Two Realities Diverged in a Wood, and I Took the One with the 3D Floating Shark

virtual reality

Two Realities Diverged in a Wood, and I Took the One with the 3D Floating Shark

Standing in line at Ladurée, a French luxury bakery in New York City, I couldn’t help but notice the man in front of me. He was holding three smartphones, all plugged into external battery chargers, and flinging his finger up on each screen in an attempt to catch the Pokémon that were interwoven with the macarons and eclairs in the display case. While Pokémon Go, which we first wrote about in 2016, is still the most popular example of augmented reality, AR has come a long way in the past three years. Its usage in the US has grown nearly 100% to 68.7 million users and is expected to grow another 25% to 85 million users by 2021 per eMarketer.

The growth of augmented reality is no surprise. Not long after the explosion of Pokémon Go, Apple and Google developed their own AR software development kits (SDKs) known as ARKit and ARCore respectively. According to eMarketer, the development of these SDKs signaled the tech industry’s confidence and support of augmented reality experiences. Today, augmented reality is growing on the promise of being able to change yourself or the world around you. These two aspects of AR, known as Face AR and Space AR, have allowed consumers to explore and alter their surroundings in unique ways.  From watching a shark swimming in front of you to seeing how a piece of furniture looks in a room, or turning yourself into a baby with a Snapchat filter, augmented reality is becoming a mainstay in how we as consumers and people interact and experience the world around us.

So, we know that AR can be fun and helpful to consumers. Much like Snapchat’s baby filter, the most common application of AR is via lenses and filters within Stories on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. But what can we expect the impact of augmented reality to be on marketers? Some brands are beginning to innovate in the AR space. Hyundai recently partnered with Live Nation to create an augmented reality experience at the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta. Not only were music fans able to interact with a 3D model of a Hyundai car, but they could also point their phones at any flat surface and live stream certain music sets in 3D from the comfort of their own home. The initiative also included AR VIP Access to allow fans a behind-the-scenes experience of the concert.

As Live Nation continues to create new AR products and experiences, we will likely see a proliferation of very similar efforts surrounding other big events. Imagine the NFL selling AR tickets to the Super Bowl and giving users the ability to stream the game with exclusive 3D camera angles on their coffee table, or NBC providing users a way to point their phones up and down to get an up and close look at the size and scale of the new rock wall at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

On a smaller scale, brands can build AR experiences and promote them with paid digital advertising.  Panera Bread has already taken the phrase “playing with your food” to a new level by partnering with Bleacher Report to launch an AR breakfast wrap from a paid ad to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or via the phone’s native camera. Users can play around with the breakfast wrap in 3D and view nutritional information, then share on their social network of choice. It would not be surprising if other QSRs followed suit to get users to interact with their brand in a more meaningful way outside of the store. For example, imagine viewing a hot cup of coffee on your desk in the morning before you leave for work, or using AR to add ingredients to a sandwich or salad before ordering your lunch within the same app.

There are, of course, applications of AR outside QSR and live events.  One area where augmented reality is experiencing growth is within the healthcare industry. Apps such as Healium AR help veterans and others manage their anxiety by promoting self-awareness via beautiful design and immersive storytelling.  After syncing smartwatches to the app, users are prompted to lower their heart rate or take deeper breaths to hatch butterflies or illuminate the solar system in the palm of their hand. Augmented reality is also making its way to operating rooms. AR is being implemented via headsets, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, to give surgeons x-ray-like vision when performing procedures. MediaView XR, the company that developed AR technology for the operating room, says that their Surgical Navigation Platform is “like using a kind of GPS with augmented reality to navigate to a specific point in the human body.”  In theory, using AR technology in a clinical setting should lead to better outcomes for patients. However, there have not been many studies that back up that claim just yet. And what about applications for patients? In much the same way that I can view a watch on my wrist with AR prior to purchasing, what if a patient could view what a surgical scar might look like on their body so as not to be surprised after surgery?  What if a patient could see the inside their body and visualize their lungs with cystic fibrosis, and how a new pair of lungs would look after transplant?

Augmented reality has made amazing progress since the debut of Pokémon Go, and new and profound applications are being developed every day. We will likely continue seeing the advancement of AR in the healthcare industry and will also continue to see brands and advertisers diving into AR – whether it’s creating an owned branded experience or sponsoring a sporting, eSports, or other live event. Right now, brands and advertisers can take advantage of the most common Stories application on social media, and work with Harmelin Media to develop paid advertising campaigns to promote their AR experiences.

Augmented reality is just the beginning of a mixed reality and step towards a completely virtual world.  Many applications of AR are making their way to virtual reality as well. Consumers can watch an NBA game courtside in VR or watch a movie with friends in VR. The healthcare industry is using VR as a type of distraction therapy for pain management. While VR is off to a much slower start than AR in terms of user adoption, the largest social media platform is committed to making VR work for them. Facebook is prepping for early beta testing with their product Horizon. In this immersive multiplayer virtual world, users start in a centralized town square where they can meet new people and then explore new places or build their own VR experiences. If the slogan of Facebook’s VR headset company, Oculus, is any indication of where AR and VR can take us, brands should be prepared to follow as consumers continue to “defy reality.”