Augmented reality, like virtual reality (which it shouldn’t be confused with!), is no longer a niche technology. True, it existed for several years beforehand, but the Pokemon Go! Craze of a few years ago coupled with the rise of Snapchat finally introduced the tech to the average consumer.
AR doesn’t insert a person into a virtual world. Instead, it inserts virtual elements into the real world as displayed through a screen. An example would be a virtual Pokemon that’s not actually there, but appears to be when viewed through a smartphone’s camera.
Right now, most consumer AR apps are designed with smartphone and tablet users in mind, but there may soon come a day when AR-friendly glasses are commonplace among average users as well. In the meantime, across a range of industries and sectors, many businesses and organizations are using AR headsets and glasses already.
They’ve found AR to be very helpful in a number of ways. This has resulted in AR development speeding up quite fast.
Developers (and those considering working with developers) to create AR products should keep pace by familiarizing themselves with current AR development trends. The following are several particularly noteworthy examples:
Emphasis on AR as a Practical Tool
The AR apps and experiences the average user may be most familiar with likely consist of games, social media platforms, and similar diversions.
It’s easy to understand why. AR can add a dynamic element to a game that makes it far more engaging than it would otherwise be.
However, it’s important to remember that AR can actually be a very practical tool in certain industries. Many AR developers are thus prioritizing certain types of AR applications when choosing projects.
For example, medical schools have already been using AR to train surgeons for years. Recently, Johns Hopkins surgeons have begun using AR when performing surgery on actual living patients. Early results indicate it’s been very helpful.
In this context, AR helps surgeons by displaying via a headset a visual representation of a patient’s internal organs and tissues. That said, AR training can be used in many other contexts and fields.
The military already uses AR in several capacities. AR headsets, which can store data a soldier can pull up at any point, are ideal when military personnel are deployed in areas with limited Internet connectivity. Instead of relying on an Internet connection to retrieve data, military personnel can display large chunks of data stored on an AR-friendly headset.
That’s just one example. However, there’s reason to believe the military may soon be using AR for training purposes to a greater degree. For instance, some are considering using AR screens and headsets to train pilots to evade threats in the sky.
The main point to understand is that AR isn’t just for gaming and social apps. It may be most useful in more practical applications.
Military jets may not be the only vehicles getting AR upgrades in the near future! Your own car might also offer AR-centric features sooner rather than later as well.
Currently, plans to use AR in cars typically involve boosting driver safety. An example would be an AR projection alerting a driver to a hazard up ahead in the road that they may not have seen.
AR can also simply help drivers navigate more easily. For example, while GPS apps showing drivers where to turn can be helpful, they can also be dangerous if a driver feels the need to constantly look at the GPS map to check for the next turn (instead of waiting for that creepy, calm GPS voice to tell them when to turn).
AR is addressing this limitation by displaying arrows directly in front of a driver. This can reduce their urge to look at a screen when they expect a turn is coming up.
The above example overlaps somewhat with another trend in AR development: AR’s role in the tourism industry.
Just as GPS apps have helped drivers navigate unfamiliar areas, they’ve also helped tourists make their way through new cities. However, it can be somewhat frustrating to constantly look down at a phone to know when to turn.
Luckily, with AR, a user can just hold their phone out in front of them and see their route. If AR-friendly headsets and glasses become more popular among consumers, which very well may happen in the near future, the phone won’t even be necessary
That said, helping tourists get around unfamiliar cities is just one way AR can serve the tourism industry. Some AR applications also allow travelers to “see” elements and sights of various destinations from the comfort of their own homes. This can help them better determine whether it’s worth their time to travel to those destinations in the real world.
Many retail brands have already found smart ways to use AR. Ikea started using AR to help online shoppers better determine how certain larger items might look in their homes. Sephora used AR to give customers the opportunity to virtually “try on” cosmetics before buying them. Home Depot’s app uses AR tech to show customers what paint colors will look like on their walls.
It’s likely this trend will continue. When used in this way, AR can particularly encourage online shoppers to make purchases they otherwise might not make. Quite simply, without AR, a customer may feel they need to see or test a product in person before buying it. If they can test or try a product online with AR, they may be more inclined to make a purchase right away.
It’s worth noting that AR can also enhance traditional retail, and not just eCommerce. For example, in a shopping mall or crowded shopping district, a retailer can help potential customers find their store with an AR app. AR apps can also quickly pull up valuable information about products.
