The Evolution of The Camera

Computing is quickly moving from the small screen in our hands, to the world around us. The camera, and advanced AI algorithms behind it, are driving this shift.

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‘The Evolution of The Camera’ dives into the trends and use cases that we see today revolving around three key areas.

Communicate: How the camera has changed the paradigm of communication and virtual presence.

Enhance: How computer vision and AI can play a role in digital engagement and what that means for consumers.

Augment: How AR is enabling new experiences and utility through the camera.

 

AR Steals the Show at WWDC

Virtual tape measures, Memoji’s, Tongue Detection, and more were all part of Apple’s AR updates announced at this years WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference). As part of ARKit 2, developers will be able to upgrade their experiences to include improved face tracking, realistic rendering, 3D object detection, persistent experiences and shared experiences.

The first few of those updates allow for greater looking experiences, whereas the latter completely shift the paradigm of what is possible in an AR environment. Multiplayer experiences will be big for gaming, allowing multiple users to interact with each other in their own synthetic layer of reality. Apple will surely aim to bring this functionality to other aspects of their software – one can only imagine shared data visualization, product demonstrations, educational experiences, and much more.

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Persistent experiences will turn AR applications into something that was once a one off use case, into an environment that offers an incentive to return. An easy way to visualize this is that if you were to hang up a virtual painting one day, you can return the next and that painting will still be there. Unless of course, your son or daughter went into that same virtual environment and decided to draw all over it.

Memojis are Apple’s way of personalizing yourself, just as Samsung, and many multiplayer games have done before them. However, in this case, Apple is allowing you to bring your Memoji into the camera – overlaying your virtual avatar onto your physical body. It’s somewhat of a snapchat like effect, which should lead to more native sharing within the messages app.

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With all these AR updates, Apple needed to make it easier for creatives to develop content for them. They did this through a new file format for AR entitled USDZ. In partnership with Pixar, this new file format will make it easier to create and share AR concepts. What’s better, Adobe will be integrating USDZ support into its suite of creative cloud applications. Developers will be able to natively edit AR designs and objects within software that they already know and love.

To cap it off, Apple made a few nods to web based AR integrations, which will entirely change the landscape of the consumption of AR content. Within Safari, virtual products will soon be instantly viewable in a users physical environment, and will eventually evolve into full on AR experiences, completely negating the need for one off apps and reducing the friction involved in accessing them. AR has long been hyped as the next great computing platform, and while we’re still not there yet, Apple has certainly provided us with some exciting updates as we work towards that day.

Implications

For brands and marketers, AR can seem like a shiny object that may look cool, but not necessarily bring value. As more and more users are given native ability to access an augmented world, and developers are given more tools to create objects that inhabit that world, that will no longer be the case.

It will soon be table stakes for ecommerce sites to offer AR viewability of their products and experiences will be inherently personalized as live data is brought into the experience. AR is an extremely exciting category, and will soon be an integral part of digital experiences, as computing moves from the mobile phone into spatial existence.

Apple’s Business Chat is Another Blow to Facebook

Late last week, Apple revealed that they were beginning to test its’ Business Chat feature for a few companies across the U.S. Apple’s Business Chat works similar to Facebook Messenger in that it allows consumers to chat with businesses in a familiar messaging format. At a time where a select few features are keeping users on the Facebook platform, Apple’s release is surely not a welcome one for the social networking giant.

 

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To begin, Business Chat will feature only a select few companies – including Apple, Discover, Hilton, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, 1-800-Flowers and a few others. A number of industries are represented on this list, which should serve as good case studies for designing future interactions. These blueprints will be needed because as far as user experience goes, Business Chat differs a bit from some of the messaging offerings that came before it.

No where in Apple’s verbiage do they describe these services as a chatbot, a major difference to platforms like Facebook, Slack, SMS, Kik, etc. Instead, Apple wants you to believe there’s a real person behind the conversation at all times.

For this reason, not everyone can go into a basic chatbot builder and deploy their experience to Business Chat. In order to use it, businesses must integrate one of several approved customer service platforms. This is a smart move on Apple’s part. Consumers are going to want quick and easy customer service and straightforward ecommerce abilities – allowing consumers to quickly checkout with Apple Pay. Apple aims to cut out all the clutter of previous chat experiences by going with this route. They also understand that these conversations are going to live right next to your ongoing conversations, with, you guessed it, real people. So keep it familiar.

In order to get into one of these Business Chat experiences, consumers can access them through a companies organic digital presence, from Apple Maps listings, spotlight search, and through siri search results. The conversation however, must take place through Messages.

Implications

Business Chat is going to be a seamless way to reach and interact with consumers at scale. Apple is allowing businesses to reach their consumers at a place that they visit 10s if not hundreds of times a day, their Messages app. If your business currently uses one of the approved customer service platforms (including LivePerson, SalesForce, Nuance, Genesys, ZenDesk, and inTheChat) it’s well worth it to sign up for the beta program and begin the process of getting your Business Chat identity.

Additionally, it would make sense that Apple could use Business Chat as it’s avenue towards bringing third party services into its Siri platform. While Siri can only discover these businesses now, it would make sense that she’ll soon be able to be used as an interaction point as well. Amazon and Google opened up their platform to third party services and have been acquiring users left and right. Meanwhile, Siri has suffered and Apple has continued with its closed doors policy. Business Chat could be the avenue in, and if and when they do allow for those types of interactions, it will be incredibly important for advertisers to have their infrastructure in place.

