Augmented reality is an incredibly fast growing technology space. When software “improves” our perception of the real world by adding digital elements, you’re seeing augmented reality. Whether this is a heads-up display in a jet fighter, a golf rangefinder that displays the distance to the green, or a translation app that displays translations on top of the original text, augmented reality can do amazing things to improve our lives.
Despite this transformative power, there’s a perception by some that augmented reality is “not quite ready” for prime-time use. In this article, we’re going to explore 6 common refrains about augmented reality that have one thing in common: they’re not quite true.
1. Augmented reality is too leading edge.
While augmented reality is experiencing rapid growth, in fact the discipline has been around for nearly 25 years. Augmented reality (as a term) was first coined around 1990 by a professor at Boeing, who used the term to describe a display that blended virtual graphics with the real world for aircraft technicians. This helped new (and even experienced) technicians by reducing their reliance on user manuals while they were working.
In 1992, LB Rosenberg, a researcher with the U.S. Air Force, developed an augmented reality system called Virtual Fixtures. This system used augmented reality to help guide the movements of a person remotely performing a task through a robot. By using virtual “rulers,” operators were able to more accurately complete their tasks.
Not long after Rosenberg’s system was developed, we first saw the yellow first-down line in televised football games, which debuted in 1998. By overlaying a virtual line on top of the yard line where the first-down marker is, those of us watching at home were able to know exactly where the offensive player was trying to get to. This not only improved our experience of watching the game, but showed us how powerful (yet subtle) augmented reality can be.
2. It has low adoption (no one’s using it yet).
Juniper Research recently estimated that by 2017, over 2.5 billion augmented reality apps will be downloaded to devices annually. While augmented reality is growing briskly in the consumer market, hundreds of leading businesses are already creating products and services with augmented reality as a core component.
In 2012, Ikea released an app that lets shoppers see exactly what a couch or chair from the store looks like in their own home, after discovering that 14% of shoppers took home furniture that ended up being the wrong size for its location. As of 2013, this app had been downloaded over 8 million times.
In the automotive space, Audi recently released an owner’s manual with augmented reality baked in. This new form of manual lets owners gain instant troubleshooting information when a service light comes on, reducing frustration for its customers. Beyond that, owners can view how-to information by simply pointing their smartphone at a car component, making frustrating searches through the paper manual virtually obsolete.
Beyond retail and automotive, augmented reality is already offering unique experiences in education, too: LA-based DAQRI has developed a set of wooden blocks representing periodic table elements that, when viewed through an iPad or Android app, bring chemistry to life by simulating how the elements would react.
In advertising, London and New York-based Blippar makes brands come alive by providing exclusive offers, videos, coupons, and virtual try-ons when users view products through a special app. Established brands such as Heinz and Maybelline are already on board.
GE has been a pioneer of augmented reality use in manufacturing, already testing Google Glass paired with augmented reality for jet engine inspections and with its Power Generation Services division, whose engineers service power plants across the world. According to one research firm, technologies like Google Glass and drones could save the field service as much as $1 billion annually, streamlining operations.
3. It’s too expensive.
Because of its roots in a research environment, augmented reality is sometimes thought of being too costly for wide use. But in fact, developers such as Marxent have sprung up, offering businesses augmented reality experiences (such as custom-built apps) that are not only increasing engagement, but also affordable compared to traditional advertising channels. Simmons for example is now using augmented reality to show prospective customers how a new bed would look in the desired room.
For those looking to test the waters, platforms such as Layar, Aurasma and Zappar offer free or limited-use trial experiences, so companies or individuals can become familiar with the technology before jumping in.
In the app space, hundreds of free or cheap augmented reality apps let users use their smartphones or tablets as golf rangefinders, virtual star charts, and even personalized travel guides that overlay information about attractions as you visit them. Vipaar’s own Lime application uses augmented reality to allow people to collaborate together from anywhere, for free.
