On your way to meet a friend in the city, your smartphone starts notifying you of local points of interest. At a museum, you skip the old-school audio tour for a pair of Google Glass specs, which display pertinent information as you look at each part of the exhibit. As you shop online, you can “try on” clothes and jewelry, and view yourself in the computer monitor. And most important of all, you can share these experiences with your friends and family.
All of these experiences are possible through augmented reality, or AR, technology. AR adds a layer of computer-generated data, images and sound (and someday, touch and smell!) to our experience of the real world. This all sounds like sci-fi, but AR is already here. My smartphone already has a few AR apps – and yours probably does, too. Yelp’s Monocle function made it one of the first apps to use geo-location data to overlay reviews on top of data from an iPhone camera lens – this was back in 2009.
I’ve also got Skyview, which uses my phone’s camera, compass, gyroscope and geolocation data to present me with information about the night sky. My son and I find this to be way more fun than his telescope.
Marketers are using AR all over the place. Last year, IKEA’s 2013 print catalog debuted an interactive component. Smartphone users can download an app which unlocks video, 3D content, additional photos and more, when pointed at catalog pages with a tag by Metaio.
Goldrun is another AR mobile platform, successfully combining AR engagement with social sharing and consumer rewards. Last year they partnered with the NFL to let fans try on the Giants’ virtual Super Bowl ring and share photos of them wearing it.
AR is a great way to create an emotional connection with a brand, but right now there’s no killer app for it. Like the clunky ol’ QR code, AR requires the user to download a variety of apps for different uses, and there are multiple tech developers. Until this functionality is somewhat standardized and baked in to smartphones, glasses, auto windshields, or clothing, it will be less than transparent and immediate. One also wonders how the content will be monetized, once it is all “baked in.” Could our AR experience someday look like this spoof of the Google Glass promo video? (The real version from Google is here.)