The Age of Augmented Reality Is Here
Augmented reality (AR) is defined by any combination of digital information being overlaid onto the real word. You see a range of examples in your day-to-day life. There are simple graphics that show up on the football field every Sunday, projection mapped environments like the Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Light Show, and mobile interactive experiences like Pokemon Go and Snapchat Filters. For a really comprehensive experience that builds on the world as you look at it, even letting you experience telepathic and telekinetic powers, there are Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) like Microsoft’s HoloLens.
Of these four types of AR, mobile is poised to make the largest wave as the technology advances in the next year. Hardware giants like Apple and Samsung are incorporating more and more AR-ready components into their devices while software companies including Facebook and Google have doubled down on developing advanced AR features and tools to integrate seamlessly into our mobile experiences.
Whether you’re looking to raise awareness, spur engagement, or increase positive sentiment, mobile-based AR gives you a strong chance to hit your goals through social networks like Snapchat and Instagram. Then there’s the new Animoji feature on iPhone X. In all three instances, users can add some virtual flair to their content before sharing with friends. Brands that get creative in this space are seeing high engagement, with users also generating and sharing branded content for them. It’s a solid value exchange.
LEGO is a brand that’s doing mobile AR right. We’ve all been playing with their colored blocks since we were kids, imagining dragons roaring over the castles we build and sirens screaming through the towns we construct. Now you can point your device at your blocks and see your imagination come to life. It’s a great example of an old brand embracing new tech to give their fans another reason to stay loyal.
As more mobile AR experiences like LEGO and Pokemon Go debut, the behaviors associated with them will become more normalized. It won’t be long before we’re all pointing our phones at objects to learn more about them. What will happen when AR-enabled phones are pointed at your brand? Will they see product information? A video? A virtual version to “try on”? There are a lot of ways this could go, and they’re only limited by our imaginations.
If you’ve ever been at a concert and seen the performer use projection mapping to overlay visuals onto physical environments and structures, changing their color, material, or form, you’ve been witness to some real-life AR.
This type of AR tends to be extremely immersive. It can bring an environment to life, adding depth, dimension, and otherworldly effects to any public or private event space. While it’s the closest thing we have to screen-less AR, it’s very site-specific and requires a dimly lit setting for optimal visuals. If you want to ‘transport’ people in a space without the need to use VR, which can be very isolating and intrusive in an event, projection mapping is your friend.
Travel companies have used it to transform entire environments into various destinations, taking guests on an AR vacation of sorts. Automotive and aerospace companies have also used projection mapping to create AR experiences when debuting new vehicles in showrooms and at events. These dazzling displays are usually on the theatrical side, but they still visualize compelling information for an audience. Imagine seeing a car change colors before your eyes, or watching hidden engineering features come into view as digital projections peel away the outer layers of a vehicle.
The projections are definitely cool to look at, but there’s no way to interact with them. Enter Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) like Microsoft’s HoloLens, the bulky precursor to the future of AR smart glasses. Users wear this visor on their head and everything I’ve described above appears right in front of their eyes. The difference comes from intuitive interactions like gesture and voice controls, giving users the ability to interact with their augmented reality worlds.
Lowe’s has done a nice job of bringing this tech to life with the Lowe’s Hologram Experience. Shoppers put on a HoloLens and use their fingers to “install” and swap appliances, mixing digital objects with the real world to get a clear preview of how rooms would look with different products. This is a good model for home decorating, and gives brands a solid starting point for making the technology work in their favor.
A look at current trends can guide our assumptions on what the future of AR might hold. For one thing, it’s safe to assume people will use a far more advanced HMD to experience AR. There’s even a chance that AR will fill the world around us, a potential reality investigated by designer and filmmaker Keiichi Matsuda.
This will usher in a new age of computing and the next phase of internet. Much like your mobile device knows much about you, the HMD of the future will store a vast collection of data points enabling hyper-personalized and contextual experiences throughout the day. The digital and physical worlds will merge, with the user customizing their daily experiences. They’ll view the world the way they want, and the world will respond back. A simple example is a room being a different color for every person who enters, so long as they’re wearing their HMD.
The next generation of HMDs will soon be revealed, putting us closer to a future seen in the video and described above. That being said, the mobile AR wave is our current reality. Standing on the sidelines while these technologies find their stride is an option. Some choose this conservative approach to ensure their dollars are maximized when they finally decide to get started. But just like the fledgling days of the internet and smartphones, evolution, innovation, and competition will be fast and fierce. To stay current is to stay relevant and avoid disruption.
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