Today, augmented reality (AR) is becoming increasingly commonplace, as more companies leverage this technology. Augmented reality is a cousin of virtual reality (VR), but AR blends digital elements with real life, whereas virtual reality creates a completely digital world.
Virtual and augmented reality are not new concepts, as game developers and creatives have been using this technology for many years. But only now are they entering the mainstream, with companies utilizing AR and VR in mobile apps and websites, among other things.
Ubiquitous Snapchat filters and the Pokémon Go app pushed augmented reality into the public’s consciousness, but it doesn’t end there. Apple is credited with “transforming existing things into mainstream successes,” such as “contactless payments” and biometrics authentication using fingerprints. Many have speculated the pioneering tech empire may prove a key player in the AR/VR arena with the introduction of its ARKit for iOS 11. Still, this is just the tip of the high-tech iceberg, as companies devise new methods for utilizing augmented reality.
The Expanding Augmented Reality Market Sector
Although early virtual and augmented reality uses fell into the realm of novelty and gaming, today’s AR market sector is occupied by heavyweights such as Apple and Google and the newest AR/VR innovations are utility-centric. A clever example can be found in the Apple ARKit’s measuring capabilities. With this tool, you can point your iPhone at an object and then use a virtual measuring tape to determine the dimensions.
According to Juniper Research, enterprises and industrial markets invested $247 million into AR software and apps in 2014. In 2019, it’s projected that expenditures in this niche will top $2.4 billion. In fact, Digi-Capital has reported the AR/VR market sector will expand to $150 billion by 2020. Today, AR maintains a $120 billion market share, while VR accounts for $30 billion.
The potential for augmented reality in marketing and customer engagement is significant. AR offers many benefits, including:
- Viral Potential – Augmented reality is buzz-worthy, with high potential for going viral on social media. This, of course, facilitates conversions and customer acquisitions.
- Engagement – AR offers a tremendous degree of user engagement as creating a different reality is inherently appealing. This technology grants users the power to virtually alter their current reality,, making primarily passive technology more active and dynamic.
- User Appeal – It’s much easier to engage and connect with customers using AR since it retains an element of novelty.
- Attention and Retention – The engaging nature of AR means users are more likely to return to your app, website or software program interface. This leads to improved user retention and a stronger ROI. Surveys show that it’s five times more expensive to acquire new users than to retain existing ones!
- Comprehensive Analytics – Virtually all AR and VR interfaces feature in-depth analytics, which provide significant insights into user behaviors, desires, knowledge and emotions. The rich level of engagement generates tremendous volumes of data, which can, in turn, serve as a source of new information.
How Are Companies Using AR Technology?
Here is a look at how some major industries are using augmented reality:
Commerce and Retailers
- Virtual try-ons – Optical shops such as LensCrafters and Ray-Ban are giving customers an opportunity to virtually try on eyeglasses. The technology merges a live video or photo of the individual with a virtual pair of glasses, letting shoppers try on frames from the comfort of home.
- Virtual tailors – You’re vying for a custom-tailored shirt, but who has time to visit the tailor’s shop for a measurement session? Well, MTailor has remedied this dilemma with an AR app that merges a live video with surprisingly accurate virtual measurement tools. Those measurements are then used to create your new, custom-tailored garment.
- Virtual showrooms – Ever wonder how that fabulous sofa would look in your home? You don’t need to rely on your imagination any longer because Ikea’s augmented reality app, downloaded an incredible 8 million times, merges actual images/live video of your home with a virtual rendering of furniture items. The app is currently a stand-alone “previewing” tool, but Ikea has indicated they will soon allow shoppers to actually purchase the furniture via the app interface.
Health and Beauty
- Virtual makeovers – If you’re considering an appearance change, you can preview the results with AR apps that allow you to try different haircuts, hair colors, hairstyles, makeup and more—all done virtually while you lounge on the couch.
- Virtual cosmetic procedures and surgery – While it doesn’t exist yet, it’s easy to envision an app that allows you to see how your body might look if you underwent a cosmetic or surgical procedure. This could include both optional cosmetic procedures and medically-necessary ones. Currently, some physicians provide patients with digital preview renderings on a case-by-case basis, but this might be possible with an app in the future.
- Auto maintenance and repairs – An increasing number of companies are using AR in connection with virtual product manuals and maintenance instructions. Audi is leading the pack with the release of an AR-equipped app that provides you with user manual-type information when you point the app at a car part. Let’s say you want to learn how to use a specific button on the dashboard. Simply launch the app and point your device at the button; the app would then generate an overlay with information about its functions and maintenance instructions.
Banking and Real Estate Industries
- Virtual home staging – Real estate professionals are using AR technology for virtual home staging. This involves taking images or video footage from a home and augmenting it with virtual staging elements such as furniture, decor and new paint colors. Such technology is particularly helpful for vacant homes, which are slow to sell without furniture yet costly to stage “in real life.”
- Banking – The banking industry has already started leveraging AR, as many institutions explore the viability of virtual bank branches. But some of the most significant innovation is happening behind the scenes. For instance, Citi is reportedly developing a virtual trading desk which layers a digital interface atop the trader’s real surroundings. The traders can also access virtual tools that allow them to visualize more complex sets of data quickly and efficiently.
- Manufacturing Plants – In the manufacturing industry, some complex assembly projects still must be performed by humans. However, these tasks are becoming simpler with augmented reality goggles (like Microsoft’s HoloLens) that create a virtual overlay with instructions, technical drawings and images. Similarly, AR markers are being integrated with key pieces of manufacturing equipment to make maintenance and servicing easier. The markers serve as a point of reference for virtual elements or they can prompt a software program to display information such as directions or specs.
- Social Media – AR technology has seen a major jump in popularity on social platforms like Snapchat, where users use filters to alter their appearance. From adding piercings, hats, bunny ears and rabbit teeth to transforming users into “Game of Thrones” White Walkers, Snapchat’s lenses became an integral part of social media pop culture. But it doesn’t end there. You can also use geofilters to change your surroundings, making it appear as though you’re standing on the moon, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower or hanging out on the ocean floor. Facebook is on Snapchat’s heels, as the social platform launched an AR camera effects developer platform in April 2017.
Integrating AR into Your Company’s Tech Strategy
As augmented reality becomes more mainstream, company leaders may wonder, “How can we leverage AR and VR technology?” There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, as each business niche is unique, but you’ll want to consider some key questions:
Are you relying on imagination?
If your customers must mentally envision something—such as how a clothing item or piece of jewelry will look—you can use AR to fill in the gaps. In short, augmented reality can eliminate the need to imagine; you can see it instead! Create an app or tool that allows users to merge a digital version of the product with images or live video.
Do you need to provide more information?
If an individual could benefit from more information when visiting a location, looking at something or performing a task, then AR can provide specific information in particular circumstances. For instance, if your municipality manages a historical site, you could provide virtually guided tours via an AR app, with presentations triggered when the visitor arrives at key locations.
Could you benefit from overlays?
Augmented reality technology is great for providing a digital overlay that sits atop a live video image. These AR graphics are often used in conjunction with assembly instructions, mapping apps and car user manuals.
These are just a few of the many applications for AR. If you’re ready to begin using augmented reality technology for your business, turn to SevenTablet’s team of mobile app developers in Dallas, Houston and Austin. We work with clients in the Texas Triangle and nationwide, building innovative apps that integrate AR and other technology. Contact us today to discuss your app development project.
Shane earned a B.S. at Texas A&M (whoop!) and studied mathematics as a graduate student at Southern Methodist University.