Augmented Reality: Are Advertisers Ready?

It’s funny, because when I think about augmented reality, for some reason the first thing that comes to my mind is The Matrix. It must be something about the alternate universe aspect of both the movie and the technology that makes me draw this comparison. In specific though, a certain quote from the movie comes to mind to really sum up how I feel about AR:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

I wonder: how far does the rabbit hole really go with augmented reality? What is this technology capable of, and how far is it going to push the boundaries of privacy? Up until recently, my answer would have been that the rabbit hole isn’t very deep, but now I’m beginning to change my tune.

The Technology

Augmented reality is essentially the ability to layer data or graphics over images of the real world in relation to the user’s position in it. For instance, one of the simplest forms (which doesn’t do the technology justice) of augmented reality is the yellow first down marker that stretches the football field on TV. This, and several other examples of augmented reality, have been around for quite some time now. The technology itself isn’t new, but exactly what it is capable of is still up for debate.

When augmented reality first became a plausible option for advertisers, it almost seemed as if the technology was taboo; however, with the recent smart phone boom, that sentiment has slowly taken a backseat.

Recent Examples

A couple of promising headsets are starting to emerge:

Microsoft HoloLens
The biggest player in the AR world is whom everyone might expect: Microsoft. After some recent product failures, the decision to move into Augmented Reality wasn’t necessarily an easy one for Microsoft, but in the end, it just made too much sense. With the success of the Xbox and numerous companies set to release Virtual Reality headsets, it was clear that at the very least, an AR headset had appeal to the gaming community. This is also clear because a huge focus with the HoloLens from the start has been Microsoft’s mega popular game Minecraft. At E3 in 2015, Microsoft’s Minecraft demonstration was met with a roaring applause and helped turn skeptics into believers. Gaming most certainly isn’t Microsoft’s only focus though, as it’s also prioritizing business, education, entertainment and communication.

Magic Leap
It’s not yet clear just how different Magic Leap’s headset will be compared to the Microsoft HoloLens because other than a few demo videos, no concrete details about the technology have been publicly released yet. One thing we do know, is that CEO Rony Abovitz doesn’t like to refer to the technology as Augmented Reality, and instead refers to it as “mixed-reality.” The other interesting thing is that even though Magic Leap is up against a behemoth in Microsoft, many people largely consider it to be the front-runner in the AR world. In fact, for such a secretive company, it’s pretty amazing what Magic Leap has already accomplished given the lack of product details and release timeline. To date, Magic Leap has secured over 1.4 billion dollars in venture capitalist funding. It’s not just about the immense total sum of investments either. It’s also important to look at who’s investing, and we’re talking about giant leading investments coming from established companies such as Google and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. While the Microsoft HoloLens should hit the market before Magic Leap, the latter technology will more than likely be much more polished, whenever it does hit the market. Rumor has it, that even at this point in development, Magic Leap’s AR imagery is unbelievably crisp compared to the competition.

The Future

The big question for us is: what does this technology mean for advertising? Well it could potentially mean a great deal. The ability for advertisers to provide a fully immersive, completely unique, hyper-targeted experience for the consumer pretty much sounds like the Holy Grail for advertisers. The amazing thing is that this technology could eventually provide that type of Holy Grail experience. Imagine shopping online and being able to try on those Prada shoes with a specific outfit before you purchase them; or virtually painting your living room wall a different color to make sure it goes with your newly purchased mustard yellow Herman Miller couch. These are things that might be possible sooner rather than later.

With that said, hyper targeted advertising like stores targeting you with sales as you walk by, will take much longer to accomplish. This is especially true considering the obstacles still standing in the way. First and foremost is the question of if this technology will ever become sleek and non intrusive enough for the average consumer to wear it around on a normal basis? It’s one thing to wear it in the comfort of your own home, but it’s a whole different story when it comes to wearing it out in public. The thing is–if this technology does manage to break down those barriers, the possibilities for advertisers could be endless. Even with the tremendous strides AR has made recently, it’s always important to keep in mind just how far away we actually are. My guess is that we’re at least 10-20 years away from it truly taking off, and at that point we have to make sure we don’t go too crazy:

HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

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