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Translating augmented reality into business reality

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Over the past several years, augmented reality (AR) has been steadily making its way from a niche technology reserved for gamers and geeks to a mainstream marketing tool, writes Jason Ried, MD Fuzzy Logic.
In simple terms, AR enables a live view of a real world environment that is enhanced by overlaying computer-generated layers of information. These layers can include sound, graphics, video and/or animations.
From nimble startups to established tech juggernauts such as Google and Microsoft, massive resources are being funneled into developing AR solutions and fine-tuning its infinite use cases.
According to data published earlier this year by Manatt Digital Media, and originally sourced from Digi-Capital, $120-billion is projected to come from sales of augmented reality –with the bulk comprised of hardware, commerce, data, voice services, and film and TV projects.
In Silicon Valley, that hallowed ground of tech innovation, a combined incubator and investment fund called Super Ventures was recently launched with the sole purpose of developing AR.
Such a move is testament to the fact that not only is AR coming of age as a full-blown market, but that it has the potential to fundamentally change how we live and work.
Indeed, far more than just a nice-to-have marketing tool, AR will soon pervade the very fabric of our daily interactions.
While Super Ventures founder and GM, Ori Inbar commented that AR will ‘become the foundation for the next wave of computing,’ it will arguably go further – and become the foundation for the next shift in human interaction and engagement.
Take Microsoft’s HoloLens, for example, which was first revealed last year, although is still only available for developers. The headset (which was sent to astronauts aboard the International Space Station) displays 3D ‘holograms’ of fictional characters, objects, models, charts, and even games.
These lifelike digital forms appear right in front of you, on your actual desk or table, while you’re wearing the HoloLens headset. So if you’re on a Skype call, for example, with a colleague in another country, you may soon be able to ‘see’ him or her sitting right in front of you – which will naturally change the nature of the interaction.

Finding the ‘why’
Despite the transformative potential of AR, the business world has yet to fully embrace this fast emerging technology. Yet some pioneering brands have identified opportunities to use AR as a savvy marketing tool, complementing their wider campaigns.
Take Dulux, for example, which harnessed an opportunity to use AR in a way that served its customers in a very simple but effective way.
The paint company introduced an AR-powered app that enables consumers to ‘re-colour’ walls themselves. The Dulux Visualizer app essentially lets users ‘repaint’ the walls of their rooms as they move around with their mobile devices. They can select, store and view different colour schemes – creating a hugely powerful visualisation tool.
As marketers and brand managers become more familiar with the various functionalities and effects offered by AR, we will surely see more apps and brand campaigns of this nature.
For businesses, one possible reason for the slower adoption of AR solutions is that they are still struggling to identify ‘the why’. As with any technology tool or platform, there undoubtedly has to be a very compelling reason for introducing an AR solution. As many cases have already shown, introducing AR solutions for the mere novelty of it – and not because there is any clearly defined business problem – inevitably leads to wasted resources.
Another potential factor is that many companies hesitate to approach AR because there is no ‘big idea’ or creative inspiration driving them. The key, however, does not necessarily lie in the creative seed or initial idea for the AR experience or solution – it is when companies have a crystal clear view of the pain point hampering their customers – or colleagues. The magic happens when the company partners with a developer who can use that strong insight to conceptualise and bring to life a solution to the problem.
By way of example, an architectural firm was struggling to find a way to allow its clients and partners – who were based in another region – to have full view of a building project as it commenced. So we created an app which enables architects to share augmented reality versions of the property, which appear on the client’s desk or floor. The app allows them to move around, zoom in and out, explore the inside and properly inspect a 3D version of the property – before it’s even built.

The data opportunity

In South Korea, UK food retailer Tesco saw how using AR could address a very real consumer challenge. Reports have found that South Koreans have amongst the longest working hours in the world, with young executives often too busy to go shopping.
So Tesco introduced “virtual stores”, using AR, which are essentially a display of products on walls of metro stations and bus stops. Commuters could then scan the QR codes of the products on display with their smartphones, and place their orders even as they waited for their trains or buses.
Not only did Tesco solve a problem, but they also found a way to obtain important data on a growing market – allowing them to hone their offering and grow in the segment. Indeed, data and analytics are one of the key benefits that savvy businesses can reap from employing AR solutions.

Complement, not clutter
As AR continues its march into mainstream consciousness, businesses and brands should incorporate their learnings from previous technology trends.
In our view, one of the defining aspects of successful technology adoption is the art of enabling tech to complement – and not clutter – your core offering.
Take apps, for example, the best apps – such as Uber – have a simple and clearly defined purpose. They do not try to address more than one or two central pain points.
With AR, the same principles will apply – and by working closely with the right technology partners, it can prove to be as transformative as the last wave of mobile innovation.