The fall and rise of augmented reality

In 2010, augmented reality (AR) was billed as the new frontier for immersive personal experiences. AR was nothing new of course, we’ve seen it used by the sports broadcasters and in Hollywood for decades – think Top Gun, Terminator and Minority Report. But even back in 2010 most pockets housed a smartphone, and brands had the ability to use AR to communicate, add value and ultimately sell to consumers.

And of course many brands dipped their toes into the AR pool with generally poor results. Fashionistas didn’t take clothing retailers up on the opportunity to ‘virtually try on’ a pair of jeans, people weren’t bothered about finding any of their Twitter followers in the local area, and the novelty of waving a box to see what your finished Lego creation would look like soon wore off.

Over-hyped and under-developed

The first real experiences I had of AR were through publishers who would use their magazines and newspapers to display extra pieces of short content as a one-time ‘surprise and delight’ approach to get readers engaged – my reaction was often ‘ok’ not ‘wow’. The problem then was that although the technology certainly had its merits, its application by brands to add value and engage was all a bit… meh. For consumers in 2010, AR was over-hyped and under-developed – gimmicky, yes; immersive, not so much. This consumer malaise certainly played its part in AR’s death, but a couple of other factors compounded the situation.

Glassholes and VR

Step forward Google, who launched their Google Glass development kit in 2014 to the applause of AR apologists everywhere. This was the product that was going to put AR back on the map, a £1,000 holy grail that would encourage developers to get coding again with AR front of mind.

The fanfare quickly died down when Glass stayed property of ‘Glasshole’ developers, failing to make it onto the faces of consumers. Google put a nail in the Glass coffin in January 2015 when the company announced it would stop selling the frames and this year, when Glass’ Google+, Twitter and Instagram feeds were pulled.
AR blog google glass new york post article

Any remaining hype around AR was quickly diluted when virtual reality took over consumer consciousness. VR company Oculus raised $2.5 million in 2012 through Kickstarter for its VR headset in 2012 and was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion just two years later. Spotting the obvious market opportunity, VR headsets were released by several of the electronic behemoths including HTC, LG, Samsung and Sony. Google soon released Cardboard, its £15 headset supported by VR apps, games and a host of 360 degree YouTube content. VR became available to everyone at every price point. AR looked to be confined to a technology museum.

Step forward Pokémon Go

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll have heard of Pokémon Go –  and probably bumped into someone playing it. For the uneducated, in a nutshell, players explore their local physical areas where they encounter Pokémon before flicking ‘Pokeballs’ to capture them. Players then train their captured characters before battling their Pokemon against others in gyms. Got it? Great.

Check out some of the Pokémon our team have captured:

Mixing gaming and reality, Pokémon Go has been downloaded over 75 million times, with success driven through the well thought out application of how AR technology can be used in a gaming environment, coupled with incredible word of mouth marketing and press coverage that seems to transcend all types of media, from fitness blogs to cyber security press.

Released just in time for the school holidays, it’s not the one-time experience we saw in 2010; players have to move, and the game is being constantly updated – so essentially, you can’t complete it. It’s good news for Nintendo of course; with the app being hailed as the “biggest mobile game in US history”. The app exceeds Twitter in daily active users, has a higher average user time than Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, and Nintendo saw their stock price jump 50%, some $12 billion, before they admitted that they don’t own 100% of the rights to Pokemon Go (but that’s for a different blog).

What’s next?

Pokémon Go’s success has put AR back on the map. Consumers are comfortable with AR experiences, brands want to write their own success stories and businesses will want more interactive AR apps built to drive footfall to physical premises – just ask French home furnishing retailer But.

Apple have invested heavily in AR as have Alibaba and Google, but the new wave of technology is in blending AR and VR, something Microsoft calls ‘mixed reality’ or MR. The company’s HoloLens headgear brings together AR, VR, gesture and haptic feedback – touching and controlling holograms in a bid to provide deeper, immersive experiences to users.

As the technology evolves further, and developers (and the budget holders) see its value, we’ll see MR used to solve real life problems, like simple mapping, overlays to diagnose car faults and shopping, through to bringing sports and movies inside your living room.

I’m excited to see what the future holds. And we’d definitely like to see B2B tech sector brands embracing MR and bravely stepping forward into the realm of immersive customer engagement…


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