By Wendy Eichenbaum
In July 2016, Pokémon Go exploded on the scene. Within 2 months, over 80 million people had downloaded the game. Businesses attracted customers using in-game features. And though augmented reality (AR) was invented in 1968, millions of people tried AR for the first time. AR is a technology that layers computer-generated elements on top of real world experiences. In the case of Pokémon, Pokémon characters moved around a real map or a camera screen.
A year later, what are the effects of the Pokémon craze? On the surface, it might not be easy to detect. Daily users have by dropped 80%. There is no string of “copy-cat” Pokémon games. And a majority of people do not know the difference between augmented reality and its counterpart virtual reality (VR). VR is a computer-generated simulation of real life that completely immerses users.
However, just below the surface, there has been a profound change. We no longer marvel at the benefits of AR; instead, we expect it. To meet our growing expectations, companies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook are developing technologies that will enable developers to quickly and inexpensively create AR apps. “Only 12 months ago, developing something like Pokémon Go would’ve been costly and time-consuming, and improbable without the technology and experience … of Google,” said James Holland, from Text100, a global marketing communications agency.
A natural extension for AR is retail showcasing. A recent Gartner report stated that the “heightened emphasis on customer experience means that by the end of 2017, one in five leading global retail brands will use AR to enhance the shopping process, resulting in dramatically higher levels of customer engagement.” And according to a report by IDC, “by 2020, the combined market for AR and VR technologies will be $144 billion.”
Already these showcase apps are flooding the market. L’Oréal Paris’ MakeupGenius app enables customers try on makeup. Lowe’s is trialing an in-store item locator service to help customers find products. Ikea’s app allows customers to visualize how furniture will look in their own home. Alibaba launched a VR store called Buy+. Shoppers wander a VR mall, which includes big name stores like Macy’s, Target and Costco. And the band Gorillaz created an AR app to feature their music and fan content.
Apps are not restricted to retail. There are a growing number of AR apps for vehicles. Many apps assist mechanics. Volkswagen released the MARTA app, which provides virtual step-by-step repair assistance for technicians. ServiceNow collects real-time car diagnostic data through IoT (Internet of Things) devices. A mechanic receives this data while wearing a HoloLens headset.
And there are car apps for consumers. Hyundai built an app called the Virtual Guide. Owners use their phones to familiarize themselves with their cars, and to learn how to perform basic maintenance. BMW uses Google’s Tango technology to view a lifelike 3D model of BMW cars against real word surroundings. And the AugmentedWorks app enables you to find your car wherever you parked it. The app creates a visible marker showing the car, your distance from the car, and the direction you should walk to find it.
AR is not a new technology, but widespread awareness of AR is new, due in large part to Pokémon. The next revolution is not one app, but the technology that makes the development of AR apps affordable and efficient. CX will harness the benefits, eventually making AR a standard part of a great experience.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.