Opinion

Seeing the future: The (AR) elephant in the room

Following the release of Apple's ARKit 2, The Works' Tomas Haffenden addresses the AR elephant in the room.

Earlier this week, while you were likely tucked up in bed, developers made their yearly pilgrimage to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

Aside from the standard incremental advancements, arguably one of the most exciting and relevant to brands was the announcement of the ARKit 2. So, why should you be excited and how will this announcement impact your marketing strategy for 2018?

In case you were unaware, the people at Apple are a fairly self-involved bunch. This means that many of their developments are, perhaps, more correctly reinventions or rediscoveries of things that are already out there. That being said, due to the control of market share, Apple adding a technology to their ecosystem is the point where it can truly be said to have arrived.

The most obvious example is the iPhone. Apple are so effective in their ability to convince us of their ‘discoveries’ that no one can remember what we did before the iPhone. Best guesses are we lived in a world littered with halved coconuts and taut string.

So, where was augmented reality (AR) before this announcement? Well, as we all know AR is where you look at an augmented version of the world through your phone screen. One of the best examples of how brands have used this technology in its current form is Audi.

Audi first released the Quattro Coaster app, designed by POL Oslo. The app allowed users to build an AR track to race, much like Scalextric minus the two-hour set up time. Looking through your phone allowed you to see your track and car from any angle and even change the weather conditions. It was impressive enough to hold a user’s attention for five minutes – an increase in engagement times of an impressive 900%.

This week Audi continued to invest in AR by partnering with vStream, a company at the forefront of AR and mixed reality tech. They have produced an experience for the new Audi A7, allowing users to see through the car, change colours and be talked through the design and development of the A7 by a virtual assistant called Simone. This does require a set of HoloLens glasses and is only available in certain dealerships, but it demonstrates Audi’s commitment to this emerging area.

Although these, and many other, AR experiences are capable of inspiring a ‘wow!’ moment, we need to talk about the AR elephant in the room.

The issue currently is that only one person can see the elephant at one point in time. What is the point of manifesting a full-size elephant in your living room if you are the only one who can see it? The closest you could get to a shared experience is taking turns (no thanks!) or huddling around the same phone.

The developers’ excited screams and frantic high-fiving at the announcement of ARKit 2 were well founded.

ARKit 2 opens the door to collective experiences for the ‘first’ time, something brands should be excited about. Designing experiences that can be shared with an audience suddenly increases the potential ROI through word-of-mouth and the intrigue of the physical spectacle of a group of people surrounding an unseen event.

Lego got early access to the software and demonstrated an epic mixed reality experience during the WWCD keynote. Using physical Lego blocks and an accompanying app, users (of any age…) can co-build the physical house and the technology will virtually build the rest.

Users can add virtual characters and even give them storylines to follow. What was once considered trapped in your imagination has now been released and manifested for all to see.

Lego was only a brief demonstration of what’s possible with the ARKit 2, but for brands looking for an excuse to dive into this playground, the possibilities seem endless. Even already successful apps like Ikea’s Place are taken to a new level with the inclusion of a collective experience.

Regardless of which creative direction these AR experiences end up taking, the important thing is that they are now shared. It is not a stretch to suggest that the best experiences, the most memorable and talked about, are always shared ones. Shared AR maybe just the newest medium for brands to consider in that field, but with Apple’s backing and the early examples already generating significant buzz, this is something worthy of your time.

Tomas Haffenden is digital producer at The Works.

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