Augmented reality -- that's just one of the latest marketing catchphrases, right?
The traditional definition of augmented reality, or AR, refers to the overlay of digital information on a live video feed. If you've watched an NFL game on TV and have seen the superimposed 10 yard, first-down line, that's AR. AR has also started to encompass other areas such as gestural control and motion capture. Microsoft's Kinect is one example of gestural control where you see yourself in the actual game on TV and interact with it by movement and gestures.
What isn't augmented reality?
AR is not virtual reality or Second Life 2.0. AR at its most basic form is using digital to enhance your real-world user interfaces and experiences. All you're doing is "augmenting" your viewable surroundings with digital information.
What brands are using AR?
While many brands such as GE, Nestle, Lego and others have been using AR, there are certain brands and products for which AR might not be a good fit. Don't force AR onto your product if it doesn't seem like a natural fit, and think through the consumer experience.
What's the ROI of AR?
Don't count on measuring its "click-through rate." As with any emerging technology, there's the question of ROI and how to measure it, and you're likely to have different measures depending on the program and the goals of the program. For example, AR can be used to enhance product training, and you might measure its success by whether it increases user satisfaction with the product. For marketing, there are already signs that AR has increased awareness and engagement for certain product campaigns. In addition, AR can be used to increase purchase conversions in e-commerce and drive purchase intent at retail.
How does AR fit into my digital planning?
When using any digital technology or media, it's important to develop your digital strategy first. Why do you want to use AR? What are your objectives? Are you planning for engagement, awareness, etc.? If you're unclear on how AR can be used effectively, contact an AR company or specialist that can help you develop a proper strategy. Using AR solely for a PR play won't work anymore.
So is it just a fad or here to stay?
Like every emerging medium, there is hype around a new technology that often outpaces the current technology's limitations. Mobile AR is one area right now where the limitations of mobile technology don't match brand or consumer expectations for mobile AR. Forrester recently released a report on the mobile-AR ecosystem and uncovered similar findings -- that mobile AR isn't ready yet. It also found that web- and kiosk-based AR are much more mature and more practical right now for a brand's AR initiatives. Naturally, as a company that specializes in AR, we believe AR is here to stay.
Wait, what's with the different kinds of AR -- web, kiosk and mobile?
Yes, there are three types:
Examples: GE's Plug Into the Smart Grid is a great example of web-based augmented reality. This online execution allowed users to hold up a piece of paper -- called a "marker" -- to their computer's webcam and see themselves holding an animated model of a smart grid on the screen. There's also the Fashionista dressing-room app we created for online fashion boutique Tobi, which lets you "virtually" try on clothing items using your webcam and a marker on a printed piece of paper. Once you've "tried on" the outfit you want to see yourself in, you can send the image to friends via social media and ask them for tier opinion.
Pros: It delivers the greatest global reach for AR, especially when using Flash, as it doesn't use a plug-in or download, it's generally lower cost, and social media can easily be integrated.
Cons: You have to develop for minimum PC requirements, and it requires the user to have a webcam.
Example: At a store in downtown Orlando, shoppers can hold up a boxed Lego set to an in-store kiosk, and the kiosk will show an image of them holding the kit as it looks when put together.
Pros: Kiosk AR can leverage multiple processors --more powerful than the typical at-home PC -- for multiple uses, such as out-of-home or point-of-purchase marketing. It also doesn't require a user to create a marker or have a webcam.
Cons: Higher cost, fixed location, usually no internet access.
Examples: The iButterfly app, created in Japan by Dentsu, lets you track and find digital butterflies using your iPhone GPS and camera. Hold your iPhone camera up at appointed spots and when you look at your surroundings through the camera, you'll see animated butterflies flapping by. Each iButterfly contains coupons for nearby businesses. In another example, World Lens lets you use your smartphone to translate printed words. Hold the camera phone up to a sign in Spanish and it'll translate it to English.
Pros: Mobile AR can leverage location, and smartphone adoption is rising, increasing its potential reach.
Cons: You're dealing with a fragmented development environment, as some smartphones run on the iOS platform, others on Android and still others on Windows or Blackberry; and limited processing power and battery life can be restrictive. Additionally, there can be user-interface/user-experience issues and the hype around this type of AR is out of control.
Where can I find AR companies?
Though AR is a relatively new technology, some companies have been building software and innovating in the space for awhile. There's even an AR Consortium that lists many of the players in the industry.
In addition, there's an annual AR event called ARE that's held in Santa Clara, Calif., and features many, if not all, of the major AR companies. It specifically focuses on business, marketing and technology tracks and issues at hand for the AR industry. There is also an exhibit hall where AR companies show off their latest technology.
What are some AR words and phrases I need to know?
Facial tracking: Webcam can track the face for object placement and orientation.
Facial Recognition: Webcam can detect the face and in some cases, recognize the user (Gender, age, etc.)
Marker: Black-and-white image that resembles a QR code. This is used so the webcam can recognize size and positioning of the asset in relation to the webcam.
Image recognition: Using an image (i.e., packaging or logo) that the webcam and software can recognize and identify in lieu of the marker.
Example: Google Goggles.
Motion capture: The webcam can detect areas where movement occurs.
Gestural control: More advanced than motion capture where the system can identify the body and gestures. Example: Microsoft Kinect.
Natural user interface (NUI): Term used to identify the evolution of the mouse/keyboard input to natural gestures and interaction with a computer. Think "Minority Report" and "Iron Man 2." And with 8 million Kinects sold in two months, Generation Y and Z are now starting to interact with computers through the NUI. As some of us old geezers (Gen X and baby boomers) are just getting accustomed to touchpad interfaces, the younger generations are already getting primed on the next human-to-computer interaction evolution.