Augmented Reality (AR) has been gaining momentum for several years, with various use cases - such as immersive games and basic utilities like measuring apps - hitting the mainstream consumer consciousness in the last 18 months.
As technology continues to advance and the installed base of AR-capable devices grows, an increasing number of enterprise use cases are emerging. AR is now being adopted across several industries to enhance workforce productivity in areas as diverse as manufacturing, training and sales.
And this is just the beginning. Market research portal Statista estimates that the global AR and VR market will be valued at over USD $200 billion by 2022. Meanwhile, the visual power of AR is starting to drive high-profile use cases in the broadcast and entertainment industries: the Weather Channel recently predicted that 80 percent of its programming will include Augmented Reality by 2020.
Here at Smudge, we’ve been known to take a few calculated risks when it comes to adopting new platforms or technologies. For example, we were one of the first iOS developers to embrace Swift, which has since become the de facto programming language for Apple products.
However, we occasionally prefer to bide our time while a new technology evolves to the point where we can visualise a use case that solves a real-world problem for our customers. AR falls into this category.
Truth is, we've been experimenting with AR for years. As far back as 2011 we built a selection of purposefully ephemeral AR-enabled apps (for events and conferences) as part of our iterative learning process. But it’s only now, thanks to improvements in ARKit 2 with iOS 12, that mobile AR has reached the requisite level of maturity and realism for us to feel comfortable designing enterprise-class experiences.
While ARKit 2 has many benefits compared to its predecessors, there are three enhancements in particular that have elevated the quality of the user experience:
1. Improvements to World Tracking, facilitating more accurate and realistic mapping of the physical 3D space in which to place virtual objects.
2. Environment Texturing, enabling more realistic rendering of virtual objects, including accurate physical scale, as well as lighting, shadows and reflections of (and on) virtual objects.
3. Support for Pixar's usdz file format, which allows users to preview and share three-dimensional objects in Safari, Mail, Messages and other built-in iOS apps.
With these improvements, AR has become more interesting and more useful for both consumers and businesses. For instance, online retailers can now embed virtual objects into their e-commerce experiences, so a potential customer can visualise in the real world an item they're thinking of purchasing without leaving their browser. Magnolia is a good example (access the link from an iOS device running iOS 12).
Another area where AR can add considerable value is visual merchandising, particularly in the retail space (now that virtual objects are displayed at an accurate physical scale within iOS).
As an example, for several years we’ve worked closely with Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA), who manufacture and distribute Coca-Cola's brands across the Asia Pacific region. Many of the tools we build with CCA are designed to empower their team of over 5,000 sales representatives to be more efficient and productive.
One such tool is an iPad app we call the "3D Picture of Success", which helps CCA’s reps and customers visualise and execute best-practice in-store merchandising.
The app takes CCA’s customers - for instance the proprietor of a shop or restaurant - on a visual journey by helping to envision promotional elements such as interior and exterior signage.
Historically, the app has shown a “typical” store, which while useful does not account for the intricacies of a specific environment (such as dimensions and lighting, or the position of doors, windows and existing shelving).
Now, thanks to our new Staccar app, CCA’s reps can conjure up a realistic virtual object - such as the display stand in the photo below - at the correct dimensions and "place" it in a specific location, demonstrating viability to the customer in real-time. With just a few taps the rep can take a photo of the virtual object in situ and share it with the customer.
For many years, sales and marketing professionals have dreamt of experiential applications for Augmented Reality in visual marketing and retail environments. Now the developer tools and user experience on device have caught up with people’s imagination, we’re looking forward to contributing to this growing ecosystem.