It’s estimated that within the next three years, the market value of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will reach $108 billion globally. This is great news for both consumers and brands; the more available this technology gets, the more it’s adopted, which means faster improvements and innovations, and more exciting possibilities with which to create experiences for users across the globe.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the key platforms and players in the fast-moving AR and VR space.

What are VR and AR?

VR

VR is the world of headsets and goggles: it provides an immersive experience by having the user wear a headset, often with headphones, that typically provides a slightly different image for each eye to give a stereoscopic feeling of depth in a purely digital world. VR is great for ensuring users experience a virtual environment exactly as you intended when you built it, which is why this technology is predominantly used in entertainment or educational settings.

One example of a great branded VR experience is the virtual training designed by U.S. hardware giant Lowe’s – it was created to help educate customers, giving them the hands-on instruction, confidence and ability to perform the DIY tasks they wanted to learn about.

AR

AR is used as an umbrella term to also cover Mixed Reality (MR), blends the physical and digital worlds together by overlaying graphics or reacting to real world settings, and subsequently adjusting the display to the user.

While still in its infancy, you’ll often see AR used with mobile phones thanks to Apple’s AR Kit and Google’s AR Core developer tools. Perhaps the most common and recognisable AR app is Snapchat, though its version of AR is limited to one-off snaps and not real-time augmentation of entire environments.

A recent example of fully fledged AR is Laan Labs’ photo-realistic artwork that leverages machine learning to achieve some impressive visual effects.

What’s already being done?

In addition to the examples presented above, if you’ve already read the iProspect Future Focus white paper for 2018, you’ll recall that Chinese e-commerce providers are already leading the way, having experimented with virtual shopping malls since 2016:

Buy+, an Alibaba subsidiary, transports consumers to virtual malls across the globe (e.g., Costco or Macy’s), where they can purchase using AliPay with the nod of a head. Eight million people tried Buy+ during Singles’ Day 2016.

 

L’Oreal has also entered the AR space in a big way having recently acquiring ModiFace, which among other features, allows users to preview how different types of makeup would look on them without even lifting a brush.

While we’ve all seen AR filters on social media, AR is about to get a further boost in the advertising world with Facebook AR enabling advertising based on real-world location markers. This concept has also been further explored in the Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One, in which users escape to an alternate world through VR, accessed by scanning posters of virtual locales in the real world.

The wide-scale adoption of both VR and AR is likely to appeal to advertisers. They will be able to leverage the technology to further differentiate themselves from their competition, and simultaneously drive brand engagement and loyalty.

What’s next?

Given that $3 billion was raised in 2018 for AR and VR startups, and that AR received 79% of that funding, AR is likely to be a truly breakout and transformative technology while VR is likely to be the intermediary step for some industries. The only thing holding back the mass adoption of AR at the moment is the technical limitation of miniaturising the technology, but great progress is already being made, similar to the improvements we’ve seen with component manufacturing processes and computational power for mobile devices.

Edit: The technology is progressing so fast that even during the writing of this article, Leap Motion demonstrated their breakthrough new AR-powered “virtual wearables”, working on current technology.

Of course when talking about what’s next, we can’t go past Magic Leap. If Amazon are the 800-pound gorilla of retail, then Magic Leap is the 800-pound gorilla of AR (or Mixed Reality, technically). Magic Leap is heavily pushing retail, enabling customers to see life-size products in front of them, and entertainment via movie characters entering your living room.

 


Magic Leap have over $2.3 billion in funding from companies and countries including Google, Alibaba, Temasek (Singapore) and Saudi Arabia. Their board members also include the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, and Alibaba Founder/Executive Chairman Jack Ma, so it’s safe to say they have a great deal of both financial backing and expert knowledge supporting them.

What makes companies like Magic Leap (and their competitors, like Microsoft Hololens) unique, is that they look to disrupt major industries and transform others. Microsoft Hololens has shown what a world without physical TVs would look like by allowing you to simply drag out a screen as big as your wall, or have it follow you around the house.

With such transformative capabilities being enabled by these technologies, brands can’t afford to ignore these advances and need to start preparing for what will likely be a common expectation of consumers within the next 5 years.

How can brands get involved?

Before considering a major step in innovation, brands must make sure they have a solid digital foundation in place in order to get the most from their investment.

If you’re looking into AR and VR, this means considering your digital maturity index (DMI). Among other things you need to ensure that you are:

  • Leveraging audience data to help inform owned, earned, and paid media.
  • Utilising machine learning (now an absolute necessity for effective marketing) as part of your consumer strategy.
  • Ensuring you have a mature UX program that can help your customers transition from the familiar to the new and exciting.

 

This foundation will put you in good stead for the huge amount of data and customer personalisation expectations you’re about to require when creating VR and AR solutions.

When you’re ready to take the plunge, consider what you’re trying to achieve. Is this an exercise in branding, consumer engagement, or a combination of both to drive profit? Moving on from here, look to create as simple a solution as possible that meets both your goals and the needs of your customers. Finally, embrace an attitude of ‘safe to fail’ for your innovative activity in order to iteratively improve while the platform developers fine-tune their own offerings.

To find out more about the what the world of AR and VR could mean for your brand, speak to your iProspect representative.

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Nathan Horgan

Nathan Horgan is a Digital Director in the Experience team at iProspect Melbourne. His role involves assisting clients with on- and off-site digital campaigns with the goal of improving rankings in organic search results.