Augmented reality (AR) is here to make a splash across all sorts of applications.
One of its characteristics is that it’s accessible to more people than its cousin, virtual reality, because unlike the latter, augmented reality doesn’t require the use of special headsets. Anyone carrying a smartphone has a ready-made conduit for augmented reality applications.
Companies and app developers have been discovering that AR is much more than a gimmicky fad; it’s becoming something that has everyday uses that are changing how we do ordinary things – activities such as picking out furniture or searching for an item.
Here’s how AR is changing the search landscape as we know it…
AR gathering momentum
App crazes such as Discord or Bixby have really provided bigger companies with proof of concept when it comes to AR (although some, such as Amazon, have been using AR applications for a few years now). In the last couple of years, we’ve seen an explosion across several big players in offerings using or incorporating AR into apps.
Augmented reality and search
AR incorporates virtual technology into real-world scenes via the smartphone user’s camera. Apps such as Pokemon go overlay virtual elements across a real scene to provide an augmented experience. For example, imagine being able to walk past a landmark, point your camera at it and reveal information about different aspects of it. A trainee mechanic might point their camera at an engine and find tutorials on the various parts. The applications are endless but a common thread is that AR provides the user with information – something they can pull up easily without an extended search.
Companies have been using this technology recently to smooth the path toward consumers buying products. For example, Amazon Flow app has users buying with the simple scan of a camera. Let’s say you’re walking down the street and see a book for sale that you’ve been wanting to buy. You take out your phone and scan it with the Amazon Flow app, which instantly pulls up information on the book and gives you the price on Amazon. With a click you can then order that book, possibly at a cheaper price than what is offered locally.
Pinterest’s “Lens” app has been helping the company build a catalog of billions of captures through the feature. Users take photos with the app and the “real world discovery tool” identifies items in the picture and pulls up related ideas around the picture. These are made up of publicly shared items from other Pinterest users.
As an example, let’s say you walk into a cool new cafė and are quite taken with the interior design. You can snap some pictures through Pinterest Lens and it will pull up ideas that are possible matches for the items. Some of those might even be pins from sellers of the items, leading you to make a purchase.
The impact on search of apps like these is interesting to behold. Up until recently, search has been all about words – the content on webpages and the search terms a user might type. While this is still the predominant avenue for search, AR is bringing visuals into the equation.
High-quality images now might be not only key as a selling point for consumers, but as a way to get in on search results via AR-enabled apps. Pinterest suggests that retailers need to be making the most of the lens app to get their products found: “Upload your product catalog to Pinterest and make sure your website has the Save button so more of your products are available to appear in results.”
We’re still in the early days as yet, but the development of AR platforms by key players suggests that the technology is just getting started. AR is looking to be something that will be expected in the digital landscape moving forward.
What does this mean for app development?
When we look at how AR technology is progressing, we’d say that increasingly, the expectation of app development will be that better, more seamless AR experiences are created. Pokemon Go was popular, but was known to be somewhat glitchy at times, with characters not necessarily moving as the camera angle was changed.
Users want high-quality imagery and experiences from both sides of the camera, whether it’s an app that educates tourists, allows homeowners to “try” furniture before they buy it or helps make-up users to “test” color palettes on themselves. This means highly accurate and proportionate imagery that provides as realistic an experience as possible.
Location-based AR is also becoming an important feature for the many apps which rely on location-specific information. It’s about delivering valuable information, unique or interesting experiences in the location of the user (or leading them to the location, as Snapchat’s AR art installations do).
In terms of UX, AR can help to reduce the cognitive load on the user by automatically displaying key information they’d otherwise have to type or search for. It can help to minimize attention switches by combining information with multiple overlays. For developers, this means making a judgment as to what is, in fact, the most useful information to display and how to best reduce that cognitive load.
How will you build AR experiences with high-quality search and accurate imagery? How will you be prepared to capture search through AR? This space is one to watch and we expect to see major developments ahead as more developers have access to the technology.