A Real-World Vision of Augmented Reality

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augmented_smallADOTAS – Augmented reality (AR) has been in the consumer mainstream for less than a year now. While the technology has been around for considerably longer, enabling web-based AR quickly opened up an enormous array of digital marketing applications.

Digital marketing is the very visible tip of the iceberg, but below the water line, there’s a vast array of applications — many of them transformative — that are poised for development, even as marketing applications mature.

Let’s be clear: AR is a trend, not a gimmick. As some very forward-looking brands have demonstrated, it’s nothing less than a new human interface, a new paradigm that encompasses anything digital or virtual that “crosses over” into your real environment. As such, this begins to define a new type of interactive, sensory engagement.

Analyst Christine Perey, principal of Perey Research & Consulting, recently described the trend in this way: “Yet another wave of technology is building momentum… This time it isn’t just technology looking for a problem to solve. Augmented reality is a way of mixing digital information and the real world in a highly interactive manner and, though in its infancy, it is already proving to be useful.”

To date, marketers have been in the driver’s seat, whether selling cars, shoes, fast food or blockbuster films. In every case, the goal has been engagement, both to move product and to learn more about consumer behavior through these interactions.

Going beyond marketing applications, AR has now become part of the final product offering, introducing new paradigms for categories such as toys and gaming, social expressions, collectibles and more.

Noting that rapid evolution, CNET’s Daniel Terdiman said this: “I have seen the future of toys, and it is augmented reality.”

Stepping back, it’s evident that we all need to catch up to the technology — it’s evolving so quickly that it’s been difficult to process and even more challenging to assimilate.

We’re entering a new world, where a variation of Moore’s Law applies: capabilities and application knowledge are growing almost exponentially. The skillset is expanding accordingly, and AR will be even more pervasive a year from now.

At this stage of AR’s evolution, the killer app has yet to surface. But rest assured — it’s coming soon to a mobile phone, billboard, Mac or PC or custom interactive kiosk near you. And with augmented reality proliferating on multiple screens and in various guises within such a brief period, the challenge in 2010 will be to decipher what truly is AR from what’s being billed as AR, and to understand how these very different versions – and visions – compare.

“Beware of open-source solutions,” cautions Tina Whitfield, CEO of EquisGlobal and a guest blogger for Econsultancy. “Consumers and the brand advertisers behind the AR apps need to ensure that their AR apps are fully supported by the developer.”

Indeed. It’s not an academic question for those in advertising and marketing: real AR can mean the difference between a campaign that engages — and works — and one that falls flat. A well-designed AR initiative has the potential to provide a memorable, magical experience, creating brand affinity in a much more compelling way than other digital tools at comparable cost.

Early adoption among advertisers and marketers needs to translate into rising (and satisfied) expectations among consumers. And that cannot happen unless everyone who touches the technology fully appreciates what they have — or seem to have — in the palm of their hands.

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