Augmented reality technology is attracting a lot of attention at the moment with many large brands experimenting with it as a marketing tool. As a concept it’s attractive to consumers and as such has the opportunity to develop quite quickly. As it stands, augmented reality is not where it should be; it’s a bit gimmicky, a bit clunky and not as natural as it needs to be in order to become sustainable. For example, standing with your mobile phone at arm’s length in central London, trying to focus your camera on a Starbucks logo is not helpful or practical, especially when all the information you need could be found by simply searching it on Google. Having said this, the fact that big companies are experimenting with augmented reality is fantastic as it draws attention to the technology and its possibilities.
There are already examples of augmented reality being used in a really productive way, for example historians have developed apps which allow users to point their phone camera at a building and see it on screen as it existed 100 years ago accompanied by supporting information. Another example of augmented reality working is in Japan. Tesco have designed an app which allows users to point their phone camera at images of products displayed in the underground, by selecting them the user automatically arranges a home delivery of that product. It’s by no means seamless but it is a step in the right direction and this is where augmented reality is going, it needs to be genuinely valuable to the end user to have any longevity.
THE VALUE OF A TARGETED AUDIENCE
In recent years there has been a shift away from traditional advertising methods with companies looking for new ways to promote their products. As Ken Blakeslee, one of Europe’s leading experts on mobile services and applications explains, “the real value lies in getting at the right person rather than creating a ‘shot-gun’ ad or a billboard on the side of the road that may appeal to some people but not others. Companies need to begin focusing on their target audience.”
And augmented reality gives big brands the perfect opportunity to target a specific audience. Take a brand like Tesco for example, it operates customer services such as loyalty cards and online shopping so is in the perfect position to know a lot about its customers and their spending habits. If they are sensible, they can use this information in a way that benefits their customers, for example flagging items that are on sale to consumers that have bought them previously as they walk into the store. Again, augmented reality will only work if the service provided is genuinely valuable to the consumer.
PUSH AND PULL AUGMENTED REALITY
A common misconception is that augmented reality is simply technology which allows users to hold their smartphone or tablet up to something and it produces an image on screen. In fact, as we have seen from the example above, it’s about so much more than that; simply put, it is augmenting the space within which the user is currently in; animating, illustrating and enhancing their reality.
Pull augmented reality is where we are today – the user needs to seek the technology themselves to discover information, however as demonstrated above augmented reality could be much smarter than this. Imagine leaving work and walking to the underground when suddenly you get a notification stating that the train you always get on has been delayed, but not to worry, your favourite coffee shop is just around the corner, there is a deal on your favourite drink and actually your good friend has also been delayed and is in the area. That level of information is called push augmented reality; its augmenting the street scene you are in right now with unsolicited information which is of genuine benefit to you. As Blakeslee confirms, “If my interests and location are known and I am provided with information which is useful to me at that given moment, then that is valuable to me. This is where push augmented reality will come into its own; when it’s personalised.”
WHERE NEXT FOR AUGMENTED REALITY
Within the next few years augmented reality is going to become a lot more prominent in our everyday lives. It is going to remain mobile, but it will develop so you no longer have to hold a device. Already developers are working on glasses that can be worn like a normal pair, except they will prompt the user with personal and targeted information.
Augmented reality technology will be driven by consumer demand and large brands, but also by business purpose. Augmented reality can be used for more than just advertising, it is also a fantastic tool when it comes to providing information, for example it could be used as a manual to fix a car; the user could put on a pair of glasses and when they look under the bonnet they are provided with detailed instructions about how to fix the problem. Alternatively it could be used for things such as navigation; rather than watching a sat nav, why not put on a pair of glasses which show you the route to take while updating you about places of interest, speed cameras and delays.
THE FUTURE IS COMING
But it won’t stop there. According to Blakeslee, Nokia Labs have already begun creating eye glass optics which would be worn like contact lenses but provide the wearer with targeted updates. Imagine walking into a party and noticing somebody you have met before but you cannot remember their name, augmented reality technology would be able to draw from your personal databases, for example Facebook and other social media networks, and provide you with that information.
Finally, augmented reality is not just going to exist as visual updates; “it’s for the five senses,” explains Blakeslee, “it has to exist as a natural way for people to gain information.” First it will be purely visual, then sound will be added, touch will follow soon after and eventually even taste and smell. “It sounds ridiculous,” says Blakeslee, “but it’s already technologically possible, just not technologically sensible right now.”
Augmented reality is coming whether we like it or not, and it’s a technology to be embraced. Done properly it’s inventive, it saves people time and money, provides them with valuable information and that should remain key to the whole thing.