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…
Get our examples of how AR is being used in apps here
AR gathering momentum
App crazes such as Pokemon Go or Snapchat Lenses 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.
Last year, Apple introduced ARKit, their developer platform to provide the framework for creating AR experiences for iPhone and iPad. This platform was opened up with the release of iOS 11 and CEO, Tim Cook said;
“We believe AR has broad mainstream applicability across education, entertainment, interactive gaming, enterprise, and categories we probably haven’t even thought of. With hundreds of millions of people actively using iPhone and iPad today, iOS will become the world’s biggest augmented reality platform.”
One of ARKit’s goals is to help developers create better, more realistic AR experiences, perhaps even creating scenes where it is difficult to pick the augmented from the reality. This can lead to more immersive experiences and opportunities for brands to better use the technology to their advantage.
Joining the offerings for AR developers, Amazon debuted their Sumerian App Platform in November 2017. This platform is for those wanting to create AR and other 3D apps, but is said to be open to people who don’t have specialized programming knowledge. The platform will also allow users to work with apps compatible with Apple’s ARKit.
Facebook, too, has been working on their AR capabilities, most recently taking a run at Snapchat with their opening up of AR Studio. Developers are called to create their own tools and filters with the platform, but it’s possible this may lead to further AR applications in the future. Some big brands are already using AR for commercial purposes, as we’ll look at further down.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has expressed a commitment to AR technology also;
“Over time, I think [augmented reality] will be a really important technology that changes how we use our phones and all our technology,” he said. “This is the type of technology we love to build.”
Google is of course in the mix too, with their ARCore platform. Their aim is to give developers the tools to “transform the future of work and play.” “ARCore’s understanding of the real world lets you place objects, annotations, or other information in a way that integrates seamlessly with the real world.”
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 publically 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 is AR being used in apps now? Get our quick guide here
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.
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