We take a closer look at how small developments can have a big immersive impact.

Augmented Reality has kind of flown under the radar for a while now. Consistently laden with caveats and awkward executions, it still seems to lag behind other tech developments in the public eye. Over the past year it has been bullied out of commercial relevance by the continuing expansion of AI and voice technology, despite suggested spending nearly doubling from the previous year (from $9bn to $17bn).

While there’s no doubt that AI and voice will be hugely important, both commercially and socially, the potential for AR is massive. The opportunity to overlay data and information against a real world backdrop is in its nascent developmental stage; we can see it currently applied (with varying levels of success) in product sampling, training, and education. This will, however, inevitably blossom into a wide variety of marketable uses over time.

In the current market, product sampling seems to be the first practical use for AR, but it has yet to truly breach the mainstream in this sector. The glasses and visors currently on the market are nowhere near the standard required to justify purchase – either for individuals or retailers – although we do already own flexible AR devices: our smartphones and their apps.

Ikea’s “Place” app is probably one of the highest profile examples of this, placing Ikea furniture within whichever space the user requires, therein helping the consumer to decide if the product is a good fit for their room, while also allowing them to inspect the item’s materials. As functional as the app is, however, the AR representation of the selected product still looks unavoidably false and not something that could replace or come close to seeing the merchandise in person.

That could change with the technology displayed in 3D agency Mimic’s incredibly authentic December AR teaser. A Nike shoe seemingly placed on a wooden desk is, upon further examination, revealed as a 3D model running within an AR app. Modelled and constructed to react to the environmental lighting around it, the piece casts accurate shadows and allows light to refract around transparent space. This seemingly simple tiny step, could offer a huge advance forward in product credibility and user immersion, which if adopted as an industry standard, could finally warrant the widespread commercial rollout it seems perpetually on the edge of achieving.

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By Stuart Keates

Senior Creative Artworker