Thought Leadership
  • Product design & build

Augmented Reality - have we reached the tipping point?

Tim Dodd
22nd August 2018

Mediablaze developer Joshua Swanson takes a look into the future of AR.

As I stroll down the electric blue pavement, lost in thought, a flashing sign catches my attention. A bright yellow arrow, it points to my left. “Turn here” it says, “Your destination is in 22m”. I follow the sign, and reach a cafe in time to see a friend arrive, a Pokemon trotting at his heel.

Of course, none of this is real, but it isn’t entirely a flight of fancy either. The advance of augmented reality (AR) technology is bringing the virtual closer and closer to the real and it won't be long before what we see, and what actually is, become two very different things. 

Game on

2016 saw the first time a single AR application reached widespread adoption, with the game Pokemon Go being downloaded over 500 million times in its first two months. That's roughly 6% of the entire world, or 1/3 of smartphones sold that year. And it's still going strong. There are more than 5 million daily users, with the game being played almost an hour a day by around 10% of all smartphone users.

It’s clearly not a flash in the pan and demand is only growing. Niantic, the creator of Pokemon Go, has imminent plans for a new AR game based on Harry Potter, which feels like a home run before it’s even out.

Meanwhile, pretty much everyone involved in the image-sharing space is tossing their hat into the ring. Snapchat and Facebook are opening up their AR studio tools to outside developers, while Google's looking into a whole new browser designed for AR integration.

And, of course, brands haven’t been far behind.


The brand experience

IKEA took its first steps into AR in 2014 and in 2018 its Place app is a central part of IKEA's digital marketing strategy. Meanwhile, everyone from Amazon to Zara has jumped on the bandwagon. 

But technology fads come and go all the time (MiniDisc anyone?) Unless they change the way people act, they are often forgotten as quickly as they appeared. This time, though, it might be different.

Facebook is currently trialling augmented reality ad formats which will allow consumers to try out clothes, make-up, or even furniture at the tap of a screen. Next on its list is adding image recognition to its augmented reality app, so all you’ll need to do is point a camera at an object to launch an immersive experience.

At that point, advertising will move from being the thing that interrupts popular events, to being the event itself.

Tipping point?

But while this adoption of technology may signify a move towards the mainstream, we've been here before with AR. Back in 2013 when Google released its AR headset, Glass, much was made of the technology and how it would change the way we looked at the world. Except it didn’t. Mainly because there was nothing for users to actually do with the tech. Now we have user experiences, but need a way for users to access these experiences seamlessly, without relying on apps or browsers as an interface.

And that is changing. A new company called Laforge Optical is trying to address all of these problems by designing AR glasses which look like ordinary designer frames and retail for around the price of a pair of mid-range designer specs.

Finally the two parts of AR (location-based experiences and a passive device to view them) are coming together at once. If this achieves acceptance, more brands will start adding virtual experiences for their real-world products. 

The tipping point at which Augmented Reality moves from being a quirky sideshow into an essential part of day to day life isn’t here yet. But it's definitely a lot closer.

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