Where Is Augmented Reality Headed?
Are there any other technologies out there as capable of capturing our imaginations as augmented reality (AR)?
While it’s still fairly conceptual in its applications, it’s entering the mainstream in numerous ways, from our games to our social media to our shopping experiences.
The Growth of AR
Though its developers may not have intended it this way, the release of Pokémon Go! in 2016 paved the way for AR acceptance in the public eye. The game took the foundational elements of VR and made them palatable to users of all ages, such as using the smartphone camera as a viewing device and overlaying simple graphics that users could interact with.
Of course, this was only the beginning. Companies in 2018 are making major investments in AR technology and supporting the concept across numerous platforms.
Google offers collections of AR experiments that users can explore. Apple has its own augmented reality developer toolkit. Heck, even Snapchat is expanding the marketing potential of its AR components by introducing “shoppable” AR into the digital marketing ecosystem.
The concept is simple enough. Consumer AR demos work by superimposing effects into our world, generally by interacting with our device cameras or headsets and “writing” content over the layout. It’s not that new of an idea—Snapchat and others have been testing this “additive AR” for years with their facial recognition filters—but as the applications expand, they’re opening the doors to some exciting new possibilities.
The End of Mobile
AR has the potential to break the constraints of mobile browsing. The biggest constraint, of course, is the size of the screen.
But with the rise of wearable headsets, the screen size boundary is smashed. As AR can superimpose fully-realized visualizations of mobile screens through our devices, we don’t need to stare at a static screen anymore. With AR, everywhere we look can be a screen.
Aside from solving the issue of a lack of screen space for mobile visualizations, this improvement creates interesting possibilities for data access on the consumer side of things. These tools will be able to easily integrate with Google Maps, transit apps, even weather reports—and display all that data within a user’s headset.
We could see a transit schedule when we look at a bus. We could look at the sky and see a full forecast of the week’s weather report. We could look at a person, and through facial recognition scanning tied to the person’s social media, receive a digitized rundown of their latest social media posts.
Mobile changed the game, but these applications of AR promise to create truly customizable interfaces that give us the data we want when we want it—no screens attached.
Redefining the Retail Experience
According to a consumer survey of retail shoppers, 68 percent of respondents said they would spend more time at retailers that let them shop with AR, and 72 percent admitted to making unplanned purchases because of an AR interface.
Clearly, there’s a consumer appetite for AR in the shopping experience.
Fashion companies are already using it to shorten the lengthy process of trying on clothes and creating virtualizations that show us how we’d look in a given outfit. And that’s just one example of many.
We’re not too far off from the day when we could walk down the grocery store aisle and scan each item with our headsets to receive complete nutritional readouts on every object. We could even customize these readouts with our favorite brands or dietary preferences to create personalized heatmaps that show us our best options on the shelf.
Educational applications are always hot commodities for tech advancements, and AR is no exception.
The applications of these visualizations in learning environments are obvious—teachers gain a new way to let students interact with complex subjects, such as creating completely virtual environments where students can literally walk through the human body, examining cellular structures up close, and receiving relevant information readouts all at once.
More broadly, it speaks to a natural evolution of the learning environment. We once had blackboards, then moved to whiteboards, overhead projectors, and eventually digital projectors. As this type of AR is merely a new way to present the information we already have, it makes sense that it could be applied in nearly endless ways within the educational environment
Where Is AR Headed?
It’s impossible to say for sure where these AR advancements will take us. The technology is still in its infancy, and new discoveries are being made day every for both business-facing and consumer applications. Only time will tell how other companies will adopt these strategies—and what kinds of tech marvels we’ll see in the coming years.