FMM’s Outlook on Mobile Augmented Reality
Mobile marketing is one of the hottest topics for brands, retailers and e-tailers these days, especially when it comes to consumer engagement and sales. The editors of FMM ended 2011 with a three-part series on the history and future of mobile marketing, then broke down the four steps to developing a successful mobile strategy and concluded with why retail needs mobile shopping apps.
If you’re educating yourself about mobile marketing and you’re committed to creating cutting edge mobile marketing campaigns and strategies, you are most likely wanting to do something unique, something that will set you above all the rest and create ridiculous WOM buzz. What will take your campaign to the next level? Many brands and retailers believe that the answer is augmented reality.
What is augmented reality?
As defined by Wikipedia, Augmented Reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-
The history of mobile augmented reality
Since 2009, brands have been introducing cutting-edge AR apps for public consumption. The app that Yelp released in 2009 included a “monocle” feature developed by the Adamson agency in St. Louis, Missouri. Yelp’s monocle feature made it the first augmented reality app for the iPhone.
It looks really cool. It is really cool, but how many people used this feature? Honestly, I’ve had the app on my phone for years and never knew the monocle feature existed. It was an Easter Egg, you had to shake your phone 3 times to activate it. Why they hid it, I will never know. If I had known it existed, would I have used it? I’m not sure the user experience of downloading the app, typing something in, waiting for it to load and then walking down a busy street with a phone held out in front is worth the trouble.
“The number one thing is the user experience,” Matthew Szymczyk, CEO of Zugara told FMM. “AR hasn’t matured on the mobile platform yet. As the technology matures, you will see it more. There’s a lot of hype around the mobile space. Mobile AR is hyped, but we’re not seeing a lot of traction in that space.”
Four stellar examples of mobile AR
Layar is the first augmented reality browser that overlays digital images and information onto real world objects. It uses GPS, camera and compass to display information, images and links on images captured in real time.
The platform is obviously still evolving. The company is soliciting more than 10,000 developers to add apps to the browser, which you download into the Layar app to access the information you want to see. This means that your experience is dependent on the apps that you choose, as well as the number of apps you choose. It’s easy to see how a smartphone screen could get overloaded in a dense urban environment.
“Layar has not had much adoption by consumers,” says Szymczyk. “Brands are still experimenting, but you won’t see really cool stuff until 2014 or 2015.”
Szymczyk continued to explain that the civilian GPS technology available to apps is still buggy, which means that no matter how well the app is coded, it’s still possible to send customers to the wrong location. My personal experience with the Layar browser involved frequent calibrations of my iPhone (waving it in a figure 8 to reset the compass), but, despite all of these issues, I am committed to using the technology because I think it’s cool and as the kinks get worked out I think this application will become standard for mobile.
In 2010, Japanese ad agency Dentsu launched a gorgeous coupon promotion using a free app called “iButterfly.” (Note to readers: There is an iButterfly app in the app store currently, but it is not the one described in this article.) Dentsu’s application showed users a map of the city featuring virtual butterflies in various locations. Using their phones as a butterfly net, users could “catch” the AR animations, which unlocked coupon codes for local businesses. This campaign is a truly elegant example of a branded AR promotion. The graphics are appealing, and there’s enough gamification to keep us engaged. Brilliant.
3. Ebay’s See It On
In January 2011, eBay launched the “See It On–Sunglasses” feature for the iPhone. The app fits virtual sunglasses onto a photo or webcam stream of the user, allowing the customer to virtually “try on” different sunglasses to see how they will look on his or her face.
While this feature is very cool, I’m not quite sold on why it has to be mobile. As a mobile shopper, most of the purchases that I make are things that I need to buy quickly, that I know what I want. If I’m just browsing, I’m probably doing it on a different platform. That said, this could be absolutely right for travelers who just misplaced their favorite shades!
One of the reasons that eBay is focused on sunglasses with this app, according to Szymczyk, is the limitations of the processing power of mobile devices. Rendering moving images in real times takes a lot of bandwidth, not to mention a graphics card.
“Tablet is okay for a neck up magic mirror because of the amount of processing necessary to render the mirror image,” says Szymczyk. “Glasses is the easiest one to do with facial recognition. You’ll see lots of apps coming out for glasses, lots of hats. Even earrings are difficult because of the physics of how the earrings move.”
Writer’s Note: There are some pretty amazing virtual fitting rooms available for desktop/laptop, and we will cover those momentarily. Before that, a couple more cool things that you must know. – MJD
4. Word Lens
The Word Lens translation app launched in December of 2010, revolutionizing translation. No more fumbling with a dictionary and typing in words to translate, this app uses your phone’s camera to see the letters in another language, looks them up and then provides a translation based on the data it collects. The app is best for word-for-word translation, not quite ready for speech, but still it’s a huge asset for a traveler needs to know the native language ASAP.
