If you’ve found yourself on social media in the past year, chances are you’ve come across numerous examples and demos of augmented reality (or AR)—think people playing Minecraft in their kitchen or virtual skeletons in your bedroom.
These demonstrations are fun to watch because they push the limits of how we perceive physical spaces and objects and allow us to imagine what the future of AR technology will hold. However, there are a few industries in particular where AR is making waves as a viable business technology and not just a gimmick.
Augmented reality in enterprise and commercial applications
A variety of AR called mixed reality (MR) has been pioneered by Microsoft with their HoloLens device for the past couple of years. This space of mixing digital and physical realities has been embraced by companies like Volvo, thyssenkrupp and Stryker Communications with more coming on board all the time. Starting at $3,000 per device, HoloLens is aimed at large commercial customers and cutting-edge app developers.
Real estate interior design companies also stand to gain from advancements in AR technology — and better optimize the time of their human experts — by bringing services such as open houses and design consultations into the augmented realm.
Augmented reality in healthcare
One of the most compelling benefits of AR is its ability to eliminate the gaps caused by distance and lack of access. You can have experiences and visuals—and in the case of healthcare, expertise—brought to you instead of the other way around.
For example, the Proximie app allows world-class surgeons to virtually “scrub in” to an operation from across the world and perform services like marking up the patient and providing remote guidance during surgery without ever needing to be in the room. On a smaller scale, some physicians are even using AR headsets with games and environments in order to minimize the pain and anxiety for children getting shots.
Augmented reality in consumer retail
The death of brick-and-mortar may be exaggerated; of the $3.7 trillion spent on consumer retail purchases in 2016, only 8 percent of purchases happen in e-commerce. However, $1.7 trillion of consumer retail purchases are happening in the realm of online-to-offline (O2O) commerce. This means a large number of purchases are beginning with online and mobile search and ending with a purchase at a physical location.
So, where does AR come in? It accelerates the time between research and purchase at the moment when purchase intent is highest. For example, instead of searching for a coveted pair of shoes on your home computer, you could simply take a picture of someone wearing them on the street and be delivering real-time overlays for nearby retail locations that stock them.
If AR can succeed at helping local business blend digital and physical experiences and make O2O commerce seamless—driving an “Internet of Places” the way the ubiquity of mobile devices helped drive an “Internet of Things”—it will scale rapidly.
How to succeed with augmented reality
Businesses need to focus on three main qualities of their AR endeavors:
Keep it simple. Augmented reality is likely a new experience for most users and if the user experience is too complex, you will lose them. AR should be solving for an easy-to-articulate customer pain point or business need; if it’s not doing that, it’s superfluous.
Extend natural experiences. If the experience is too far removed from reality, users will lose grounding with the real world around them and the experience is broken. Virtual reality is a better medium for “out of this world” experiences because user expectations are entirely different going in.
Leverage your internal innovators. Get to market faster by using the knowledge and expertise of your most forward-thinking teams, and then extend that team’s abilities with AR-specific projects. Leaning on teams who are already passionate about AR (and understand its constraints) will spark better ideas for application and make you better equipped to handle challenges with implementation.
The massive opportunity of engaging millions of users with AR experiences is here now. Only more and more devices and apps will be capable of augmenting the reality around us, and your business can be part of that new reality.