For example, perhaps a shopper finds a product in a store but wants more information about its uses, ingredients, etc. They could theoretically view the product through their phone’s camera and see that information clearly displayed. Some believe there may even come a day when AR apps serve as dynamic signs in grocery stores and department stores, letting customers know where to find certain types of products.
AR in Marketing
Many of the uses of AR in retail already covered here also arguably qualify as uses of AR as a marketing tool. By providing users with a unique experience that also serves a practical purpose, AR can ensure a brand stands out among the competition.
That said, those are examples of AR serving as a marketing tool in an indirect way. They show how AR can offer convenient solutions to customers that have the added effect of improving customer relationships with brands. However, enhancing marketing campaigns can also be the primary function of AR.
For example, AR marketing may involve allowing users to transform the world around them with apps that insert virtual elements that are essentially “hidden” advertisements. A simple example would be a brand releasing an app that tasks users with finding invisible ads throughout their city that can only be viewed with AR.
That highlights a key point: AR marketing content often takes the form of games. For example, The Walking Dead: Our World is an AR game that’s similar to Pokemon Go! The key difference is that players fight off zombies instead of catching Pokemon.
Using AR in this capacity boosts the effectiveness of marketing campaigns because it provides a memorable experience and yields long periods of engagement. When a customer is spending hours playing an AR game, they’re spending hours engaging with a brand while also immersing themselves in what’s essentially a branded version of their own world.
When leveraged properly, AR can allow marketers to overcome one of the limitations of experiential marketing campaigns. Experiential marketing involves (you guessed it!) promoting a brand by providing customers with unique experiences. These experiences may consist of live events, such as music festivals, fashion shows, and more.
This type of marketing may be effective because it’s not excessively “salesy,” it forges an emotional link between a brand and a memory and, like AR games, it yields hours of engagement (ideally).
The problem is, only so many people can attend a live branded event. Additionally, those who would like to attend such an event may be unable to do so if they live far from the venue.
That’s not a problem with AR. AR can create a branded experience similar to the type of live event an experiential marketing expert might organize, without the limitations imposed by space, geography, and other such factors. Potentially, AR marketing content could transform large chunks of a customer’s daily life into a branded experience.
Serving Remote Workers
The Covid-19 pandemic forced many companies to adopt remote work policies. The pandemic may be ending, but after seeing that remote workers are no less productive than in-office workers, some companies have decided to embrace remote work or hybrid policies permanently.
That said, remote work can still make it difficult to train employees or collaborate on projects. AR can help address this problem. AR can allow for remote training, collaboration, and even meetings, helping companies adjust to their new normal.
AR for Repair and Manufacturing
Along with helping surgeons and military personnel train and operate, another practical use of AR involves helping repair techs and manufacturers work more accurately and efficiently.
For example, perhaps someone is manufacturing a product that consists of several pieces that must be assembled in the proper order. An AR app can display the next step, allowing the worker to complete their tasks at a much quicker pace than usual.
This also has implications for the average consumer. Perhaps the user manuals of the (near) future will instruct customers to download AR apps that display how to assemble or repair products. Like the ways many retail brands are already using AR, this would give a brand a means of providing customers with convenient services while also indirectly marketing the brand.
AR for Safety
AR can promote workplace safety in a variety of environments. Thus, many companies and developers are looking into ways to use AR in this manner.
For instance, in a busy working environment filled with many potential hazards, it can be easy to overlook a dangerous condition that may result in an accident. Examples of such environments include factories, chemical plants, and similar workplaces.
Employers may thus equip workers with AR glasses designed to clearly display hazards that workers may have missed. This can result in a significant decrease in on-the-job accidents.
AR with AI
In order to identify and display hazards on the road or at the workplace, an AR app needs to “know” what a hazard looks like. No one wants to spend moment after moment at work trying to ignore an AR app’s warning that the boss’ motivational poster of a candle is an actual fire, after all.
That’s why many AR developers are using another innovative technology, artificial intelligence, to ensure AR apps and programs work as intended.
Artificial intelligence can support AR programs in many ways. In this example, an AI would “learn” what an actual fire looks like the same way a baby learns what different shapes are: being exposed to the image time and time again until it starts to recognize similar qualities. Over time, the AI will know when to trigger a warning, and when what appears to be a hazard isn’t actually one.
That’s only one example of how AI and AR can work together to improve products. It’s likely developers will continue to find ways to harness the power of both of these technologies combined.
It’s also likely that usage of AR will grow more common as its value becomes more apparent. These trends represent the mere beginning of the “AR revolution.” There’s never been a better time to take advantage of this tool.
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