Several years ago, there was a lot of talk around augmented reality and what it would do for business. Yet, all that discussion never seemed to materialize into anything substantive. AR became yesterday’s buzzword and was apparently supplanted by beacons. While beacons are terribly useful, they aren’t nearly as slick in concept or offer the same potential benefits. If anything, they feel more like a middling step between the non-interactive consumer environments that were, and the augmented consumer environments that could be. So, was the idea always a dead end?
As it turns out, no. It was just a little premature. The necessary technology and infrastructure nominally existed, such as high-performance mobile devices, cloud computing and ordinary objects capable of networking, but they weren’t quite ready for mainstream deployment of AR. Consider new smash hit games like Pokemon GO which seemingly came out of nowhere to take the people (and many businesses who would in hind sight love to have been one of those “Pokestops”) by storm. Mobile tech has made serious progress in the last 5 years in terms of processing power, such as multicore chips, without sacrificing precious battery life. Cloud computing has finally hit its stride in terms of mainstream acceptance, for which we probably all need to thank Apple and Amazon. Finally, people are less disturbed by the idea that their shirt or a can of soup can connect to a network.
While there is, no doubt, peer-reviewed sociological explanations for that last, it’s really been the missing piece from a business case. As consumer reliance on mobile devices to answer their questions has increased, and consumer ideas about qualifies as a valid networked object have broadened, the potential of AR has become a hot topic again. The smart device-dependent shopper is going to be much more interested now in getting that additional information AR can provide. Will the webcam on this quadcopter I’m looking at livestream to YouTube? Is the HD on this older video camera progressive or interlaced?
Yet, while delivering more on-the-spot information to customers is outstanding customer service, it isn’t necessarily valuable to the business. Throwing information out into the universe via AR without some mechanism for understanding the results is a lot like running a blog without ever checking the number of visitors. As with any other touchpoint with customers, you need to be able to derive actionable information from that interaction. What content draws the most views? Does that content correspond to purchases in that location? You need a system in place to run analytics on how customers interact with content you deliver. Without that, AR becomes just another black box operation that you dump time and money into without a way to measure your ROI.