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Seeing the Realities of Augmented Reality
The technology is fast approaching, but marketers need to get up to speed before diving in
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The augmented reality market was valued at just $2.39 billion in 2012, but it is expected to skyrocket to $61.3 billion by 2023, growing at a 55.7 percent compound annual rate, according to a July report from Research and Markets.

Recent moves by tech giants Apple and Google support the report’s assertion that rising investment is one of the major drivers of the market’s increase in value. Apple in June announced its ARKit, which, according to the company’s website, “allows you to easily create unparalleled augmented reality experiences for iPhone and iPad.” Not to be outdone, Google in August announced its ARCore, which its website says “brings augmented reality capabilities to existing and future Android phones.”

Dave Wallin, front-end lead at the Archer Group, a digital marketing firm, explains that both ARKit and ARCore “offer developers the ability to place virtual 3-D objects in the real world and have them drawn convincingly on a user’s phone screen.”

Eric Abbruzzese, principal analyst at ABI Research, adds that ARKit and ARCore are “very similar [software development kits] that immediately open up hundreds of millions of phones and tablets to augmented reality content.”

With Apple and Google bringing augmented reality to the masses, the time is right for marketers to start experimenting with the technology. But before diving in headfirst, they need to develop a full understanding of the technology’s current capabilities and future potential, as well as the pitfalls to avoid when introducing augmented reality into their campaigns.

WHICH REALITY IS IT?

Augmented reality is sometimes conflated with virtual reality, but experts note that the two are distinct technologies. According to Thomas Husson, vice president and principal analyst serving B2C marketing professionals at Forrester Research, virtual reality “replaces the real world” while augmented reality “enhances it.”

Matteo Aliberti, extended reality and augmented commerce lead at Accenture Interactive, distinguishes them by how immersive an experience they produce. “Today’s augmented reality applications for mobile devices provide a relatively low level of immersiveness where computer-generated digital objects are essentially placed in a real environment, allowing users to remain aware of what is going on around them,” he says. “On the other extreme is virtual reality, where a headset disconnects users from what is happening around them in the real world.”

Abbruzzese points out that “the best accepted difference” between virtual and augmented reality is that virtual reality completely obscures the user’s vision; augmented reality maintains it.

Then there is a third area, called mixed reality, that Aliberti says “lies in between augmented and virtual realities, offering experiences where virtual digital objects can interact with and respond to physical elements, and vice versa.”

Put another way, mixed reality is augmented reality—where the user maintains vision—to which interactive 3-D content can be added, Abbruzzese explains.

Microsoft introduced the mixed reality concept with its HoloLens, a self-contained, holographic computer and headset launched in 2016. HoloLens runs Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform, which was launched simultaneously. Since then, other companies, such as Dell and Lenovo, have developed their own headsets that support the Windows Mixed Reality platform.

A fourth, more nebulous area is called merged reality. This takes virtual reality and brings in some components of the real world, but is still, by definition, a form of virtual reality because it obscures the user’s vision. Intel pushed merged reality with its Project Alloy headset, introduced in 2016; it now appears that Intel is scaling back the initiative.

Although the lines between augmented reality and virtual reality have been blurring quite a bit lately, Abbruzzese argues that issues such as price, content, and general accessibility would need to be figured out over time before the two technologies can be melded into one.

Jan-Hein Pullens, chief operating officer at roOomy, a provider of 3-D modeling, rendering, and virtual staging services and apps, goes so far as to say that mainstream adoption of augmented reality can be attributed to the difficulty in making virtual reality feasible for broad consumer audiences. “Virtual reality has long suffered from clunky, expensive devices that didn’t serve a wide variety of use cases, and still today there hasn’t been a viable solution to this road block,” he says. “There’s a unique, practical, daily-use component to augmented reality, which virtual reality hasn’t been able to break through. Until that happens, augmented reality will be the wave of the future.”

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