As smartphone ownership reaches record levels, it’s hardly surprising that apps of all stripes are experiencing a boom. One of the hottest varieties right now are augmented reality (AR) apps, which combine live, real-world environments with supplementary computer generated input.
AR is one of those futuristic technologies that you can’t quite believe is really upon us. It provides a Terminator-like view of the physical realm, with live events such as sports games augmented by statistics, graphics, sound or any other digital data.
Not only is AR a reality, it’s already big business – and growing fast. In 2013, revenue from mobile augmented reality was around $180 million. A recent Juniper report predicts AR apps and services to generate a staggering $1.2 billion by 2015. The contributions it can make to existing mobile marketing solutions are manifold, and major brands including Unilever, Nestle and Heinz have already cottoned on to the potential of AR as a driver of consumer engagement.
The mobile industry itself has helped power interest in AR apps, as more and and outreach strategies as a necessary part of their overall business. AR promises to be a huge part of the future of mobile marketing applications. Juniper’s report pointed to the impending launch of ‘smart wearables’ such as Google Glass – due for launch later this year – as potential platforms for apps that use AR technology.
In the here in and now, AR is being used to great effect by mobile marketing teams all over the world. In Canada, Volkswagen used AR-interfaced billboards enabling iPhone and iPad users to view virtual Beetles performing stunts above the streets of Vancouver and Toronto. The launch video generated over 100,000 views in the first few weeks and created a hell of a buzz of Volkswagen in the process. Starbucks pulled off a similar trick using cups, giving coffee lovers something to entertain them while drinking.
So far, campaigns like this have been perfunctory gimmicks – showcases for the possibilities of AR technology. But they are nevertheless very exciting, and point to a new kind of mobile marketing advertising. As the technology improves, more developers will jump on board, each with a fresh angle on the potential of AR. Juniper’s report predicts a 200 million-strong AR app market by 2018. If that figure is borne out, mobile marketers, game developers, and anyone involved in the creative arts will make AR apps part of the digital fabric of an increasingly plugged in society.