Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’
-Lewis Carol, Alice in Wonderland
For as long as I can remember, I have loved this story. As kids, all of us have dreamt of a world where animals speak, and where you can eat cakes to grow and shrink as you please. We wondered what it would be like to fall down a rabbit hole and into a world where nothing made sense.
Fast-forward twenty years, and most of the fantasies we had as children of slipping into semi-fictitious worlds are now made possible by Augmented Reality. According to Wikipedia, Augmented Reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented or supplemented by computer generated sensory inputs such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data. With the help of advanced AR technology, information about the surrounding real-world environment of the user becomes interactive and digitally manipulated. Artificial information about the environment and its objects can be overlaid on the real-world using cameras, GPS, etc. to render real-world information and present information in an interactive way so that virtual elements become part of the real-world, or vice versa.
What Is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality can be broadly classified into two types:
- Marker-Based AR: Marker-based Augmented Reality uses camera and visual markers integrated into the content that has to be represented. Here the user needs to hold the marker to the mobile device’s camera or to the marker recognition device, and the AR then comes to life.
With this technique, the images or image descriptors are provided beforehand, and the application is configured to recognize the exact marker code when held towards the camera or marker recognizing device. Most of the apps dealing with image recognition are examples of marker-based AR.
Lego introduced an Augmented Reality Kiosk called Lego Digital Box, which is a marker-based AR application where all the shopper needs to do is hold up the box towards the screen in the store to visualize the finished product. This is an example of marker-based AR used to enhance the in-store purchase experience and help the customer visualize the final product before they make the decision to buy it.
The 2014 Ikea catalog works with the Ikea App — customers can put the catalog on the floor and select the product they want to see in the location via the app. Ikea’s catalog brings the customer experience from the store to your home by enabling you to visualize how the furniture would look in your specific setting before you make a purchase. Ikea’s catalog is an example of marker-based AR used to enhance the purchasing experience outside the store.
- Markerless AR: Markerless AR uses a graphic instead of a marker and hence has the capacity to recognize images that were not provided to the application beforehand. Here the tracked object can be anything, like a picture, a human, etc. and virtual objects are added over the top of the tracked object. Current implementations of markerless AR use sensors in devices to accurately detect the real-world environment and allow users to place virtual objects in that environment.
Across Air is an app built for iOS that acts as a 3D navigator to help you reach your location easily. To use this app, all you have to do is hold the smartphone upright and look around with your camera to view and discover restaurants, hotels, landmarks, movie theaters, etc. This is an example of markerless AR.
Applications of AR are manifold and seemingly only limited by the imagination and innovation of the technologist. Over the years, AR has revolutionized education, printing, advertising, travel, tourism, gaming, and countless other areas. The technology is now beginning to transform the Ecommerce industry and the way people shop.
Redefining the retail experience with Augmented Reality
Enhanced, convenient, and personalized shopping experiences within the comfort of your own home/office have completely revolutionized the retail experience by shifting the power from the retailer to the consumer. With a few simple clicks on a desktop or handheld device, consumers are provided with highly convenient ways to research, compare, and purchase goods from anywhere, anytime.
Through virtual changing rooms, shops that display products via mobile cameras, 3D animated product demonstrations, and more, Augmented Reality enables consumers to realistically visualize products in 3D in their own homes. Whether browsing the web or shopping at a brick-and-mortar location, AR maximizes the shopping experience.
Augmented Reality can be used to boost Ecommerce and mCommerce in multiple ways, a few of them being:
- Drive Sales: Using AR, customers can now try on a product and experience how it looks on them; the process develops customer attachment to the product, increasing the likelihood of a purchase.
De Beers is allowing people all over the world to “virtually try on” jewelry that features the Forevermark Diamond brand.
- Enhance Print Media Advertising: Purchase items on the go from your smart phones or tablets by simply scanning the AR enabled images.
Layar app allows users to scan products and transform monotonous print ads into interactive AR, even allowing users to make a purchase then and there. In the video we saw how scanning over a movie poster plays the movie trailer and provides options to buy tickets on the go.
- Replicate in-store experiences: With AR technology, customers can digitally check the price, view a 3D model, try on clothes and then seamlessly place an order.
Prestashop uses Webcam Social Shopper to integrate software that turns their shoppers’ webcams into interactive mirrors, instantaneously providing a more fun, visual, and social shopping experience.
The video shows how a customer is trying on different dresses through AR before buying one online.
- Differentiate your business from competitors: Developing AR experiences help brands to differentiate their business from competitors and provide customer delight.
For example, The Hugo Boss store at Westfield Stratford City, the largest shopping center in Britain, features an 8-meter (26-foot) media wall that allows customers to “dress” onscreen models who respond to customers’ movements by looking at them, moving towards them and walking alongside them.
Augmented Reality is evolving at a very fast pace and new innovations are being made as we speak — the latest in this space is Google Cardboard and Microsoft Hololens.
The applications of AR are limitless, and it is estimated that 2.5 billion AR apps will be downloaded annually and will generate revenue of more than $1.5 billion by 2015. This is because AR apps will not be limited to conventional mobile apps. There will be new markets — like Google Glass — that will open more forms of development and use.
Augmented Reality is definitely perceived as the technology for the future and is making its way in the marketplace; some of the top brands have already embraced the new technology and are using AR to provide awesome customer experiences for their customers.
Retailers and other businesses across the globe are investing in Augmented Reality. From the Facebook acquisition of Oculus Rift to Google’s investment in Magic Leap to the Samsung GearVR announcement – not to mention Google Ingress and Google Cardboard – the industry has set the stage for AR and VR to become popular technologies in 2015.
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