What Apple’s AR Venture Means for Marketers

“That’s really cool!” or “Wow!”  is the type of thing that people tend to say when they see augmented reality. But for marketers, the question is if it’s something they should be using. For most, the answer has been “not yet.” But perhaps they should be reconsidering now.

According to one report, only 25% of marketers are interested in using augmented reality, and only 7% say they do use it. That’s probably because, despite its impressive effects, it is somewhat limited at present.

But that should change when Apple comes out with an AR empowered device, something it is reportedly working on right now: “Hundreds of engineers are now devoted to the cause, including some on the iPhone camera team who are working on AR-related features for the iPhone.”

Though people have achieve AR effects on an iPhone since the 2009 iPhone 3Gs, that was limited to a novelty feature that Yelp snuck in. In this video,  Jennifer Grove demonstrates how she launched Yelp’s Monocle, which she characterizes as “kind of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on my iPhone.” 

A few years later, Apple started to really pay attention to the possibilities of AR. Four years ago, it filed a patent for “an augmented-reality system for mobile and other devices that can overlay information about objects the device is pointed at.”  Around the same time, it started hiring some of the best and brightest in the field and making strategic acquisitions of AR technology companies.

Among those acquisitions is Metaio, the German company behind the AR kiosks used to draw customer attention to Lego sets. The 3D projections allowed people to see what the set would like when built from all angles, an effective means of capturing customer attention.

More recently, Nike applied AR to show different colors projected onto a sneaker style.

The drawback of these effects, though, is that they require using the “store tablet as opposed to being able to use your own smart device.”  But once Apple gets into the game, people will be carrying AR-enabled devices.

AR on consumer devices opens up whole new world for mobile marketing.  If people adopt AR-enabled devices the way they did smartphones and tablets, as  Digi-Capital expects they will, that will translate into  “hundreds of millions of users” with a platform that allows marketers to reach them in new, more personalized  ways.

The beauty of AR, according to AR platform Augment, is that overlaying digital effects over one’s real world surroundings fuses the two together. It makes it possible to achieve that ever-elusive goal of brand, to achieve an “omnichannel experience” that bridges together the physical and “online platforms.” The result, Augment says, is “a more personal and engaging” consumer experience.

Once people start carrying AR-enabled devices, marketers can send them personalized AR experiences in the same way they currently send personalized emails or texts based on the combination of historical and real time data about location and activity.  That can completely transform the in-store shopping experience.

In future, shoppers who want to see a shoe’s various color option won’t need to go to a special kiosk; they’d be able to see the effect of color change from the AR built into their own mobile device. As AR doesn’t need touch for data input but can also pick up on physical gestures, the same device can register other items that catch the shopper’s eyes and make recommendations what promotions are available. It can also make finding things easier by projecting directions on the floor.   

This would be next the logical step for mobile: using AR to personalize and engage customers precisely at the moment of decision. Apple appears to be betting on an AR future. Maybe marketers should be doing the same.  

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