Augmented Reality Gets Real

There’s been no shortage of hype about augmented reality in recent years. Article after article and video after video have heralded the technology. Yet, until recently, actual apps and tools have largely been absent.

Times change, of course. Recently, on a trip abroad, I turned to the augmented reality feature in Google Translate. At one restaurant, I hovered it over a French menu and it provided decent, though occasionally strange, translations in real time.

The app is still somewhat primitive — it can translate only a single line at a time — but the technology, and the underlying artificial intelligence (AI), is still rather impressive.

Apple has embedded an augmented reality platform into iOS 11. What’s more, a number of interesting AR apps have also appeared recently. These include: EyeMaps, which provides a 3D view of the surrounding landscape along with the names of landmarks; and Housecraft, which lets you scan a room with your smartphone camera and then drop in furniture, plants and home décor items to see what it could look like.

IKEA, like Housecraft, now allows you to view furnishings and goods as they would appear in your home. Some retailers, such as J.C. Penney and Bloomingdales, have tested AR “virtual dressing rooms” that let customers “try on” clothing. Meanwhile, beauty retailers are developing apps to offer customers new ways to try out make-up with the help of a mobile 3D augmented reality make-up and anti-ageing mirror.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick in the UK found that AR delivers value. Researchers polled 21,467 smartphone users in the U.S. and found that 48.8 percent are happier with the items purchased after using mobile AR apps, 41.2 percent are more likely to purchase from the retailer, and 41.1 percent are more likely to tell others about the retailer. These customers were also more likely to visit the retailer again.

What’s more, those using the apps reported benefits. 56.6 percent indicated that they get more complete information on products using AR, 42.2 percent said they are more certain they are buying what they wanted, and 27.3 percent liked having the opportunity to “try out” a product before buying it.

There were drawbacks and concerns too. For instance, the study found that 31.4 percent were fearful about how the information could be used. But, suffice it to say that AR is rapidly moving off the drawing board and onto the smartphone screen.