What mobile augmented reality can’t do
The above examples of mobile augmented reality may be exciting, but it’s clear that the platform needs to grow before it can truly support the applications that developers and brands want to execute.
“Throughout 2011 we’ve had to do lots of education as an agency on the limitations of different platforms in terms of processing and user experience,” says Szymczyk. “Clients call us because they want to do something new, they don’t want to do a QR, they want to do image recognition. In the end, it boils down to the user experience. Right now they need to have an app on their phone, which means they need to download the app, which depends on the connectivity in the store. It can take a while, and do they stick around and wait or come back later? So AR for mobile is not quite there yet. By 2015, mobile AR will be relevant.”
Even Mashable is not convinced that AR will grow to be an integral marketing tool in 2012. Uncertain marketing expectations and the lack of an example of a truly “sticky” mobile AR experience may have agencies and developers spinning their wheels this year.
Does this mean that you need to scrap your awesome idea for an AR brand app? No. It just means that you may need to shift your expectations and consider a different platform.
The more processing speed, the better
While processing speed is a limiting factor on mobile devices, desktop and laptop computers do not have this limitation, and, therefore, can provide brands and retailers with a high-quality immersive user experience that will blow a customer’s mind.
On PCs and in-store kiosks, augmented reality is at a whole new level. “You really see the evolution of what we’re doing on the PC and in kiosks where we can use connect cameras for 3D imaging,” says Szymczyk. “You can dictate more of the experience.”
In March 2011, Shiseido launched its magic mirror, an in-store kiosk that gives users a complete virtual make-over in minutes–without applying an ounce of product.
Personally, I think this idea is genius. I’ve had a couple in-store make-over that left me walking out looking like The Joker, so the idea of getting a makeover without anything to remove is simply brilliant. It also allows the customer the freedom to try several different looks. In addition, writers from top sites like Elle, Glamour and Cosmopolitan all gave favorable reports of their user experiences when the mirror toured the U.K. in Spring 2011. Unlike mobile devices, the virtual mirror experience on the laptop or desktop does not have to stop at the head.
In 2009, Zugara introduced a virtual fitting room called the Webcam Social Shopper, an application that uses a computer’s built-in webcam to scan the user’s image and overlay the clothes that he or she intends to purchase.
The app includes several really cool features. First, is employs natural user interface, which means that while using the app the user controls the computer using gestures, as they do when using XBox Kinect, instead of using their mouse and keyboard. This means that the user doesn’t have to sit down between each clothing selection, allowing a seamless experience.
In 2010, triMirror launched its Virtual Fitting Room, an augmented reality interface that expands the fitting experience to include 3D. Users either use a 3D Kinect camera (which will soon be standard on TVs, as you will learn below) or type in their measurements to build a 3D avatar.
Again, while this interface is extremely cool, it is a bit premature for the average user. (For all the reasons why 3D is premature, click here.) Entering enough measurements to create a 3D avatar would be tedious, and do I even have a measuring tape? As part of an in-store kiosk, however, this application sounds like a slice of heaven. No more undressing in an overlit dressing room for security cameras–you can see how the dress will look on without removing a stitch of clothing. Not only that, but the triMirror app can help you determine the correct size for your body. Not having to try on three different sizes? Priceless.
What’s new for AR in 2012
While 2012 may or may not be the year that mobile AR takes off, there are some really cool gadgets coming out this year sure to change the game. Both Google and Apple are working on innovative products that the fashion industry must pay special attention to — wearable computers. That’s right, wearable computers. Apple is working on iPod-nano style watches, while Google is working on glasses that will feature an AR display in the lenses. That’s right, Robocop fans. The future is here.
According to 9to5, the transparent display in the glasses would communicate directly with the cloud, bypassing all need for processing power, using Bluetooth or a phone’s internet connection. The actual technology is, of course, under wraps, but this video should give you some idea of how it would work.
In addition, Microsoft dropped some hints about its future product releases at CES 2012 during the keynote. First, Microsoft is playing with embedding Kinect cameras in TVs, which means that TVs will soon have a natural user interface. No more remote, just wave at your TV set. Second, Microsoft is launching the Windows app store. That’s right, developers, Windows apps. These will run across all Microsoft platforms: Windows phone, XBox and PC. Finally, they will be introducing a Kinect camera for the PC. This has huge implications for not only gaming, but also branded applications and, of course, in-home virtual clothes-trying-on-parties.
We’ll get there when we get there
While 2012 may not be the year that mobile AR sweeps the nation, the day is coming. In the meantime, there will be plenty of cool AR gadgets and experiences to keep you busy. Someday, it may be so commonplace that it could even bore you.
“When I heard this quote, I thought it was really clever and it stuck with me,” says Szymczyk. “When augmented reality isn’t referred to as augmented reality any more, that’s when we’ll know that we’ve made it.”