By Zander Mabin

In the last decade, augmented reality (AR) has quickly changed how all manner of industries reach and interact with their audiences. AR has found strong footholds in sectors like marketing and retail and the technology thrives in them for two reasons: one, because it engages customers to connect with the brands and products they enjoy and two, it gives new options for customers to exercise purchasing power.

AR’s development started in research labs in the 1960s, but only in the 2000s did it emerge as a practical technology option for companies and organizations. A decade later AR was cropping up more and more frequently, from sportscasts to advertisements.

Today, AR is seeing its biggest growth yet. The enterprise embrace of it is on pace with other high-tech innovations like 3D printing and artificial intelligence (AI). Estimates suggest that there will be one billion users of AR by 2020 and that the global AR market will grow to USD $94.4 billion by 20231.

Understanding and enabling AR
With these encouraging statistics, it makes sense to want to adapt a business strategy to include augmented reality. But before adopting AR, it is important to first understand what AR is, why it rose so rapidly in popularity and how it will be deployed in the coming years.

Put simply, AR is any interactive experience that overlays computer-generated information (most commonly visuals or sounds) onto a real-world environment. The results are stunning use cases that merge digital and physical spaces. AR delivers experiences unlike anything seen before.

The hardware required to support AR was once a major investment: something that only corporate giants like Disney or BMW could afford. While this led to exciting theme park rides and never-before-seen advertising, there was still another big barrier keeping most organizations away from implementing AR and that was the lack of accessibility by customers. Consumers (and business buyers) had to go somewhere to experience AR.

The arrival of smartphones with advanced processing power solved that issue. These devices untethered AR from fixed spots and made it available in new and exciting locations. This market trend, along with advancements in software, have made apps a cost-effective way to bring AR to millions of people. Today, companies can produce custom AR experiences that can be situated nearly anywhere and activated by a person’s phone.

And while other AR devices exist, like AR-enabled headsets, they constitute a niche section of this technology. Overwhelmingly, individuals choose their smartphones to run mobile apps with AR features.

AR examples
The most recognizable reference point for app-based AR is the video game Pokémon GO. Premiering in 2016, it was the first AR experience for many people. But because of its immediate and widespread success, this game changed the public conversation about AR and brought it into the commercial spotlight.

But even before Pokémon GO became an overnight sensation, retail companies had produced AR applications of their own to improve the e-commerce or in-store experiences. Here are some of the best examples.
IKEA, the Swedish home goods company, led the charge on embracing AR. As early as 2013, the conglomerate offered a mobile app that brought 3D models of their furniture into a user’s home. Known today in an updated version called IKEA Place, the app allows customers to see how a product will fit in a room or match with the pieces they already own;
In a similar way, Lacoste’s app enables customers to “try-on” shoes within the comfort of their homes. Virtual sneakers “fit” over a user’s foot, giving an instant impression of what option is the right choice for them; and
American Apparel’s app encourages shoppers to scan in-store signage to discover product details and online customer reviews. This feature is aimed at the 60% of shoppers who use phones to find information about products while shopping in-person2.

As shown in the examples above, AR is driving convenience and useful information to the forefront of the customer experience, whether they’re shopping in-store or online. People can more easily find what product is best suited for their lifestyle and budget with AR integrations.

Moving to web-based AR
While an app-based approach has been commonplace in the retail sector, there is now a glut of AR-enabled commercial apps on Apple’s App and Google’s Play stores, forcing users to download a separate app for every AR experience. Even worse, one out of every four users only open an app once after download. They either let the app sit unused or they soon delete it for another3.

This happens for many reasons: whether a user’s phone storage is full, if the app is buggy or drains battery life or if the novelty of the app simply wears off. But this rate of “app turnover” poses an issue for businesses looking to incorporate AR into their strategies, particularly retail companies as they are among the most prone to it.

Web-based AR offers solutions to the problems inherent to an app-based approach. It requires no downloads, eliminating the anxiety of app turn-over. Instead, a customer visits a web page on their mobile browser, positions their phone camera and instantly connects with the augmented content. Because of its ease of access and customizability, web-based AR is on the rise4.

Augmented reality needs to be seamless, immersive and easily accessible. By removing the barrier of app downloads and bringing web-based AR to mobile devices, AR is poised for rapid mainstream adoption.

Zander Mabin is founder and CEO of InnovatAR (https://innovatar.io/) an emerging tech startup that specializes in developing web-based AR experiences. InnovatAR is prepared to serve all manner of North American clients and help them integrate augmented reality solutions into their business strategies.

1 Prescient & Strategic (P&S) Intelligence Private Limited, “Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Market by Devices, by Component, by Application by Geography – Global Market Size, Share, Development, Growth, and Demand Forecast, 2013 – 2023”, report, June 2018.
2 Sandy Skrovan, “How shoppers use their smartphones in stores [Report]”, RetailDive, article, June 7, 2017.
3 Amartya Baidya, “Mobile App Retention Challenge: 75% of Users Uninstall An App Within 90 Days”, dazeinfo.com, report, May 19, 2016.
4 Hermes Frangoudis, “Web vs App (AR edition), Agora.io, blog, January 30, 2019.

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