Apple bets augmented reality will drive next wave of mobile growth
By Chantal Tode
March 20, 2013
The Nokia City Lens augmented reality app
Apple has been awarded a new patent related to an augmented reality system, making it the latest handset manufacturer to place a bet that the technology will play a key role in next generation mobile experiences.
Google, Nokia and Samsung, as well as marketers, are also supporting augmented reality in order to get ahead of what is expected to be a significant wave in consumer demand for these experiences. While the technology is still in the early stages, the expectation is that it will play a bigger role going forward in how consumers access a variety of types of content.
“As mobile industry transitions from keypad to touch screen as the new interaction mechanism, Augmented Reality based interaction will drive the next wave of growth ,” said Neil Shah, senior analyst for the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics, Newton, MA. “As a result, companies such as Google, Apple and Samsung are investing in this area.
“AR will enable new mobile experiences in terms of how consumers interact using their mobile devices,” he said. “AR will bridge the best of digital and physical worlds.
“While context will be the key, design and form-factors of mobile devices and peripherals that will leverage different sensors and enabling technologies such as camera, accelerometer, GPS, IR sensor, near-field communications and Bluetooth will also be vital to craft newer user experiences.”
Augmented reality, or a computer-generated enhancement to real-world elements, is the focus of a lot of attention these days.
Google and Nokia, which already have key location and software assets, hope to play a key role in how augmented reality develops.
Google is betting on Google Glass, which is an augmented reality display designed to be worn on a user’s head like a pair of glasses. Google began testing the product last year, with a version for consumers possibly hitting the market by the end of this year.
Nokia's entry is City Lens, an augmented reality application that enables users to point their phone’s camera at a location and get more information. Virtual signs appear over the buildings that users can tap to get more information.
Apple, which is behind the curve when it comes to leveraging location to provide mobile experiences such as maps, is moving into augmented reality to try to stay ahead of customer expectations.
This week, the company won a patent for an augmented reality system that can identify objects in a live video stream and overlay information about the objects being viewed on top of the real-world image.
The system described in the patent would use iOS features such as multitouch screen, camera and Internet connectivity to enable users to interact with the augmented reality experience by inputting information or sending the live view to another device.
The patent also covers a split-screen view with the live and computer generated views in two distinct windows.
“The handset OEMs are taking it upon themselves where possible to see how they can tightly integrate augmented reality software solutions to the hardware,” said Michael Morgan, analyst at ABI Research, New York .
“It is another one of those technology paths that they have to be good at,” he said. “You do it by starting early, seeing if you can create better experiences or find the examples in your handset use case where augmented reality is going to pay out.
“That answer is not entirely clear today.”
Recent data from ABI Research shows there were approximately 118 million augmented reality apps were downloaded in 2012, or half a percent of all app downloads. The firm forecasts that augmented reality app downloads could grow to 3.5 billion by 2017, but that would still be only a two to three percent download rate.
While the eventual breadth and exact use case for augmented reality is still unclear, there is consensus that the technology is likely to open up significant opportunities for marketers.
Already, brands such as Lucky Charms, Oreo, Mattel, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and others are leveraging augmented reality to create new customer engagement experiences.
However, these one-off campaigns are not doing much to drive everyday use of augmented reality.
“Right now, we have companies that will put out an ad campaign and say, look through our AR finder to find a great deal,” Mr. Morgan said. “That doesn’t make for regular everyday use.
“The problem we are seeing with AR applications today is that they get a couple of uses and then no one uses them again.
“In the future, we will maybe have a lot more interesting viable uses, like helping education. We need to find some more usefulness out of AR other than trying to find the nearest bar.”
Marketers will need to break out from traditional marketing and advertising methods and come up with some fresh thinking in order to leverage augmented reality in a way that will make an impact. This will mean investing in talented employees, the right software and identifying key platforms to partner with on developing augmented reality campaigns.
In the short term, the experience could become fragmented as different form factors emerge enabling augmented reality experiences.
However, the pay-off is likely to be worth the investment as augmented reality becomes a new content channel for consumers.
“AR will enable plethora of new opportunities for marketers as now consumers will be able to interact in both digital as well as physical worlds,” Strategy Analytics’ Mr. Shah said.
“Marketers will be able to design advertising campaigns converging social , location and context to enable seamless handover/connection from mobile to product/service,” he said.
“AR will enable a highly inexpensive , interactive and targeted from of marketing compared to print or TV campaigns which are just broadcast lacking context and interactivity. The chance of emotional as well as repeat engagement is pretty high with AR technology.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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