Marketers have played with augmented reality (AR) for years, using it for fun and facile gimmicks that can be shared on social media to entertain their audiences.
But the technology that was once seen as a novelty is now rapidly entering the mainstream and is forecast to grow from over $13 billion this year to more than $67 billion by 2024.
Gen Z is already using AR on a regular basis through filters and lenses on popular platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Tik Tok, while Google is integrating AR into mobile search, starting with its popular 3D animals feature.
As AR comes of age it presents a wealth of opportunities for marketers that go far beyond face filters on social media.
AR technologies, such as LiDAR and Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM), open up possibilities for product visualization where consumers can try before they buy, actively exploring the features and functionality of potential purchases and seeing how they fit into their immediate surroundings.
It allows marketers to showcase product information in an appealing way, perhaps illustrating how and where an item is made or highlighting its sustainability credentials. It enables them to hold virtual live events to create a buzz around new products or services, where vast audiences can interact with the brand and be part of a visceral, emotional experience.
Finally, AR can be fully integrated into advertising campaigns to connect deeply with consumers and boost conversions by up to 40%.
AR is becoming part of the ‘new normal’ and will support marketers in their 2021 strategies, so what are the key developments making now the right time for AR in marketing? Here are just a handful of the events helping this disruptive technology take center stage.
Advances in bandwidth and telecoms infrastructure can have a major impact on the adoption and evolution of new technologies, as illustrated by the rise of streaming platforms and video chat services alongside supporting developments in broadband, 3G and 4G.
The ongoing and widespread rollout of 5G networks will open the floodgates for mass adoption of AR and finally allow the technology to reach its full potential. According to research, 5G will unlock AR applications that will create more than $140bn in cumulative revenues between 2021 and 2028
With 100 times the bandwidth of 4G, 5G will enable ultra-low latency and the ultimate connectivity of devices. In turn this will empower developers and content providers to create an immersive, experiential 3D computing environment where users can interact with the people, objects and information around them.
5G won’t just enable faster Facebook browsing, it will totally transform the way consumers engage with their surroundings.
In addition to 5G connectivity, a number of technological developments are coming together to propel AR into the mainstream. Over the last two years Google and Apple have invested heavily to build AR hardware and software into their mobile tech stacks.
The launch of ARCore and ARKit mean over four billion smartphones across the globe are already AR compatible, which opens up incredible opportunities for marketers, especially when combined with the exceptional cameras and batteries of the latest devices.
In fact, by 2022 mobile applications with embedded AR are predicted to grow to 4,670,800 million worldwide and standalone AR application downloads are predicted to grow to 1,389,000 million.
Moving on from AR-enabled smartphones, some sort of wearable device is expected to open up the next generation of intuitive and immersive computing. Spectacles are the most likely contender, with Google, Facebook, Snap and many independents all planning to launch AR glasses in the near future.
Over the next decade these devices could become as ubiquitous as the smartphone, with smart AR glasses shipments forecast to amount to approximately 22,800,000 million units by 2022, compared to 150,000 in 2016.
Wearables will take the ease of use of smartphones to the next level, with intuitive 3D interfaces and controls driven by gestures and eye movement. They will allow consumers to access real-time, relevant content across any vertical and deliver endless marketing use cases.
To drive mass adoption there needs to be consideration around how these devices control, process and deliver information without overwhelming consumers. Glasses and other AR wearables will also require an extensible content creation platform that unifies all the separately evolving standards and allows marketers to publish campaigns anywhere, and to any device.
In addition to technical developments, adoption of new technologies is often accelerated by contextual circumstances, and the COVID-19 situation is certainly driving the growth of AR due to changing consumer needs and behaviors.
With consumers having had to avoid crowded places such as town centers, shopping malls and physical events, there is increased receptiveness to, and demand for, virtual, contactless experiences. From product launches to test drives, AR can help marketers build these virtual experiences and engage audiences in a new and innovative way.
AR is entering a new phase of its journey. A combination of cutting-edge technological advances and contextual circumstances means it is moving on from being a novelty technology to become the next generation computing platform.
AR will transform the way consumers interact with their surroundings, and the time is right for marketers to integrate the immersive and engaging experiences it enables into their 2021 strategies.
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