A vi­sion of the fu­ture

Aug­mented re­al­ity has the po­ten­tial to blend the best of the dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal worlds, of­fer­ing un­told op­por­tu­nity for the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try. So why is tak­ing so long to take hold?

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Any­one who is a fan of The Ter­mi­na­tor will be no stranger to aug­mented re­al­ity. Back in 1984, di­rec­tor James Cameron’s sci-fi clas­sic in­tro­duced the world to the head-up dis­play of Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger’s T-800 Ter­mi­na­tor, whose vi­sion was over­laid with in­for­ma­tion about the world around him – peo­ple, ob­jects, mis­sions. It was a view of the fu­ture that was far from far-fetched.

THE POS­SI­BIL­I­TIES

The pos­si­bil­i­ties sur­round­ing aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) are mul­ti­far­i­ous, with Gps-en­abled, in­ter­net-con­nected mo­bile de­vices help­ing to bring AR to the cusp of com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity. Whereas vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) of­fers es­capism into in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences, AR blurs the bound­aries be­tween the dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal worlds, of­fer­ing the abil­ity to over­lay dig­i­tal data onto real-life en­vi­ron­ments. It’s a tech­ni­cal feat that ex­cites many within the in­dus­try.

“AR has en­abled us to change how we view our sur­round­ings, en­hanc­ing and adding lay­ers to our ex­pe­ri­ence of the phys­i­cal world, not just in me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, but across in­dus­tries,” says Brendan Bourke, head of dig­i­tal across MENAT at UM MENA. “With ad­vances in mo­bile hard­ware and OS fu­elling AR ca­pa­bil­i­ties, this new world view and ex­pe­ri­ence will soon be com­mon­place in each of our pock­ets.”

It is this prom­ise of en­hanc­ing our ex­pe­ri­ences of the phys­i­cal world that is driv­ing cur­rent in­vest­ment in the realm of AR. Both Ap­ple and Google, the two big­gest play­ers in smart­phone soft­ware, have launched ARKIT and Ar­core re­spec­tively, while Vuzix’s Blade has brought AR glasses back to life af­ter the dis­ap­point­ment of Google Glass. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Sam­sung and Mi­crosoft, are also in­vest­ing in the tech­nol­ogy, which sug­gests it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore AR works its way fur­ther into the public con­scious­ness, driv­ing in­creased main­stream usage.

“Un­like VR, which is es­sen­tially an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for one per­son at a time that iso­lates the in­di­vid­ual from the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment, AR cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity for shared ex­pe­ri­ences that bring to­gether the best of the phys­i­cal and vir­tual worlds,” says Dave Co­plin, chief en­vi­sion­ing of­fi­cer at The En­vi­sion­ers. “For me, that’s the very premise of AR – to blur the bound­ary be­tween the dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal worlds, en­abling rich, con­tex­tual ex­pe­ri­ences that add value to what­ever the ac­tiv­ity be­ing per­formed.”

THE CHAL­LENGES

Yet we are only scrap­ing the sur­face of what’s pos­si­ble with AR. Many within the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try con­tinue to view it as a gim­mick, de­spite the suc­cess of apps such as Ikea Place, which lets cus­tomers see how fur­ni­ture items

would look in their homes.

“As is nat­u­ral at this stage of a new tech­nol­ogy’s evo­lu­tion there are chal­lenges around hard­ware and de­vel­op­ment,” says Bourke. “But as the pro­cess­ing power of por­ta­ble de­vices im­proves so will the user ex­pe­ri­ence. When it comes to de­vel­op­ment, ac­cess to skilled re­sources will im­prove steadily and the price of en­try will fall.”

Within mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions the chal­lenges can be bro­ken down into two ar­eas, be­lieves Bourke – those based on per­cep­tion and those based on re­al­ity. A re­cent study of mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tives in the US by the Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group (BCG) high­lighted these chal­lenges.

“One of the chal­lenges men­tioned is ‘scale’,” says Bourke. “Al­though there is not mass adop­tion yet, there are al­ready a sub­stan­tial num­ber of AR users, so scale is tech­ni­cally not a ma­jor is­sue. There are also some chal­lenges around gen­eral AR knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing among mar­keters. Mea­sure­ment and lack of ex­per­tise were high­lighted in the BCG study as is­sues, which points to the more tan­gi­ble strug­gle of mar­keters try­ing to get to grips with a new tech­nol­ogy. These types of grow­ing pains could be ex­pected when it comes to any nascent tech­nol­ogy trend.”

THE POS­SI­BIL­I­TIES

De­spite these grow­ing pains data from soft­ware com­pany Youappi re­vealed that 21 per cent of dig­i­tal mar­keters world­wide planned to use AR to sup­port the cus­tomer jour­ney in 2018 ver­sus 13 per cent in 2017, “so adop­tion and re­source al­lo­ca­tion are most cer­tainly trend­ing up­wards,” adds Bourke.