Because augmented reality is perceived as being innovative, many brands are finding its value to be greater than a traditional ad campaign — Volvo, for example, recently garnered a 300% increase in traffic to its website by launching an augmented reality campaign focused on its new S60 sedan. Unlike traditional advertising which eventually goes stale, an augmented reality app such as the one published by Stella Artois, which lets thirsty bar-goers find local establishments that stock their beer, can continue to pay dividends over time.
4. It’s difficult to use.
Early augmented reality systems relied on complex, specialized hardware to operate. But that is a past long gone. Devices such as iPad, iPhone, and most Android devices are proving to be highly capable hosts to augmented reality applications.
With an emphasis on a seamless user experience, applications like Word Lens can capture an image of a street sign in the real world, and then superimpose the translated sign on top of the original one. Other apps like SnapShop make it easy to imagine what a new piece of furniture would look like in your living room, or bedroom.
Augmented reality is designed to enhance the real world, but not replace it — a key distinction from virtual reality, which creates an entirely new virtual world to be experienced. And so, augmented reality apps are designed to be subtle, to provide useful information but at the viewer’s discretion. This means most augmented reality applications can be operated by anyone, without a need for technical know-how.
Google Glass, one of the newest augmented reality platforms, promises to make augmented reality even more seamless by bringing it directly into the field of vision of the user. Companies such as Vuzix also offer wearable smart glasses, enabling technicians to do tasks with helpful visual information like 3D models, overlaid on top of the relevant component.
5. It’s only useful on wearable platforms (like Google Glass).
While wearable technologies like Google Glass offer a unique platform for augmented reality, these technologies are still in their infancy, as technical, privacy, and cost challenges are met. One common concern about augmented reality on non-wearable platforms (such as smartphones and tablets) is that the digital overlays aren’t directly in the field of vision of the user, unless the user is holding his/her device. The promise of a hands-free augmented reality experience has left some to wait for wearable technologies before moving to augmented reality.
But while wearable platforms do offer some benefits, it may come at a cost. A recent poll found that 72% of Americans cited privacy concerns as the most significant reason they wouldn’t want to use Google Glass, suggesting Glass and other wearables may be ahead of the public’s comfort level with them. Google Glass has had its share of hurdles, as Google has deliberately pursued the often critical consumer market with Glass during an extended beta phase.
With Word Lens, Layar, and hundreds of successful augmented reality apps for today’s smartphones and tablets, we’ve seen that augmented reality can work on the devices we already have. Businesses (and consumers) can use the devices they already have for augmented reality applications, avoiding costly (and risky) capital purchases for new devices. At a recent auto show, Ford Motor Co. released a “Ford 4D” app—allowing attendees to view information and graphics about vehicles on their smartphones. The trend of established brands investing in smartphone and tablet-based augmented reality is as of yet showing no signs of letting up.
6. It doesn’t really offer a benefit over what we’re already doing.
Augmented reality’s “space-age” coolness means that it’s easy to get press for using it, but does it really offer a benefit over age-old solutions? You be the judge:
Developed by Metaio, Mitsubishi’s sales force has a new tablet app that allows prospects to see exactly how a new air conditioner would look in their living spaces. Result: $30 million increase in air-conditioning sales.
Lime (by Vipaar) is being used by field service professionals across the world to receive support when they need it. Result: By raising first-time-fix rates and decreasing time to resolution, one Vipaar customer decreased travel costs by 30%. One field service professional said, “It makes it easy to point and illustrate exactly what we are directing the customer to. It’s almost like being there.”
Heinz Ketchup developed an augmented reality experience for consumers that lets them view videos, as well as recipes featuring its product when viewing a ketchup bottle through a smartphone. This created an entirely new way for customers to interact with the brand, improving what is usually a static, forgotten experience. Result: The app had been used over 650,000 times, as of 2013.
And so, with augmented reality businesses can achieve real return-on-investment. Augmented reality not only pays off, but differentiates your business in a way that few other technologies can. Interested in trying augmented reality for yourself, or your business? Create a Lime account and see it in action today.