Exploring the many applications of AR technology

While 2020 was a year to forget for many reasons, it was an exciting one for the augmented reality (AR) sector. With in-person interactions and events severely limited by the pandemic, there was high demand for the technology to facilitate virtual, contactless experiences.

Brands made particularly effective use of AR for marketing purposes, and Blippar made history by enabling the world’s first product launch entirely in AR with the OnePlus Nord smartphone. But while marketing and advertising are certainly strong applications for AR, there are plenty of other use cases emerging, and a variety of sectors that are making pioneering use of the tech. Here I deep-dive into the developments over the past twelve months and what we can expect for the year ahead. 

Pandemic fallout is driving AR adoption

With concerts and events at large venues out of the question, the entertainment industry has used technology to push the boundaries of creativity and – in many cases – reach larger audiences with more imaginative experiences than they would otherwise achieve. This trend is particularly evident in the music industry, with artists such as John Legend using interactive, virtual performances not only to entertain fans but also to raise awareness and support for causes close to their hearts. Jean-Michel Jarre finished off 2020 in style with a live concert set in the virtual environment of Notre-Dame, attracting 75 million viewers from around the world.  

AR is also being used to enhance ecommerce, especially with many retail stores closed and home-bound consumers indulging in online shopping. And the majority of consumers report it makes the experience more exciting. AR can be used to drive success at all levels of the funnel, from increasing brand awareness through virtual catwalks, to encouraging sales through product visualisation. Technologies such as LiDAR, which adds a greater sense of depth to AR-driven 3D interfaces, and Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM), which anchors digital objects in the physical world, both help shoppers try out products virtually and replicate the physical shopping experience.

Finally, with the pandemic resulting in a sudden shift to remote working and home schooling, learning and development activities moved rapidly online. This led to accelerated uptake of AR to improve the online learning experience. For instance, Academics from Royal Holloway, University of London, developed AR StoryDecks to help educators make online teaching more interactive. AR breathes new life into education and uses tactics such as gamification to encourage learning through play. It helps students visualise complex topics and grasp them more quickly. Teachers can use AR to create interactive learning materials, quizzes and step-by-step tutorials. Even when the reopening of schools and offices allows in-person learning to recommence, investment in AR will continue, with the global edtech market expected to grow over 16% each year until 2025. At Blippar we’re so keen for educators to make use of AR, we’re offering three months’ free access to our simple and powerful creation tool.    

Where AR is breaking new ground

Despite increased adoption, and the innovative use cases already mentioned, AR is still at the very start of its journey. Over the coming months and years the use of AR will grow in all these sectors – and many more – as its true potential is uncovered. Global spending on virtual, augmented and mixed reality will accelerate out of the pandemic and is forecast to reach almost $73 billion in 2024, up from just $12 billion last year.   

An area where AR will play a crucial role is in sustainable living. Today’s consumers want to know where products come from, what they are made of and what the supply chain looks like. AR can be used to bring this information to life in an engaging way and reassure consumers their purchase is ethical. Mars already uses AR with its Uncle Ben’s rice products – tracing the entire journey from farm to fork – and other brands are sure to follow, perhaps enabling consumers to virtually tour the factories or farms where their products originate. AR could also be used to show consumers how to recycle products or packaging when they are no longer needed. 

In professional sports, adoption of AR is progressing steadily. It already plays an important role in coaching, with Chelsea Football Club players using AR mobile app Perfect Play to get precise feedback on their performance and work through bespoke challenges. It is also used for audience engagement, with graphics, stats and player profiles overlaid for viewers. One of the best-known uses of AR in this industry is the Hawk-Eye system that officiates at Wimbledon. But the use of AR in sport is likely to increase this year as the pandemic is used as an opportunity to reshape the fan experience through immersive technology. With stadiums naturally limited in physical capacity, and modern sports fans often following teams and events in other countries, the industry is looking to bring the feeling of attending a live event to a global audience.

A sector that isn’t yet taking full advantage of AR’s potential is the publishing industry. The technology will give a new digital lease of life to printed books and magazines – with multimedia overlays, video, audio or animation – and can provide a bridge from print to online content. Imagine an interactive front cover for a teen magazine where readers can learn dance moves with Beyoncé, or a feature in a film magazine where readers can go on location with 007. Publishers can use gamification to tell engaging stories that literally jump off the page and encourage user interaction. As well as enhancing the user experience, AR elements will enable publishers to effectively track audience engagement, understanding where their readers are located, what devices they are using and how they interact with publications.

With ongoing technological developments such as 5G connectivity and AR-enabled devices, AR was already at a tipping point and set to enter the mainstream. Against the context of the pandemic, which is changing consumer behaviour and speeding up digital transformation, AR is seeing rapid growth across multiple sectors, which will only accelerate as 2021 progresses. 

Check out for yourself how technology blends with creativity to deliver AR experiences that are both valuable and entertaining:

Written by Faisal Galaria, CEO, Blippar.