Augmented reality is poised to transform the business world. Businesses already apply augmented reality in creative ways to enhance customer experience and differentiate themselves in the marketplace. This is because augmented reality can bridge the gap between the real and digital worlds in exciting new ways.
What Is Augmented Reality?
Think of augmented reality as the real-time three-dimensional application of digital effects onto the existing world. Through augmented reality technology, companies can superimpose digital images in a way that interacts with a user’s experience. The user gets to enjoy a unique experience, while the company gets to save on the cost of actually constructing or supplying the action represented through augmented reality. For an exaggerated example, consider how fictional superhero Tony Stark’s assistant, Jarvus, can project information onto external objects while inside the Iron Man suit. That’s augmented reality. (For a real-world example, consider Pokemon Go on your smartphone.)
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
You may be more familiar with the term “virtual reality” than augmented reality. The two concepts are very similar; you can think of augmented reality as an evolution or offshoot of virtual reality. The major difference lies in the application. Virtual reality displays digital images and sounds in a closed environment. People who are experiencing virtual reality should (if done correctly) be cut off from sensing the outside world. The Oculus Rift eyeset is an excellent example of how virtual reality accomplishes this. By contrast, an augmented reality experience only modifies the surrounding world; it doesn’t replace it. The first major commercial augmented reality device was the Google Glass in 2013.
How Businesses Already Use Augmented Reality
A lot of the media attention for augmented reality design has, understandably, centered around potential designs from giant corporations. This only masks some of the meaningful breakthroughs in the small business realm, especially on the client services front. Here are just a few examples:
- Customers can engage in real-time, in-store navigation without having to ask an assistant for help. Some museums and other guided areas adapted this idea to create virtual tours for patrons, operated directly from their smartphone. This can let realtors show houses without the potential buyers traveling to location.
- Beauty and cosmetics company Sephora uses mirrors that create digital enhancements, instantly showing shoppers how they might look wearing different products. This concept can be applied to just about anything that consumers wear, including contact lenses, clothing, headsets, and jewelry.
- Shoppers may see highly targeted or contextual ads or promotional offers while they shop. Taken to a more extreme example, some companies can display an entire 360-degree virtual showroom.
- Small apps, such as Blippar and Layar, allow users to flash their phone or tablet camera at various world objects to obtain information. This is one of the more exciting and easy-to-adopt business applications of augmented reality.
- Some businesses use augmented reality devices to help customers design their own products on the spot, in 3-D.
- There are augmented reality business cards. These may appear like normal business cards, but when paired with the right augmented reality app they can play videos, display marketing material, or provide website links. If you wanted to update information on your card without ordering 500 more, this may be one way to do it.
Your business may actually find that its best augmented reality uses lie outside of the customer-facing space. For example, the oil and gas industry uses wearable augmented reality technology to make it easier for rig workers to follow instructions on a complicated repair or to assess new deposits.
Potential Future Uses of Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is still in its infancy, but there is already consensus in the business and investor communities that augmented reality has many more commercial adaptations than virtual reality. Down the road, it may be considered uncommon for a business to exist without augmented reality devices just as today, it seems like a business without a website is antiquated. Soon, businesses will be able to present their customers with interactive holographic displays. Think about how prolific mobile phone apps became in a short period of time, then apply that same pattern to holograms; the Windows Holographic is an early prototype.Future businesses may have digital employees that customers can interact with wherever they’re in a store on online. They may also be able to scan and show 3-D items to friends or family who are back at home. Businesses might be able to give virtual guitar or dance lessons from anywhere. Users could watch a virtual chef perform a cooking action in their kitchen before trying it out themselves.The augmented reality market should reach US$90 billion by 2020, according to Digi-Capital research. If the market takes off this much, small business owners may want to have ideas in place about how to implement new augmented reality applications to improve their client relations.