October 18, 2018Published by: Robert Haslam

AR gets a reality check

Apple’s September hardware event saw more augmented reality products and features come to the fore. Yet despite the world’s richest company making a big push towards AR, why has the technology and format failed to fully take off?

According to Statista, the augmented and virtual reality market is expected to be worth $27 billion in 2018. But that’s just the beginning – over the next four years the market is expected to grow exponentially and be worth more than $200 billion by 2022.

While great strides have been made in AR in recent years, the hype that surrounded Pokemon Go’s release in 2016 has largely died down. And based on the first previews of hardware from Magic Leap, which has received $2.3 billion in funding from investors, there’s still some way to go before the technology is embraced by the mainstream.

The best AR experiences currently available include Apple’s Measure app, which has genuine real-world value for iOS users (see video below). The app enables users to get instant and accurate dimensions from real-world objects by simply pointing a phone at a letter, photo frame or table, for example.

Other useful AR experiences are ones that enable you to do calculations, or point your camera at real-world objects and find them on the web, but in most other cases they’re lacking.

Stumbling blocks
One of the major drawbacks to using AR is that it requires specific conditions for it to work well. Currently, it requires space, light, and the ability to move around. It’s often not possible or realistic to be able to use AR in public, especially while travelling on a train or plane, or in a car. Some experiences are designed around objects being in set locations, which means you can only use AR in the right parameters.

Another issue is that the promotion of AR apps tends to be more exciting than the finished product. Take this example below from an app Ikea is teasing. It looks mindblowing, but will it actually be any good to use, or will children get frustrated that it’s not actually drawing on the cardboard and give up?

Logistically, holding a phone up for a prolonged period of time and moving it around gets quite tiring. Despite smartphones being relatively light, the majority of the time you see someone holding a phone, they’re looking down or holding it near their lap.

(This is a search on a royalty-free image site of smartphone - note how no-one is holding their phone up high)

AR has to try to change that behaviour on devices that aren’t the most suitable for holding up for extended periods of time. And then there’s the fact that everyone around you will think you’re either recording a video or taking a photo.

Outside of using AR for filters on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, how often have you seen someone in the real world using an AR app to check out furniture, or measure a room, or play an AR game that wasn’t Pokemon Go?

As Google Trends reveals, interest in AR piqued with the release of Pokemon Go, and then again last year at Apple’s keynote. Yet, it’s currently around the same level as 2013.

Upcoming improvements to AR may increase the amount that it’s used, with Apple bringing AR support to its Safari mobile browser. For retailers, this could be a boon. By enabling people to see what products look like in situ. According to experiential marketing firm Interactions, retailers could stand to make a pretty penny from augmented reality.

In 2016, Interactions produced a Retail Perceptions report that found shoppers would be willing to pay 40% more for a product if they could experience it via AR. But the high street has offered an enhanced version of this experience for centuries, where consumers can actually feel and test products before buying. Yet bricks and mortar retailers are now struggling against the might of online retailers offering convenience and cheaper prices.

This is not the first time that AR has been hyped up though. Aurasma may have sold to HP for more than $2 billion back in the first wave of hype, but its big rival Blippar is now struggling to survive.

When it comes down to it, augmented reality may assist someone in the buying process, but it may also deter people from making a purchase, especially if the augmentation doesn’t live up to the reality or experience.

The image at the top is a screen capture from Alice in Wonderland AR quest (iOS)

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