Not quite virtual reality, but not wholly real either, augmented reality allows the user to have one foot in the physical world and one in the digital.
By bridging the two worlds via a camera-like device (webcam, smartphone camera, or special glasses), augmented reality enables the digital world contained on the device to react to whatever is perceived in the physical world, enhancing both the digital and real experience.
It's one thing to explore a meticulously designed virtual environment, but with augmented reality you can explore a real-world environment with a digital device that is, essentially, a robotic third eye. It experiences the environment with you and gives you an additional perception of reality.
Examples of augmented reality1) Virtual mirrors
Virtual mirrors can provide a web experience that allows sites to capture the user's reflection just as a mirror would, but which is able to alter that reflection to accurately represent what the user would look like in different situations; for example, dressed in different clothes. This is demonstrated by Ray Ban's virtual mirror, which allows the user to try on sunglasses, and by IBM's virtual mirror, which shows users wearing various cosmetics products.
In essence, the technology allows people to try on accessories at home as if they were in the changing room of a store.
2) Information gathering
We're used to the sight of people holding up smartphones to take photos or record video footage, but augmented reality would enable them to do more than capture visual data. They'd be able to access actual data on whatever the smartphone camera perceives.
Wikitude is an app that accesses Wikipedia to provide information relevant to the user’s location, providing facts and labels for points of interest.
Shazam is an app that can 'hear' and identify the music playing in the background at restaurants, shopping centers, and wherever else the user may be.
Star Chart is an app that looks at the night sky and calculates the location of every star, planet, and moon visible from Earth.
3) Projecting digital onto the physical
The user holds something in front of the camera, prompting the projection of a 3D model or animation onto the object's onscreen reflection. Doritos’ “Late Night” marketing campaign used this technology, enabling the user to have a famous rock band perform in the palm of their hand by holding a Doritos pack in front of their webcam. All they had to do was visit doritoslatenight.com. TOPPS 2009 baseball cards did something similar with 3D animations of famous baseball players.
4) Wearable augmented reality devices
Google's Project Glass provides glasses that can fulfill the same functions as smartphones with AR capabilities. This enables users to fulfill their fantasies of being Robocop as they scan and gather information on the environment.
GPS is a form of augmented reality, and further developments in AR technology will increase the amount of data it can provide on the physical environment.
Augmented reality in marketingThe potential applications of augmented reality in business and everyday life are numerous, but the technology should be of particular interest to marketing organizations, which are always seeking new ways to engage their audience and enhance the consumer experience.
This is especially important since the AR market in the US is expected to hit $350 million in 2014, an increase from $6 million from 2008, and a reflection of the rising prevalence of digital technologies. Research indicates that augmented reality can bring 55,000 unique users per month to a site, and keep them on the site for an average 7.75 minutes.
Though currently held back by the level of hardware technology, such as webcams that are as yet unable to display crystal clear images, in time augmented reality may become as commonplace as mobile devices, and as integral to marketing campaigns.
Author Bio: Matthew Flax is a freelance writer based in Cape Town with an eclectic range of range clients, which includes a digital marketing company that values his insights.