One to Watch in 2018: Augmented Commerce

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An attendee demonstrates the ARKit, an augmented reality tool on an Apple iPad Pro during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California.
An attendee demonstrates the ARKit, an augmented reality tool on an Apple iPad Pro during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

At the start of November, Amazon introduced a new feature called AR View, which lets customers visualize online products in their own living space, using their smartphone camera.

Launched in the Amazon app for iOS devices, AR View offers the ability to view thousands of products for the home, including furniture, electronics, toys, games and decor, in augmented reality.

Amazon isn't the only company riding the AR shopping cart. Ikea and Target have also released AR apps to help customers visualize what their furniture may look like in their own homes.

Before the cries of "gimmick" start to flood the comments section, I'm willing to concede that seeing how a toy or game may look against a backdrop of shelving or soft furnishings isn't, perhaps, as useful as being able to see how furniture suits its environment before clicking "Buy Now."

But with a bit of imagination, pointing a smartphone at a real-life toy could, one-day, launch an animated video, projected onto a wall via AR and delivered by Amazon Prime, thereby closing the loop between "Watch Now, Buy Later" and "Buy Now, Be Rewarded with Content."

Current developments such as AR View and geo-localised AR (think mobile outdoor gaming such as Pokemon Go!) are already dramatically changing the trajectory of mobile AR.

Analysts now predict we'll see the AR tortoise overtake its more hyped rival, the virtual reality (VR) hare by the end of 2018.

Mobile OSs

The addition of an AR shopping feature to Amazon's iOS app is made possible by Apple's ARKit software, part of the iOS 11 upgrade that now allows third-party developers to more easily add AR functionality to their mobile apps.

As more and more iPhone users update to iOS 11, and AS sales of the new iPhone X continue to climb, more than 600 million Apple devices will have access to advanced AR by the end of next year.

Not only that, but as Apple was launching ARKit, Google was talking up its Android equivalent, called ARCore. By the end of this year, ARCore will work with 100 million existing and upcoming Google devices.

Add Facebook's Camera Effects platform into the mix, and the total installed mobile user base for AR by next Christmas could be almost one billion people.

Retailers and brands need to look beyond initial gimmicks to AR's true potential.

This requires a renewed focus on providing geo-relevant information and content, such as offers, easy purchase solutions, customer service and targeted rewards.

Advertising platforms

While Android and Apple drive AR experimentation for mobile commerce, Facebook's Camera Effects and Evan Spiegal's Snap are battling it out to be the dominant mobile AR brand advertising platform.

Snapchat's 3D World Lenses offer advertisers the ability to add 3D objects, plus 3D emojis, into an image and then distribute them -- targeted by age, gender or interest, or via a swipe-up attachment to a regular ad.

Entertainment titles such as "Stranger Things 2" and "Blade Runner 2049" have already taken advantage of these 3D World Lens in the last few weeks. Snapchat partnered with Warner Bros to create Lenses featuring the Blade Runner "Spinner" car; a Netflix partnership allowed users to enter the Byers' living room and experience the "Stranger Things" world.

Brands will always go where the audience is. And as Snapchat's dancing hotdog filter proved over the summer with ITS 1.5 billion views, the smart money is being placed on Snap for social commerce and on Amazon for mobile e-commerce.

Both companies will help the AR tortoise win the long-term race for mobile marketing and augmented commerce. Iti'll be a fascinating race to watch over the course of the coming year.

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