Augmented Reality and the Risk of the Early Cycle

As iOS 11 rolls out, and a flood of augmented reality apps hit the market, the category faces a risk of a letdown. Apple is already featuring AR apps in a dedicated section of the iOS App Store and in the process hoping to educate consumers of the benefits. As we have observed before when Apple releases a new technology that developers can take advantage of and in return, Apple may feature their app; these developers flood the market with ideas. Some of these ideas are good, and some are not so good. It is this flood of applications that, while necessary, could lead to some technological letdown.

If AR gets hyped too much, consumer expectations could get raised too high, then upon trying some of these apps, they may find themselves disappointed. This is my main concern as we see this early cycle of AR start to take off. From what we know and observe today, I have two keys I think are necessary to drive AR to the mainstream in a meaningful way.

Big Brands Drive AR

The first key is to look for big brands to drive AR experiences to the mainstream. Consumers are going to be less likely to try random AR apps and instead will likely have their first AR experiences from apps by brands they know, trust, and are familiar with. Disney is a brand that comes to mind given all the brands and sub-brands they own. You can imagine using an app while at Disneyland Parks which have an AR experience to find and discover hidden characters, games, and other easter eggs while at the park.

Even something as simple as this example.

These are Disney Magic shots, and at the moment these images are added post process of the photo being taken by a professional photographer in the park. However, you can imagine how technology can make this a do-it-yourself experience. You can imagine this evolving to moving from still images to animations as the characters move around and interact with the person in the photo.

Another interesting one showcasing itself in the app store around AR experiences is a notable and favorite children’s book called My Hungry Caterpillar. This App/Game lets you take your hungry caterpillar into the world and play with it, feed it, and watch it grow anywhere you choose.

This simple example showcases how kids can learn, read, and engage with brands/content in new ways with augmented reality.

Smart AR Integration Not Gimmicks

There are many ways to be creative and add technology like AR to add to the experience of a brand, but the challenge for developers in the creative process will be to genuinely think through how to make AR experience a delightful and useful addition, not a gimmick. My fear is too many developers start trying to put AR everywhere in their app experiences which will lead to either AR overload or just a poor experience which could sour consumers on the AR promise.

Even looking at some of the early examples from IKEA seem a little gimmicky. It’s nice to be able to see how a chair or furniture would look, but the execution of the experience still feels like it needs work.

Games are likely to be extremely popular with AR experiences, but again just playing a game in AR on my table vs. in the games digital world is not helpful unless there is some benefit to the gameplay to be able to walk around and see the game from different angles. In many games developers showed me before launching I had to ask the question, why is this better than me just zooming in and moving around the world digitally with my fingers instead of having to get up and walk around and lay on the floor, etc. I don’t doubt there will be some compelling experiences and reasons, but as I said, AR for the sake of AR could lead to a consumer letdown.

These are the early growth stages, and sometimes they are awkward like kids Jr. high years. I’m confident AR will play an important role in how we experience the world, but we have to go through these growing pains first.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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