What’s next for Augmented Reality?

Mar 21, 2019

As the wave of hype recedes around Augmented Reality, GDR Innovation Strategist Dave Dalrymple-Pryde considers what’s left and what’s next for the technology.

Nearly two years have passed since Apple released its ARkit framework for iOS devices. The world has grown familiar with (and in many cases, bored of) entry level experiences like Snapchat filters or Pokemon Go. Dev platforms like Unity and UE4 have made production fast, easy and affordable. Useful and captivating mobile AR experiences ought to abound.

But being frank, they don’t.  

There are some bright spots of course. IKEA’s Place app boldly and effectively brought furniture retail into the home, allowing users to browse IKEA products and overlay them, to scale, on the user’s room. KLM integrated an AR bag check tool into its app that lets passengers check the size of their carry-on luggage. A virtual suitcase, which is the maximum size for hand luggage, can be placed over the customers’ own suitcase to demonstrate whether it is within the size limit.


Ikea Place


But the broader picture is puzzlingly underwhelming. For every IKEA Place or KLM Bag Check, there are a dozen shoddy executions that require the user to download a special and storage hungry app and stumble blindly through a janky experience with limited payoff.


KLM Bag Check


The technology is there – but the craft remains underdeveloped. AR doesn’t have a technology problem, it has a creativity problem. What the best examples reflect is that AR is part of a journey, not a destination in and of itself; they place as much emphasis on the real world context to which the AR experience will respond as on the digital content.

This can be in the sense of obvious utility, as with IKEA, KLM or the new Augmented Reality directions within Google Maps. Users that select walking directions within Google Maps can now select ‘start AR’ and hold their phone at eye level to see directions superimposed on their real life surroundings in the forms of floating arrows and signage, with the current map still present at the bottom of the screen. Interestingly, once the user has located the right way to go, the app prompts them to put their phone down, disengaging the AR feature.


Google Maps AR


This highlights one of the paradoxes of AR best practices – engineers at Google say that, in testing, users would report tired arms and would lose situational awareness. It turns out holding a phone outstretched in front of you like that for very long is uncomfortable. So, in order to make the experience better they had to situate it inside a broader UX, ultimately dialling down the AR elements and retaining only those useful things which AR alone can do.

Good AR doesn’t just have to be functional – two recent examples of AR which make their context integral to the experience.


LEGO AR Streetwear pop-up


Lego’s one day AR streetwear pop-up demonstrated the value of a well considered creative concept. Apparel Licensee Kabouki launched a limited edition line of adult clothes on Snapchat, accessible for one day from inside of an empty physical store in London. When I walked in there was a single Snapcode on a white plinth in the middle of a whitewashed room. After opening Snapchat and scanning the code, I was suddenly within a colourful and richly detailed AR store, with a janitor and DJ and products I could browse and purchase within the experience itself. The experience was interactive and imaginative, using the technology to delight but also to create a geo-specific bottleneck at the site of the pop up via the Snapcode, appropriate to the streetwear drop motif. It’s this depth of thinking that elevated it above many other executions in a similar vein.


BK Burn That Ad


Another recent example of AR creative which leverages context in a powerful and effective way is Burger King’s recent ‘Burn That Ad’ campaign in Brazil. Users launch the Burger King app and point their phones at rival OOH ads, prompting them to burst into flames in Augmented Reality. When the flames die away, users will find a Burger King ad superimposed on top of the rival ad and receive a free whopper voucher for use at their nearest BK. The campaign does so much right with respect to situating the AR component within a compelling context. In the first instance, it is extremely on brand and aligns perfectly with the confrontational and irreverent creative strategy which BK has executed elsewhere, most effectively in its Whopper Detour campaign. Moreover, the campaign activates users when they are outside and around fast food advertising – when they are already in a location and mindset to be receptive to this sort of messaging – and pairs this OOH strategy with a mechanism to bring people into the BK app and to familiarise themselves with BK’s mobile ordering system. Seen this way, AR is just one part of a wider story which crosses back and forth between digital and physical touchpoints, mindful of the user’s current context at each and every stage.

With browser-based WebAR experiences in their infancy, there is a great deal of potential for mobile AR to blossom into a really important and compelling medium. Let’s hope it remains creatively driven and context aware.


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