Thursday, July 21, 2011

Really?

Much like a heads-up display in a fighter jet, a phenomenon called ‘Augmented Reality’ promises to enrich our experience of the world by overlaying additional content on our surroundings. WSJ recently reported on some fascinating Augmented Reality applications, including:

• A trial window display by Tissot that let people try on watches ‘virtually’ (reality here is your wrist, the overlay is the watch – the opportunity to try the product like this led to an 83% increase in sales at the store)

• A mobile phone app by the Museum of London that can show you what the street you’re standing on looked like hundreds of years ago, collapsing past and present

• Another mobile app called Stargazer that adds information about stars, planets and constellations to your view of the night sky

• A real estate app – again mobile phone powered – that shows you what’s for sale or for rent as you pass through a neighborhood

As the last three examples suggest, smart phones are currently the device of choice for delivering Augmented Reality experiences, and as handsets and networks power up there’s no limit to how we might choose to expand our realities.

The implications for richer shopping experiences are exciting – both in and outside the store, as the Tissot trial showed. Already you can scan product codes in store to find out much more about what you see on the shelf. As power continues to shift to the consumer we should expect more of this information, more of the ‘overlays’ to originate from, and be mediated by, other shoppers rather than brand ‘owners’. And to the extent that the information we’re provided with is something shared by another consumer, reflecting their thoughts and feelings, this won’t be an augmentation of reality. It will be its arrival.