Augmented reality (AR) uses smartphones or other camera-enabled devices to layer digital assets over our physical world — allowing users to digitally alter themselves or their surroundings.
Today, it’s primarily used in retail and design to help customers visualize how items may look on them, or in their homes — driving engagement and sales in the process. However, AR has also proven itself as a powerful remote assistance tool. It's increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of field service teams and now entering new spaces like healthcare and education with dedicated hardware like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2.
What is it?
AR uses camera-enabled devices like smartphones to capture the physical world, then layer digital assets and changes over it — allowing users to do anything from trying on new clothes digitally, to playing interactive games where aliens invade their home.
It blends the physical and digital world, which is a powerful prospect. While it’s primarily used to deliver engaging retail experiences today, it has potential implications for how we’ll engage with technology in the near future.
What’s in it for you?
AR creates opportunities for businesses to digitally visualize physical spaces and make changes to them. That’s highly relevant for organizations like furniture retailers, designers, or clothing retailers, but less relevant for many others.
However, leading innovators like Google and Microsoft are pushing AR into new spaces like education and healthcare. Dedicated hardware is used to help teachers deliver engaging remote learning experiences, or help physicians see vital patient data as they engage with them and perform procedures.
What are the trade-offs?
One of the big advantages of AR over virtual reality (VR), is that it’s primarily delivered through smartphone apps rather than specialized hardware. That opens it up to a huge potential audience.
However, it should be noted that it’s significantly less immersive and engaging than VR in most cases. Building AR experiences can be expensive, and if you want to use the most powerful AR technology, like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 for example, you’ll need to invest in new hardware anyway, which negates many of the advantages that AR offers over VR.
How is it being used?
Today, AR is most commonly used by retailers to enable customers to visualize what a product may look like in their home, or what they may look like wearing a new item of clothing. Brands like IKEA are using AR to bridge the gap between digital and physical retail, bringing some of the ‘touch and see for yourself’ elements of physical retail into digital channels — increasing customer engagement and sales.
AR is also finding a home as a powerful remote support tool. TeamViewer Assist AR is one example of how AR is being used to provide guided assistance to users. If a field engineer encounters a problem they can’t solve, a colleague can jump in remotely, see the engineer’s physical surroundings, and offer assistance through the AR app.