In 2017, Apple and Google have both decisively committed to AR, making it a strategic product focus for the iPhone and for Android. With the release of their new AR frameworks (ARKit and ARCore), half a billion smartphones are now capable of delivering state-of-the-art mobile AR experiences.
With AR (augmented reality), you can project an interactive map of your next travel destination onto your coffee table or take care of a virtual baby unicorn on your carpet. But you can also inspect a production line, visualise medical data or see the inner workings of a machine you need to repair. And that's just the start.
Just like with VR a few years ago, we're bound to see a lot of experimentation as developers figure out the new possibilities. But a few particularly valuable use cases already stand out.
1. Visualising and configuring products
This is an obvious win in AR, particularly for retail and manufacturing. Retailers like IKEA are using AR to let potential customers browse their catalogue and immediately see their desired furniture in their own homes, with the correct scale and measurements.
A Belgian example is Telenet, who recently teamed up with In The Pocket to create an AR experience for the self-installation of Digicorders.
2. Showing highly personalized info about surroundings
Imagine having a food intolerance or special dietary needs and standing in a grocery aisle at the supermarket, trying to decide about dinner. Instead of reading the fine print on the packaging, you simply hold up your phone and highly personalised information on the product appears, like allergens, fat content or even how much of your daily calorie budget it contains.
3. Indicating location and distance
Picture yourself at an outdoor festival trying to find your friends in a crowd. Instead of exchanging countless messages, you hold up your phone and an icon and distance indicator appears showing exactly where your friends are, based on their GPS location.
4. AR Magic
Augmented reality on mobile, impressive as the underlying technical details may be, is a fairly simple concept. It provides no groundbreaking solutions on its own. But add complementary technologies like machine learning, micro-location and cloud infrastructure into the mix, and suddenly things become possible that would have seemed like magic a few short years ago.
The next big step for AR is context awareness. AR apps will be able to determine exactly where they are, so virtual elements can be mapped to exact locations with high precision. This data will enable a whole new class of AR apps (indoor navigation, locating products, location-specific experiences,…), like the indoor navigation app we built to guide guests through our office during our annual conference Shift. The next leap forward will be AR wearables or actual biological augmentation. Companies like Microsoft, Meta and Magic Leap are already working on those.
Ready for an AR-powered future?
The future vision for AR is clear: ultimately, we will all gain the ability to surface any kind of digital information into the real world. Text, voice, images, video, even 3D projections of other places and people will seamlessly manifest. Augmented reality's ultimate goal is to give us all superpowers, and many trends are converging to make this happen in the coming decade.
Mobile AR as we see it today may only be the first step towards a superpowered future, but it is ready to make a large impact on the mobile world. Smart organisations can reap its benefits today with the right use cases. When the whole world becomes your canvas, it's time to get creative!