The future of augmented reality

Will it be a novelty add-on or a value creator?

by Jamie Stone
Last Updated: 07 Jun 2018

Augmented Reality (AR) isn’t all that new - in fact it’s been around for a fair while. Yet for all the talk about how it will revolutionise our lives, it just hasn’t lived up to its promise.

The problem is that it’s pretty easy to come up with an idea for AR based on pointing your smart phone at a product or image, and it ‘comes to life’. The first time you see it happen, it really does amaze. But once the amazement wears off, you probably won’t bother to ‘scan’ that image again because, although it was a technically great experience, it didn’t give you anything useful as a consumer.

Yet innovations like Blippar’s AR city are starting to point to AR’s future direction. It layers an AR map to the real world, making it much more meaningful as you try to find your way through the streets of London. Once tried, it makes ‘regular’ map apps, seem flat and unrelated to your personal experience.

As innovations like this develop and become smart, they can point out places I might have an interest in based on my personal preferences, such as: there is a great coffee shop down this side street and you have 15 minutes before your meeting starts. Once the AR application becomes something you will find useful, you will go back again and again.

What’s in it for the retailer?

There is huge potential here for retailers to use AR to get more consumers in their stores, and more dollar value per basket by enabling consumers to shop more effectively.

For example, if you are in the US and go into a pharmacy, often the description of what a product does is in language an average consumer will find baffling, because of strict FDA regulations. AR can help, by making the category headers scannable so customers can shop according to their particular need, e.g. tackle a cough, and deselect products that don’t meet that need.

Or they can scan a product on the shelf, and it will say (in user friendly language) exactly what it does and doesn’t do. This might seem like a small step but the biggest generator of negative sentiment towards over the counter brands is from consumers taking a product to deliver a benefit that it wasn’t designed for and rejecting it when it doesn’t work.

What’s in it for brands?

The aim of any brand is to spend as much time as it can in consumers’ (and potential consumers’) conscious minds, which a meaningful interaction between our mobile devices and the actual product does.

Think for a moment about pain relief for kids. For any parent of young children, there is a real worry about how much and how often to dose your child. Imagine that AR allows you to scan the pack with your phone and it then tells you what it is, in case you picked up the wrong product, and asks you one simple question: how much does your child weigh? That will give you the exact dose and frequency, allowing you to accurately and effectively treat your child, set an alarm for the next dose, and even re-order if you are running low.

That simple connection builds trust and compliance with that brand, both of which are priceless assets to marketers.

What’s in it for consumers?

Consumers hold the power here. If an AR application doesn’t offer something meaningful then they simply won’t go back to it, and it will fail.

The questions they should be asking are, ‘what can AR do for me, can it help me learn a new language, or teach my child to read, or find my way home?’

For example, if your kid’s Barbie doll, instead of just being a static toy, partnered by some online game and utilities, could become a reading buddy. Your child and her favourite Barbie sit and read a story on a tablet, the camera recognises the Barbie and she comes to life on screen, helping the child read and correcting mistakes.

Blurring those lines between physical objects and AR objects is natural for kids today, as they have been born into a digital reality.

Today the main barrier to this kind of AR being adopted is that there is no single place to experience it. The future is having an AR switch in your camera that can turn on the augmented function, but which allows you to switch it off and back to the analogue world for a while.

I’m an optimist about all this. I truly believe AR is here to stay, and that the early adopters are now starting to think through ways that AR can be a meaningful part of a brand, not just a fun last-minute add-on once the main budgets have been spent in traditional comms channels.

Jamie Stone is global head of design for PA Consulting’s consumer sector.

Image credit: NicoElNino/Shutterstock

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