The current state of mobile augmented reality continues to be in flux. In early 2018, Google dove head first into the AR space, while Apple upped its AR tools a few months later. This article looks at where the field will go in 2019, and how businesses can capitalize on these developments.
We’ve all seen the videos of people using their mobile devices to chase after imaginary cartoon characters. Some walked into walls, others splashed into a body of water, and more-than-we-care-to-think-about experienced very close calls while walking into traffic.
The common thread, other than some funny (or cringe-worthy) viral videos, is that they all were entranced by mobile augmented reality (AR).
While no mobile AR app has garnered as much attention as Pokémon GO, the future of AR apps remains bright. Both Google and Apple have introduced tools that will allow developers to build amazing mobile AR experiences for hundreds of millions of Android and iOS users. And more businesses are seeing the value—both perceived and monetary—of giving mobile users an enhanced version of the world.
From Games to Social – Past Mobile AR Advances
The aforementioned Pokémon GO showed millions of users how the real world could be transformed into a game space. One developer followed suit by creating a Super Mario AR demo world for the Microsoft Hololens device.
Super Mario AR's creator, Abhishek Singh, was exploring how to use the Hololens device to create a “large, expansive game play environment” when he realized that the classic Nintendo game provided a perfect augmented reality overlay.
Social media platforms soon jumped into the mobile AR arena. One of the most popular mobile AR experiences has been delivered by Snapchat, which introduced mobile users to their popular augmented photo filters.
In fact, a recent survey found Snapchat – with its face filters – to be the top augmented reality-based app in 2018.
From the funny to the downright scary, Snapchat allowed users to alter their images with just a few taps of the screen. Suddenly people knew what they would look like as a tongue-wagging puppy, which was actually far more impressive than it seemed.
It didn’t take long for Snapchat filters to assist companies with their marketing efforts. Taco Bell created its own filter for Cinco de Mayo that changed the user’s face into a giant taco shell. The filter was massively successful, garnering more than 224 million views in a single day with the average user spending about 24 seconds playing with the filter. In today’s digital world, a brand getting 24 seconds of uninterrupted user influence in a positive and fun environment is invaluable.
Warner Brothers had also used Snapchat filters for marketing purposes, allowing users to send a mild scare to recipients courtesy of the film The Nun.
Based on Twitter reaction, the filter had the desired effect of generating some much needed buzz for the film.
Meanwhile, Facebook has invested heavily in AR over the past several years. Aside from gaming experiences, the social media giant has used AR to helping advertisers sell their products in the news feed or Messenger platform.
Facebook’s AR experiences are designed to let users virtually try fashion accessories, cosmetics, and more to help the user visualize what he/she looks like using the product in order to influence the purchase. Michael Kors was the first brand to have AR ads in Facebook’s news feed, which allowed people to “try on” different sunglasses using the camera.
Developer Kits Make AR Experiences More Accessible
Both Apple and Google have made serious strides to bring more AR apps to iOS and Android users. Apple was first to enter the AR app arena, unveiling its ARKit at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2017. The software development kit allowed mobile app developers to make augmented-reality apps for the iPhone and iPad.
Fast forward a year later, and Apple upped its AR game with the release of ARKit 2. This enhanced platform allows developers to integrate shared experiences, persistent AR experiences tied to a specific location, object detection, and image tracking to make AR apps even more dynamic.
With ARKit 2, the developer’s AR app can be experienced by multiple users simultaneously, as well as resumed at a later time. A developer can also incorporate real-world objects into the AR experience, giving users even greater immersive opportunities.
The reason for Apple’s continued investment in the mobile AR space is the massive installed hardware base. Apple estimates that 200 million existing phones (iPhone 6 and up running iOS 11 or later) can run ARKit apps.
Not to be outdone, Google jumped into AR development in the first quarter of 2018 with its ARCore platform for building augmented reality experiences. Using different APIs, ARCore enables a user’s phone to sense its environment, understand the world, and interact with information.
ARCore uses three key capabilities to integrate virtual content with the real world as seen through the Android phone's camera:
- Motion tracking, which allows the phone to understand its position relative to the real world.
- Environmental understanding, which allows the mobile device to detect the size and location of horizontal, vertical and angled surfaces.
- Light estimation, which allows the mobile device to estimate lighting conditions for a more realistic effect.
Google also has a large hardware base, with an estimated 100 million Android devices capable of running ARCore apps.
With those potential user numbers only getting larger in the coming years, AR can provide marketers with a perfect platform to convert ad views into sales.
Mobile AR Marketing on the Rise
Mobile AR advertising is expected to grow quickly over the next several years.
Snapchat and Facebook currently rule the AR advertising market due to their aggressive buildout of experiences and measurement models. However, through Apple and Google’s development platforms, which are relatively easy for businesses to experiment with, AR adoption for both brands and consumers is primed to rise exponentially.
Brands that want to develop long-term AR experience strategies will need to bridge the gap between novelty to utility. The companies that will succeed in AR advertising will use the augmented experiences to meet a user’s specific needs for information, convenience, and entertainment simultaneously.
In fact, there are several traditional retailers who are successfully using AR to improve their chances at converting browsers to buyers.
Brick and Mortars Go Digital Through AR Experiences
Buying furniture can be difficult, as items rarely look the same on display in the store, or in the online staging, as they do when they become part of your space. Furniture giant IKEA found a way to circumvent that uncertainty using an AR app called IKEA Place.
The app, originally built using Apple’s ARKit technology, allows the user place IKEA objects in the digital image of a room to create a new environment with the new products. (IKEA also launched the app for Android using Google’s ARCore.)
Paint manufacturer Dulux in the UK uses AR to help users understand whether the company’s paint colors will work in a specific space.
The Dulux Visualizer allows the user to “try out” a shade of paint for a room by using a smartphone camera to scan the space and virtually paint it with any color the company offers.
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s offers two AR apps:
- Measured is one of the first accessible, easy-to-use apps using augmented reality to measure an object or distance within the phone’s camera view.
- Envisioned by The Mine (a Lowe’s company) follows IKEA’s lead and allows users to view high-quality digital images of furnishings at scale in a home or a commercial space.
AR to Continue Expansion and Evolution
Augmented experiences are becoming more common for businesses. Industries like telecommunication, manufacturing, and energy—where the workforce tends to be scattered throughout remote areas—use AR for communication and training.
Additionally, healthcare and education organizations continue to leverage mobile AR. Healthcare companies have developed AR tools for the operating room, while educators use AR to provide a more immersive experience for students.
2019 looks to be another huge year for brands and businesses developing, launching, and marketing mobile AR apps.
Moving forward, look for the launch of new tools that make AR development—from asset creation to real-world interaction—better and more viable. This will allow businesses who adopt AR for marketing purposes move to the next level.