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‘Extended reality’ is the next gold mine for companies, digital professionals

Spending time with the augmented and virtual reality gurus at this year’s Augmented World Expo in San Francisco proved two things: Technology is advancing so fast in this field that even the experts are struggling to keep up and; unless our local digital professionals start working with these technologies soon, we are going to be playing a very expensive digital catchup.

AR 2.0 is the next wave

Despite the fact that AR remains fairly untested by many local companies, there is no doubt that it is now going mainstream globally.

Gartner predicted that by 2020, more than 100-million consumers will shop in augmented reality. Using AR applications to layer digital information like text, images, video and audio, on top of the physical world will allow consumers to have truly immersive experiences. What’s more, it will allow us to bridge the physical and digital experience.

While it’s expected that in 2018 around 90% of AR experiences will occur via smartphones, the rise in the head mounted devices (HMDs) will pick up considerably as their prices drop.

Ori Inbar, AWE founder, believes this move towards eye wearables will essentially be giving us “superpowers”.

These views are born out by innovation giant, Apple. CEO, Tim Cook has, on a number of occasions, commented on the potential of AR and in March this year he told investors that this is where the company’s focus will be, saying we will have “…AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you.”

However, while in the shorter-term Cooke’s team will focus on bolstering AR capabilities for their existing hardware, announcing an ARKit for iOS 11, he has also made it clear that wearables is where the future lies.

Taking it a step further, speakers at AWE were advising companies to consider how to push the boundaries and explore ways to allow more than just sight to be augmented, focusing on all our senses to create a truly immersive experience.

Recommendation: Local CDOs should be looking at how their customers are interacting and engaging with their brands and products. They should establish where digital experiences could enhance their current offering.

They should also be ensuring that their content is produced in such a way that it can be used for both AR experience as well as mainstream platforms. This will ensure that later productions costs can be minimised. Content, more than anything else will drive adoption.

Realities blur as AI gets into the game

Augmented reality’s sexier cousin, virtual reality also had a good showing at the conference. The crowd heard from the team who conducted an experiment that saw two people spend 48 hours in virtual reality, including sleeping and waking up in the virtual world.

Taking VR experiences to the extreme, the project will no doubt give the world of psychiatry years of fodder to study.

The takeout from this though, is that while VR is undoubtedly still viewed as the ‘cool’ tech, we are beginning to see the merging of augmented, virtual and mixed realities with Artificial Intelligence to form what is being labeled Extended Reality (XR).

Humans and machines will learn from one another to fast track the way we engage with each other and experience the world. Extended reality provides a wide variety and vast number of levels from partially sensor inputs to full-blown immersive virtuality.

The consensus is that computing will become more personal as machines learn from us, picking up on nuanced behaviour like eye movement, gestures etc. Again, we expect this to have a significant impact on how companies can engage with their customer and CDOs will need to take careful note of opportunities.

While today’s generation are interactive, we can expect the next generation to be XR natives. For brands appealing to younger folk, preparation needs to start now if they hope to stay relevant over the next five years.

In fact, so immediate is the need to address new tech, speakers were predicting that brands which hadn’t applied themselves to XR by 2020 would have missed the curve and could find themselves playing digital catch-up.

No AR and VR conference would be complete without something for the gamers and one product which stood out was Edgybees AR racing game for drones. Drone Prix AR challenges DJI owners to steer their drones through a virtual obstacle course.

Using smart glasses, it allows pilots to play by themselves or interactively online. For the growing number of drone owners in South Africa, this will be most welcome.

Get busy or miss the boat

The overarching takeout from the San Francisco experience was that the world of AR, VR, and now XR, is no longer the stuff of science fiction. All the major tech companies are gearing for new realities. The challenge for local digital professionals will be how they prepare to engage with their customers in this new world.

Recommendations: we’re currently working with a number of corporates and even NGOs on how they can incorporate new technology into their customer journey. We hold with the idea that the best way to dip a toe into this space is to set up an innovation budget and find a suitable event to test the experience.

By ring fencing a single engagement, applying a dedicated budget and excellent measurement tools, any company can safely pilot an AR or XR experience. Given the increasing numbers of users and the constant lowering of tech prices, we hold with idea that CDOs have just 30 months to build a new technology strategy and begin testing it. The alternative could cost them dearly.

Author | Johan Walters

Johan Walters
Johan Walters heads up NMPi Labs (previously C2C Labs). He has over 17 years in the digital marketing space and is also part of the NMPi global consulting team. NMPi Labs is the innovation hub of NMPi digital marketing agency. Focusing on AR, VR and mixed realities, NMPi... More

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