourite social media platform and is rapidly heading towards more immersive and practical experiences for consumers and brands alike.
Bringing Products To Virtual Life In Front Of You
Maybe the biggest commercial opportunity within these improved AR experiences is just how they give us a better sense of scale and let us closely evaluate products as if they really were right in front of us.
For instance, instead of wondering if a couch will fit in your living room or how a piece of art will look up on the wall, consumers are now able to project a virtual version of the product into their own homes through their smartphone camera.
Ikea is one of the commercial giants that have really implemented this feature with their new App which lets you browse the store’s catalogue and see what furniture will look like in your home before even considering to buy it or not.
The app allows 3D models of selected products be dropped into your real world and lets shoppers see a product with a 360-degree view.
Your Smartphone Camera: An Augmented Mirror
For other businesses, the advantages of AR don’t just lie in augmenting your surrounding environment but also in your own appearance.
With just a simple flip to your smartphones front-facing camera, AR now promises a “mirror” that lets you answer the age-old question of “I wonder what this would look like on me?”
Because facial features are generally consistent across the board, fun applications of this type of technology have already become very popular on social media, with Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat who has already created their own versions of facial filters.
However, beyond sporting virtual puppy dog features, some businesses saw a gap in the market here and are now seeking to branch out to the more practical ways to use facial tracking to augment your selfies.
Eyewear and cosmetics immediately come to mind, this is due to fact that these types of products you would ideally want to try before you buy.
Last year the cosmetic giant Sephora updated their app with a “virtual try-on” feature that lets you sample their makeup against our specific complexion. Eyewear companies have also followed suit and have experimented with a similar feature in the past to virtually try on different styles of glasses in the comfort of your own home.
This type of online shopping could revolutionise the way people shop for these types of products in the future. With the improvements in AR, it can only make these experiences better, more useful and more common over time.
Building Up Virtual Worlds On Top Of Our Own
As you walk through the streets, there could already be a multitude of virtual worlds layered upon the world we live in. Sounds pretty crazy when you think of it like that!
Whether it’s searching for fictitious creatures or navigating your way through a new town, location-based AR focuses us to physically be in a certain place that corresponds to that point in the virtual world.
As you walk through the streets, there could already be a multitude of virtual worlds layered upon the world we live in… Pretty crazy when you think of it like that!Tweet this now
This type of AR was actually one of the first to reach to our smartphones via a browser app that lets you view information about the real world places around you by just pointing your camera at them.
Now we are seeing other interesting applications of location-based AR, from Snapchat’s AR art installations to this clever concept for a social AR app that supposedly helps you find your friends in a crowd.
This Is Only The Beginning For AR
AR’s full potential had often been out of reach of the technology we have at present. But that’s changing. With the new advanced technologies, it has given builders the tools they need to create bigger and better virtual worlds for us to enjoy, but to blend it in with the reality even more seamlessly than ever before.
While smartphones have brought us AR experiences that fit comfortably in the palms of our hands, how much longer will it be until we start seeing everyday wearable glasses that allow us to experience AR hands-free?
There is still so much to figure out, but as with the ever-changing game of technology that was once young and untapped. It really is only a matter of time until the world of tomorrow becomes today.