Each iteration of the iPhone comes with new eye-catching features, and this year’s is no different. But the iPhone X’s addition of Augmented Reality (AR) promises to cause even more of a stir. Indeed, some are predicting that it could finally bring AR to the masses, opening up some interesting possibilities for marketers.
AR into the mainstream
It’s perhaps telling that Apple chose such an auspicious date for the release of the iPhone X. The year 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the first-ever iPhone, so this latest edition had to offer something different.
At the core of the new phone are AR features. AR superimposes digital information on to the real world, creating an embellished reality. However, a phone with AR capabilities is useless without any AR-enabled programs.
Apple, of course, has thought ahead. It has already released ARKit, a tool that helps developers add AR to their apps. This means that they can be pushed to new and updated iPhones straight away. Developers jumped on board immediately, with some interesting results.
Despite this, AR is still in its nascent years. But the giddy heights reached by Pokémon Go have revealed the true potential of AR and its ability to grip people’s imaginations. And considering that billions of people already own smartphones, having an iPhone with specific AR features could finally bring AR into the mainstream.
AR against VR
But why has Apple betted on AR and not Virtual Reality (VR)?
At the start of 2016 all the industry buzz surrounded VR. The Oculus, Sony and HTC headsets all launched on to the market with much fanfare. Analysts formed bullish predictions, with the International Data Corporation (IDC) estimating that VR hardware would soar past the $2bn mark by the end of 2016.
In reality, the reception was far more muted. Tellingly, cheaper products that use mobile phones outperformed high-end headsets. In 2016, Samsung sold five million of their smartphone-powered VR headsets. This is six times greater than Oculus Rift’s sales figures.
But so far even these totals have fallen well below expectation.
Professor Kenny Coventry of the School of Psychology at the University of East Anglia blames the lack of development in VR technology. “Rendering is the big hurdle,” he explains. “At the moment it’s incredibly time-consuming to program entire virtual environments.”
Another reason behind VR’s sluggishness is the cost of creating VR experiences, which remains prohibitive for many brands. A lack of content is limiting the appeal to consumers too.
AR doesn’t have these limitations.
Unlike VR, its potential is very much in the present. It’s also already been used successfully in several industries, such as aircraft heads-up displays. “The mass hype of Pokémon Go – even as it has dissipated – proves that AR is already clearing VR’s key obstacles,” says Alan Dykes, Dialogue’s head of digital marketing. “It was immersive because it happened in the real world, didn’t involve strapping a box to your head and got people talking and sharing socially on a common platform – their phone.”
Essentially, AR, unlike VR, is far more accessible to consumers. They can understand the value of what is being shown because they can see it in a 3D space. As a result, Morgan Stanley has estimated that the AR market could be worth $404 billion over the next four years.
Applications for AR in marketing
AR has potential in many different industries. As it provides additional information on what we see or know already, it is ideal for things such as street navigation, travel or the property market.
A recent report from mobile technology group Apadmi revealed that 48% of holidaymakers would like to see travel agents invest in AR. This is an important result, especially as the same report found that less than 9% would visit a high street agent.
Brands that are already experimenting with AR to create more immersive experiences for their audiences include:
Case study: Volvo
When Volvo released the S60 model they hit upon a unique way to attract attention. They unveiled a YouTube video that, when scanned, opened a game where users drove the new car around a racetrack based on their environment.
The video generated 192,319 clicks on the masthead ad and traffic to the volvocars.com website increased by 293%.
Case study: IKEA
IKEA was one of the earliest brands to spot the potential of AR. It created a catalogue app that allows customers to try out pieces of IKEA furniture in their own homes. This increases engagement with the products and can be used across multiple devices. Customers can also take a ‘photo’ of the finished look and save it for inspiration later.
As this video shows, the technology can also be used for fun, which also develops a stronger emotional connection with the brand.
IKEA has also now gone one step further with IKEA Place. Using Apple’s ARKit technology, IKEA has created a more sophisticated app that allows you to visualise furniture in your home. Simply snap a photo of the place for the intended furniture, browse the app’s 2,000 items, and insert it into the photo.
All objects are three dimensional and have shading that responds to light. The objects also re-size automatically to fit with your photo.
Case study: L’Oreal
AR is especially appealing to beauty brands, which can take advantage of the technology’s ability to show a new, improved look. L’Oreal was one of the early uptakers and produced a ‘Style my hair’ app, which allowed users to try different hairstyles and colours. In the immediate weeks after its launch it was downloaded more than 500,000 times.
L’Oreal also launched a Makeup Genius app. As of August 2016, it had been downloaded 6.3 million times.
Case study: Tesco
In the run-up to Christmas 2016 Tesco launched a free Disney Frozen sticker book in its Tesco Extra stores.
Using an AR app, customers could scan the stickers to bring them to life as well as have a selfie taken with the characters. It proved almost as big a hit as the film. A Facebook post announcing the campaign was shared 316,663 times.
Case study: Acura
AR can also be used more indirectly in advertising campaigns. When announcing the arrival of the 2018 TLX A-Spec, Acura live streamed a video of influential people driving around a racecourse. All drivers were equipped with an AR-enabled helmet, which overlaid graphics over the top of the course.
The video was shown on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. A total of 500,000 people tuned in during the live feed. By the time it ended, it had reached 3.58 million people and created 44,000 reactions.
Realising AR’s potential
AR clearly has the potential to reach vast audiences. Its shareability means that this audience can be magnified even further. The technology’s immersiveness and ability to create an emotional connection also makes it an attractive proposition for marketers.
It can create excitement about a product, and sustain it too. For instance, a buyer of the new Tesla car was so desperate to receive it that they created an AR program that showed what the car would look like sitting in their driveway.
AR’s ability to customise and personalise a product also fosters customers’ relationship with it. With AR, customers could choose the colour of a car, pick out new furniture, see a completed housing development, or try on clothes or shoes.
The technology is here and, thanks to iPhone, more and more of us are likely to have it in our pocket in the near future. The only limit now is the imagination of marketers.