In the cutting-edge world of optoelectronics, much can be said of the explosion in interest in augmented reality (AR) technology in the last decade. While the technology seems straightforward enough, it remains in a nascent form – being evaluated by retailers but not implemented more widely as yet.
In this article, we’ll explore what augmented reality is – from the plaything of game developers to an idea in the enhanced toolkit of those who complete an MBA online, we’ll explore how AR is changing the game for those who want to use technology in new and innovative ways. From the retail shop front to back-of-house operations, let’s discover how this all-new technology is transforming the way that we live, work, and play.
What is Augmented Reality (AR)?
Augmented reality, simply put, is a combination of real-world and computer-generated content, created so that a user can see an enhanced version of the world around them. They could be considered in some sense, a successor to the heads-up display that you may see in video games – providing additional valuable insight and information, an AR view can help users in a variety of different ways.
One of the widest-known examples of AR in the realms of enterprise is the smash hit augmented reality game, Pokémon GO. Encouraging players to get active and travel to catch Pokémon is a central tenet of this game – and augmented reality features built directly into the game allow for players to experience a much more lifelike experience of catching Pokémon than what is currently available on household gaming consoles.
AR presents itself as a transformative opportunity in the world of technology. It can help create transformative, immersive experiences that can be enabled with the clever use of modern technology such as smartphones. With more than four and a half billion smartphone users worldwide, AR remains a largely untapped market for commercial applications.
Early Commercial Forays Into AR: Google Glass
That’s not to say that commercial enterprise hasn’t been trying to deploy AR more broadly. In the last decade, there have been a number of significant announcements made, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and Apple’s forthcoming Vision Pro. However, one of the earliest explorations of AR technology was by neither of these companies – in fact, global tech titan Alphabet has been pioneering the use of AR technology for more than a decade.
Google Glass was announced in 2013 – the brainchild of Google X, Alphabet’s enhanced technologies division. Developed as a pair of eyeglasses with an additional display fitted to one of the lenses, the idea behind Google Glass was to produce a computer that used data from the real world to feed into the user experience.
Much could be said about Google Glass at the time – a flawed release schedule, extensive user criticism, and poor sales led to a discontinuation of public sales in 2015, a brief resurrection as a corporate platform, and a second death in early 2023.
There is much that can be learned from the failures of Google Glass when contrasted with the successes of Pokémon GO. Let’s explore how AR is being deployed successfully in modern enterprise environments.
Applications of AR: Empowering Customers
AR can be a powerful enabler for interactive experiences, particularly in today’s post-pandemic shopping environment where customers may be reluctant to come in-store to shop. Smartphones and tablets can be used to create an interactive shopping experience for a customer, in a variety of different ways.
For example, a simple application of AR could be tying product barcodes to live review data, available via a brand’s smartphone application. With product reviews often being of key importance to potential buyers, this would empower customers to make informed decisions on products available in-store, potentially expediting the purchase process.
More complex applications may involve an immersive, targeted marketing experience for customers who frequently shop at a brand. There is a wide range of potential possibilities, allowing marketers to create an experience that is unobtrusive but offers significant value to a customer.
AR ultimately is beneficial as a supporting tool – customers may not wish to use it, but having it presented as an option allows them to try it out in their own time. Complimenting existing marketing practices is what makes AR so unique and powerful to retail shopping experiences – with the addition of zero floorspace and a little imagination, your marketing material can be taken to a whole new level with the support of augmented experiences.
Applications of AR – Helping Staff
AR applications can go beyond providing experiences for customers. In fact, some of the broader applications for augmented experiences are far more beneficial for employees. Consider, for example, the role of AR in storeroom planning and management.
An AR experience could provide mapping for warehouse staff to find products within a warehouse – with highlighted directions and adjustments made for company equipment such as forklifts. This can help reduce the amount of time spent looking for stock – with each box of products stored in a database, the software behind the augmented experience can create a 3D map of where inventory is stored within the warehouse. This can lead to more efficient and safer experiences for employees – reducing the need for excessive manual handling while working towards quicker order times in a safe manner.
At a more simpler level, a tool like augmented lenses could be helpful when trying to translate foreign packing material. With today’s increasingly globalised manufacturing market, on occasion, products are provided with little-to-no English shipping labels. Having an AR tool to translate these product descriptions on the fly can be incredibly potent, and save valuable time.
How Will AR Transform Business?
With the successes and failures of implementing augmented reality into work in the last decade, it’s evident that the transformative effect that AR experiences will have on businesses will take time. However – as technology evolves, innovators will undoubtedly find a way to use this new and emerging technology to enhance the shopping experience of customers.
Augmented reality successes such as Pokémon GO highlight just how powerful the technology can be when successfully applied. With the augmented and virtual reality industries expected to grow to more than $52 billion USD in size in the next five years, there’s never been a better time to delve into this developing technology.