Differentiating trends from fads can be difficult in the world of tech and gadgetry. 3D televisions promised to be the future of home entertainment before Sony, Samsung, and LG finally put it out of its misery in 2017. The choice between expensive peripherals or limited viewing angles ensured that consumers decided that the financial and physical headaches that came with 3D televisions were not worth the hassle.
Virtual Reality (VR) quickly picked up the baton but arguably fell at the same hurdles. The success of any technology will ultimately be determined by mainstream adoption. Once again, expensive headsets, unsightly wires, nausea, and headaches have prevented VR from being a hit outside of the gaming community.
The events of 2020 in our physical world are enough to make even the most optimistic attempt to find solace in an alternative virtual world.
However, immersion is nothing but isolation.
Most people are searching for a way of escaping their four walls after months of being trapped in their homes and reject Zuckerberg's VR vision of the future.
Preparing for the age of Augmented Reality (AR)
AR offers a compromise to immersive experiences by tearing down the blurred lines between our digital and physical world. By overlaying virtual data and images onto our immediate surroundings, AR enhances rather than replacing our real life. In 2013, the arrival of the infamous Google Glass failed due to the hefty price tag of $1,500 coupled with clunky design and increasing privacy concerns.
Five years ago, the world was not ready for augmented reality glasses. But AR technology has slowly been chipping away and gaining traction with users. AR is no stranger to faddy behavior, and the launch of Pokémon Go in 2016 saw millions of users (myself included) seeking out virtual creatures on the way to school or the office. Snapchat's face filters also enabled users of all ages to instantly understand and embrace AR technology, which is often the biggest hurdle to overcome.
Evolving beyond the gimmicks
When Apple launched its App Store in 2008, it created a virtual gold rush where developers worked around the clock for four months. The reward was to be one of the first iPhone apps in the store. It was a chaotic time where nobody had any experience creating an app on Apple's platform.
The result was predictably an onslaught of gimmicky apps that turned the first expensive smartphone into a chainsaw or a beer.
It took a few years until developers had time to get to grips with the platform and begin solving real problems. Here in 2020, we are entering a similar phase where AR apps will help you do everything from dissecting a frog in your kitchen to trying on virtual tattoos before making a lifelong commitment to a tattoo design. But we are beginning to look beyond AR apps that merely pass the time and explore how this tech can enhance our daily lives.
Augmented reality and the future of social media
Social media has been the driving force behind the adoption of AR. In particular, Snapchat's interactive camera filters proved to be a big hit with audiences who embraced AR tools to explore new ways of telling their story. Earlier this year, Snapchat also added lava and water AR Lenses using ground segmentation and machine learning technology.
Social platforms have often flirted dangerously with gimmicks when using AR on its platforms. But don't be fooled by a range of fun filters. Many marketers are now turning to the same technology to help brands thrive without putting their consumers at risk. For example, Gucci recently launched its first-ever shoe-try-on lens and encouraged users to scan the promo shop code to try-on the latest trends in footwear fashion.
Consumers are increasingly searching for touchless shopping experiences in a post-pandemic world. AR is seen as the solution to help retailers bounce back by leveraging the social channels where their audiences spend most of their time. Marketers are now exploring how brands can enable their customers to virtually try everything from makeup, sunglasses, and clothing before they buy.
With Facebook Connect just a few weeks away, many expect to hear announcements on how the social behemoth will be attempting to leverage AR across its platforms.
Don't be fooled by the goofy filters on social media.
AR is proving to be big business on social. Analysts suggest AR could generate $13 billion a year, and 12% of the revenue would come from mobile ads.
Will Augmented Reality finally become more than a fad?
AR will need to overcome the same hurdles as every next big thing in tech that came before it. The mainstream adoption of immersive technologies requires an intuitive user experience and a low price of entry. Developers also need to think bigger than video games to secure widespread adoption.
The usual suspects such as Apple, Facebook, Google are all heavily rumored to be working on AR headsets. But Amazon and Ikea are also providing an AR experience for users to view what products in their home will look like before they buy them using their smartphone. Elsewhere, Social media platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat are already betting big on AR too after years of slowly changing the world, one filter at a time.
Collectively, these examples could give AR a fighting chance of success by capturing the attention of mainstream audiences. But the biggest strength of this technology is that AR experiences can be delivered through a smartphone without the need for another expensive gadget.
By daring to look beyond expensive peripherals, gaming, and immersive experiences, the industry appears to have learned valuable lessons from our tech past.
As AR experiences enter the mainstream, we can expect further erosion of the lines between our real and virtual worlds. Over thirteen years have passed since the seminal moment where Steve Jobs famously said, 'Let there be an iPhone.' But the time has come for us to examine our relationship with our platforms and devices.
Only time will tell if AR succeeds and avoids becoming just another failed tech fad. But AR has more going for it than its predecessors and has a fighting chance of delivering that much needed new watershed moment that many crave.