“A lot of the chal­lenges AR faces are around ex­pec­ta­tions,” adds Co­plin. “Peo­ple tend to think of AR as in Poke­mon Go, not as in ‘search’, and so con­tent providers are some­times re­luc­tant to de­velop AR so­lu­tions be­cause they fear the com­plex­ity and cost of do­ing some­thing rich and mean­ing­ful. But it doesn’t have to be three di­men­sional vir­tual graph­ics pop­ping up, al­though they’re nice if you can do it.”

He adds: “Every time you pick up your phone or sim­i­lar de­vice to find the ad­dress of a restau­rant or the price of a prod­uct else­where you are aug­ment­ing your real life ex­pe­ri­ence with in­for­ma­tion that helps you make bet­ter de­ci­sions and achieve bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ences. As the in­ter­face for search moves from a di­a­logue box to voice and, ul­ti­mately, to the cam­era in your de­vice, the power of this aug­men­ta­tion will just get stronger and more in­grained in our ev­ery­day lives.”

The pos­si­bil­i­ties of search within AR are enor­mous. Imag­ine a world in which you can search for a shop, per­son, restau­rant or venue by voice, with the re­sult of that search then over­laid on your field of vi­sion. It is a techie’s dream, but also an ad­ver­tiser’s.

Within the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try AR is be­ing cham­pi­oned as the fu­ture of car nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems, with wind­screens act­ing as a head-up dis­play, pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion such as speed and nav­i­ga­tion prompts. All of which will be over­laid on the driver’s view of the road ahead.

It’s up to brands and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als to plot the road ahead; the tech­nol­ogy is there, ideas and bril­liant ex­e­cu­tion must fol­low. - Brendan Bourke, head of dig­i­tal across MENAT at UM MENA

“From a com­mu­ni­ca­tions per­spec­tive, where there are users and eye­balls there is op­por­tu­nity,” says Bourke. “But brands need to find their place, they need to add value and util­ity and re­sist the temp­ta­tion to be fad­dish and op­por­tunis­tic. For ad­ver­tis­ers it’s not only about cre­at­ing be­spoke user ex­pe­ri­ences, there are many ways to get in­volved in AR from a me­dia per­spec­tive. For ex­am­ple, Snap and Face­book are ma­jor play­ers with Snap Lens Stu­dio, Face­book AR stu­dio and Face­book’s AR News Feed ad for­mats.”

Yet, as with all de­vel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies, there are gen­uine con­cerns sur­round­ing the wider ap­pli­ca­tion of AR, par­tic­u­larly as it re­lates to a Ter­mi­na­tor-es­que vi­sion of the world around us.

“We’ve got some way to go yet be­fore the form fac­tors fun­da­men­tally move be­yond a smart­phone hand­set,” says Co­plin. “There are still many so­cial, eth­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal hur­dles to cross be­fore we can feel as com­fort­able with a pair of AR glasses as we do with a smart­phone in our hands. We would do well not to un­der­es­ti­mate the chal­lenge of the eth­i­cal and so­cial is­sues sur­round­ing this tech­nol­ogy, and as a re­sult I think we need to put more ef­fort into dis­cus­sions around pri­vacy as well as the un­in­tended con­se­quences of the preva­lence of the tech­nol­ogy that makes all this pos­si­ble.”

Which­ever way you look at it, the pos­si­bil­i­ties provided by AR for the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try are huge. The Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group es­ti­mates that nearly 80 mil­lion peo­ple in the US en­gage with AR on a monthly ba­sis. That num­ber is ex­pected to grow to 120 mil­lion by 2021. “So chal­lenges notwith­stand­ing, growth is in­evitable,” be­lieves Bourke.

“It’s up to brands and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als to plot the road ahead; the tech­nol­ogy is there, ideas and bril­liant ex­e­cu­tion must fol­low,” says Bourke. “One thing we can cer­tainly pre­dict is that brands will seek to en­hance con­sumer jour­neys us­ing im­mer­sive AR ex­pe­ri­ences and per­son­al­i­sa­tion. The en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try will con­tinue to em­brace AR with the de­vel­op­ment of both con­tent and gam­ing. As a re­sult, in-game AR ad­ver­tis­ing will likely ex­plode. Another in­evitable de­vel­op­ment is the fur­ther ex­pan­sion of AR into OOH [out-of-home]. This will be a very nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion in the same way that OOH em­braced dig­i­tal.

“Of course, AR will not just im­pact mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing, and many of the most im­por­tant cases will con­tinue to emerge and evolve across all sec­tors such as ed­u­ca­tion, med­i­cal, re­tail and man­u­fac­tur­ing. As mar­keters we’re guests at the AR party, so let’s make sure we have some­thing in­ter­est­ing to say. Ul­ti­mately, AR is most cer­tainly here to stay. That’s a re­al­ity we all need to em­brace.”

Un­like VR, which is es­sen­tially an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for one per­son at a time that iso­lates the in­di­vid­ual from the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment, AR cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity for shared ex­pe­ri­ences that bring to­gether the best of the phys­i­cal and vir­tual worlds. - Dave Co­plin, chief en­vi­sion­ing of­fi­cer at The En­vi­sion­ers

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