Augmented reality holds a number of promising applications for small businesses, and the technology is becoming more feasible (financial and otherwise) every day.
In 2016, the Japanese cartoon franchise Pokemon released a new smartphone game. The free app, known as Pokemon Go, challenges users (as the franchise’s slogan says) to "catch 'em all," or collect as many of the game's virtual monsters as possible. The game went viral, capturing the attention of both young and old video game fans alike. In fact, the game itself has been a game-changer in the production of video games, apps and business as a whole.
What’s so special about Pokemon Go? Through the magic of modern technology, players can actually discover Pokemon by physically searching for them: in their homes, neighborhoods, parks, or even in the middle of the sea. While most video games require users to sit still and focus on a TV, computer, or smartphone screen, Pokemon Go requires movement to play. You can only discover and collect virtual Pokemon by exploring the physical world. All of this is made possible through the use of augmented reality.
What is AR?
According to Merriam-Webster, augmented reality (AR) is "an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera)." In other words, AR creates the illusion that virtual objects are in the same space as real, physical objects by overlapping them.
In Pokemon Go, the virtual creatures are overlaid onto the image of the real world. You could point your phone at the entrance to a building, and one of the animals may be sitting by the door. Of course, the creature doesn't exist in the physical world, but the image on your phone makes it appear as though it does.
It's important to note the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality (VR), which are both gaining speed as technology moves forward. According to a 2014 article from Tech Times, the difference lies in the immersion factor:
"Both virtual reality and augmented reality are similar in the goal of immersing the user, though both systems to this in different ways. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. With VR, the user is isolated from the real world while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated."
Today, when someone mentions VR, we might picture large, goofy goggles such as those featured in the upcoming novel-turned-movie "Ready Player One," but the tech in the futuristic film isn't that far out. The complete-immersion quality of VR makes it an interesting potential business tool, but the need for extra gadgets (e.g., goggles, headsets) makes it a slightly more difficult venture. AR, on the other hand, is available through preowned devices, such as smartphones or tablets, making it more accessible and affordable.
How can AR benefit my business?
AR presents a whole new world of possibilities for modern businesses. All enterprises share a common goal of getting clients and customers to use their service or purchase their product. To do this, businesses must educate users about their products, engage meaningfully with potential clients and create lasting connections for future commerce. There are ways in which AR is already being implemented to further these goals and even more ways in which it has yet to be used.
WayfairView, an AR app which debuted last year, is a prime example of how AR can further modern business. The app uses Tango, Google's AR program, to provide users with an advanced shopping experience. Audiences can browse the company's furniture collections and use their smartphones to virtually place pieces in their homes. Through the use of AR, users can see how a new couch might look in their living room, or if a particular dresser would look better against the left bedroom wall or the right. The process creates a more streamlined, enjoyable shopping experience. (Note: Google is moving away from Tango to ARCore.)
Company managers that are not thinking about AR may eventually regret it. According to a 2017 article from Entrepreneur, "Consumers and B2B buyers, for their part, are developing an awareness of, and even an expectation for, these kinds of experiences when they interact with almost every company."
Clients are no longer asking how you will implement modern tech into their business experience, but when. The process is feasible, and it's waiting for your enterprise to use it.
Snapchat is another example of how AR is benefitting business. The social media app is changing the AR game through their continually updating filter/lens effects. Whether you want to add a small dancing hotdog to the table in front of you or put dog ears on your selfie (which moves with your head), Snapchat's use of AR creates a fun and imaginative environment for users.
What does all of this AR exploration mean? It means that businesses can benefit immensely from updating their technology to match current trends. Smartphones are practically an extra limb in today's world, which makes them one of the best tools for reaching desired audiences.
To connect with your consumers meaningfully and creatively, consider how AR can be used to give shape to their ideas. Whether it's trying out new virtual hairstyles at a styling studio or presenting virtual plans for a building over a city skyline, the possibilities for integrating AR into your business are limitless.