The augmented reality (AR) trend is one of the fastest growing across the technology, marketing and advertising industries. It’s estimated that by 2020, the AR market will be worth £90 billion, and with such impressive financial projections, now’s the time for creatives and marketers alike to explore and experiment with AR, and make the most of it while it’s still fresh.
These days, iOS and Android devices can power through demanding augmented reality apps with no problem, and developers are more optimistic about its future than ever. Having already proved popular, AR opens the door to a whole new world of technological possibilities, including three dimensional advertisements, immersive storytelling, virtual tours, interactive decorating and style apps, engaging games and much more.
In retail, companies are always looking to create fresh, immersive brand experiences that leave an impression in consumers’ minds, meaning AR presents an incredible opportunity for creative agencies to offer cutting edge services around it. Brands such as Tesco and Ikea have worked closely with agencies to develop apps that allow customers to experiment with furniture in their homes, while Lacoste and Converse created apps that let users try on virtual shoes before buying the real thing. Agencies are also helping brands to liven up conferences and exhibitions with the creation of location-based AR events, where visitors can engage with rich virtual content as they move around. And now that creative agencies are mastering AR and realising its potential, they’re better positioned to deliver unique and innovative campaigns for clients all over the world. As part of this, they’re assisting brands in the development and visualisation of concepts, and are working hard on UI and UX design to produce AR experiences that are both appealing and easy for customers to use.
With Apple launching powerful tools like ARKit, and Microsoft spending huge sums on their HoloLens mixed reality headset (including the billion dollar acquisition of Minecraft-maker Mojang to bring the popular game to the device), it’s clear that industry giants are taking tremendous steps in their pursuit of the AR top spot, and are committed to making the new technology a success. With that being said, it’s apparent the creation of engaging content that provides realistic interactions while offering unique technological value is the way forward for companies hoping to turn AR into the next big thing.
The story so far…
Believe it or not, AR technology was first developed back in 1968 at Harvard University. Although extremely primitive, computer scientist Ivan Sutherland had successfully produced an AR head-mounted display system that used computer-generated graphics to show users basic wireframe drawings. In the years that followed, university laboratories, private companies and governmental organisations began researching and experimenting with the technology, and in 1990, Tom Caudell, a researcher at Boeing, gave it a name – ‘augmented reality’.
Throughout the 1990s the technology advanced rapidly, and by 1998 the NFL adopted AR, using it to display a yellow marker on the field during the broadcast of a live game. Over the next few years, developers became more familiar with AR, and in 1999 Hirokazu Kato developed the ARToolKit. Still popular today, the open-source computer tracking and software library is designed to allow developers to create augmented reality applications that are capable of overlaying virtual imagery on the real world through the use of video tracking functionality. Having already made the jump to entertainment and media, AR was finally ready for consumer audiences by the end of the noughties.
Augmented reality today
By extending live experiences far beyond the screen, AR is proving to be an industry-shifting trend, and audiences are responding well to the technology even though it’s still in its infancy. It’s already a part of our daily lives, with sport and news broadcasters regularly relying on AR to bring statistics, stories, newsrooms and more to life. Games are changing too, and have come a long way since the days of Snake – people of all ages and demographics downloaded Pokemon Go (which had an incredible 45 million daily active users at its peak), and were encouraged to take to the streets in search of their favourite creatures. With such a huge user base, it was a positive sign for AR.
Despite this, British police logged an unbelievable 290 incidents relating to the game in 2016, demonstrating its real world influence and forcing developer Niantic to urge players to “abide by local laws” while gaming. A couple of months after launch, the number of daily users had fallen dramatically and continues to drop, showing that developers need more than initial intrigue and excitement to keep users coming back to their AR apps.
Snapchat filters are used by millions every day to liven up everything from a casual selfie (what would teenagers do without the dog filter?) to large group photos. Snapchat’s AR filters have even managed to become popular memes – everyone remembers the horrifying face swaps with inanimate objects, the dancing hotdog and rainbow vomit, and it’s safe to say that the app’s AR capabilities are a key part of its continued success with younger audiences. In their first proper attempt at taking AR mainstream, Apple’s upcoming Animoji with iPhone X is sure to make traditional emoji more exciting and engaging.
Similarly, ARKit – which was introduced with iOS 11 – is, in Apple’s own words, a new framework that allows you to easily create unparalleled augmented reality experiences for iPhone and iPad. Users can combine digital objects and information with the environment, allowing apps to break free from the confines of the screen and interact with the world in real time. ARKit utilises powerful A9, A10 and A11 processors to provide breakthrough AR performance, and comes packing TrueDepth Camera for robust face tracking, Visual Intertial Odometry (VIO) functionality to effectively track the world around it, and Scene Understanding and Lighting Estimation to ensure everything looks as it should.
What does the future hold?
With so many advancements and landmark developments over the last couple of years, the future looks bright for AR. Powerful design tools are allowing developers to be more creative with the technology than ever before, and evidence and research suggests that audiences are eager for more. It’s estimated that AR headset sales could hit almost £1 billion this year, and with Microsoft going full steam ahead with HoloLens and rumours of other tech companies such as Google, Apple and Samsung following suit, that figure looks set to grow. It’s even starting to play a part in social media strategy, with marketers looking for innovative ways to engage with customers online.
Whatever happens, AR is up there with VR as a soon-to-be essential technology for marketers and content creators (click here for our kit recommendations), and it’s definitely worth striking while the iron is hot to put yourself ahead of the competition.