Hype or reality? That’s what many are rightfully wondering about the exciting, fanciful but still unproven business case for augmented reality (AR).
Although the AR market is expected to grow dramatically, we expect broader adoption will be gradual — primarily because enterprises tend to rely on the success of technology in the consumer market before turning their attention inward.
In our view, augmented reality is maturing in ways that will support internal and external experimentation. Microsoft HoloLens and Meta Vision have released developer kits for first movers to test the technology and gain mindshare. So far, virtual reality is leading mass market adoption, predominantly due to the wide availability of low-cost VR devices. Yet according to Gartner, the business potential of augmented reality has increased through improvements in location services and image recognition.
Over time, AR is expected to play a key role in a variety of shopping, production and assembly processes. In fact, innovative companies such as Ikea, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Lego, and 10% of the Fortune 500 companies have already begun exploring shopping and operation applications.
Promising Business Applications
Market analysts have yet to quantify AR’s true enterprise value. That is expected to change, however, as consumer success stories and cheaper devices emerge. From enabling seamless collaboration to reducing product design iterations, we believe augmented reality will soon be embedded in everyday work life, starting with the following areas.
Interactive printing: Getting customers to engage with a product is a key goal of any marketing plan. In the case of augmented reality, its immersive capabilities are a prime selling point for consumers and enterprises alike. With interactive printing techniques, companies can release promotional materials that can then be viewed and augmented upon with a smartphone app. With a single scan, AR helps companies connect with their customers in entirely new ways.
Empowering sales personnel: Demonstrating products and ideas can be made easier with AR. Imagine a sales representative asking a vendor to stock his company’s energy bars. Augmented reality can help the sales rep showcase the nutritional values of the product, check available inventory and refer to real-time sales data – all relayed as information and intelligence to the vendor while helping the salesperson close the deal faster.
Sampling products: Many companies such as Nike, Converse, GAP and Ikea offer AR-based solutions via mobile apps that enable consumers to visualize products in realistic 3-D. They can visualize items in the physical store online, from wherever they are. For example, a shopper planning to buy a coffee table or sofa can see the lifelike 3-D projection of the merchandise in their own home before buying. This delightful experience gives consumers greater assurance and companies faster sales.
Enhancing the customer experience: Imagine walking into an unfamiliar environment, such as a museum. Using the museum’s AR-based navigation system, you can receive a guided tour of various areas of the museum and access information about its exhibits – adding another dimension to virtual interactivity and enhancing your museum experience. Brick-and-mortar stores can also combine technologies to create a unique in-store experience and opportunities for direct marketing.
In addition to the above sales and operations applications, augmented reality is increasingly being considered for healthcare, architectural design, logistics, manufacturing, aerospace and services applications.
The quickly evolving applications of augmented reality promise to dramatically alter the business landscape. These technologies — once the stuff of science fiction — have earned acceptance and a seat at the table in enterprise environments.
We believe that for businesses adopting augmented reality, especially in shopping scenarios, the technology must deliver credible business value to users. It cannot be force-fed. Many existing point solutions do not contain any redeeming business value, nor give users enough reason to buy or try again — defeating the purpose of adopting AR technology in the first place.
All told, augmented reality can bridge the gap between customer expectations and deliverable supply. In the fight for the future, it’s imperative that companies combine the best aspects of both the virtual and physical worlds to generate newly interactive and personalized experiences that benefit both customers and the business.