 

Google’s Acquisition of Lytro goes Beyond VR

The promise of immersive digital experiences has always been the ability to transport an individual to a new place, a new experience, a new reality. However, due to hardware and software constraints, that promise has thus far fallen short of expectation. Google understands that in order to reach those goals, there needs to be a way to effectively capture the physical world with immense detail – and also have the ability to share those images in an immersive environment.

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Enter light field imaging. A conventional camera can capture the intensity of light coming from a scene, resulting in 2D images, with realistic shadows. A light-field camera is capable of capturing not only the intensity of light, but also the direction that those light rays are traveling in space. Done correctly, these images allow for hyper-realistic showcases of the real world. Knowing this, it makes sense that Google would then acquire light-field camera company Lytro, and it’s various patents/proprietary information. An early example of how these cameras will be used can be found in Googles new VR app, Welcome to Light Fields.

However, realistic image capturing goes well beyond virtual reality for the tech-behemoth. While the industry continues to mature, and the price & accessibility of the hardware continues to drop, look for Google to deploy this technology in a few different ways. Automotive mapping will allow for more precise self driving software and new mobile cameras will make way for contextually relevant experiences, as they allow for high quality data collection of the real world. The more real-time, high fidelity information that Google is able to ingest around a place or scene, the better they’ll be able to enhance consumers understanding of the world around them.

Implications

For marketers, there are deeper implications to this trend than simply being able to create compelling immersive experiences for their consumers. Sure, that’s important, and will increasingly bring new and fun ways to interact with a target market, but there’s an underlying trend here as well. As these light-field cameras make their way onto individual devices, consumers will be empowered to understand the world around them in ways not possible today.

Google Lens will deliver unprecedented contextually relevant information about people, places, and things. The friction between discovery and purchase will further decrease, and the search paradigm will continually shift from text based to visual. Computer vision and AI algorithms will learn more and more about the world around us, allowing for more seamless interactions with augmented reality and our pervasive digital assistants.

Technology is on course to eventually blend into the background, becoming more and more predictive rather than reactive – only showing itself when needed. The building blocks to that reality is the ability to fully understand the physical world. Simply put, that future starts with better cameras.

UX Design in 2018

Moving into 2018, we’ve pulled together a few UX design concepts to keep an eye on. While this isn’t a full list, it’s a good reminder of what users are coming to expect out of good design.

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Content is King
– Your content must be easy to digest and appealing to view. It must correlate to your brands values and be free of as many distractions as possible.
– Minimalism is a trend that will continue on into 2018 – try to use negative space and a simple navigation to direct consumers to a point of purchase or discovery.

Personalization 
– Machine learning and artificial intelligent algorithms are increasingly allowing us to personalize every aspect of a user’s consumer decision journey.
– Use these technologies to better understand your customers needs, and provide them with personalized solutions. Past commerce/entertainment decisions, digital traits, location and usability are all areas that can be personalized to enhance a consumers UX.
– A great place to start is to employ geotargeting, offering users content that is personalized to their location.

Be creepy, but not too creepy
– There’s a fine line between offering display/social ads to the right audience, and simply retargeting them to no avail. If you employ a digital ad strategy, it has to fit into an individual’s personal journey.
– A great example of this is to connect offline purchases to online digital profiles, therefore ensuring that the person you are messaging is in your target market.

Augmented Reality
– It may seem niche, but it’s going to become a must in any ecommerce strategy.
– “Try before you buy” – Tech savvy users are going to increasingly come to expect that restaurants offer AR services to view their meals before-hand. Using an AR app to shop for clothes will soon makes its way into the new ‘normal’.

Voice & Connected Devices 
– Your UX ecommerce strategy needs to extend beyond the screen, be it mobile or desktop. By 2020, Gartner estimates that 30-50% of all search will be conducted by voice.
– The next wave of SEO tactics will come through voice services from partners such as Amazon and Google. Allowing your consumers to easily find you through these touch points may be the most important trend entering 2018.

Conclusion

To tie it all together, we’ll take it back to a 30,000 ft view. You can’t simply design one aspect of your experience, without thinking of another. Desktop, mobile, app, tablet, voice, content, and experiential tactics all must work hand in hand. Your users should feel comfortable moving from one device to another, without losing any aspect of their experience.

Alexa, How are you going to Monetize?

Here at Epsilon Agency, we constantly try to educate our clients that we are moving towards a day in which advertising to connected and intelligent systems, will be just as important as advertising to individuals. Eventually that will mean that our AI assistants will be able to predict our needs and offer products or solutions that satisfy them. The building blocks of that future are being laid out in the voice assistant space, with Amazon at the helm.

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It was revealed this week that Amazon is in talks with the likes of Proctor & Gamble, Clorox, and other large brands to develop advertising plans to be delivered through Amazon’s line of Echo devices. Forward thinking brands have already set themselves up well for this future, by creating skills that offer utility to users through a voice interface. Others who haven’t yet taken that step, are rightly concerned about the role that search will play in voice commerce.

While voice based commerce is still in its nascent days, we know that consumers are much less likely to skip the first recommendation they’re given compared to if they were browsing on a computer. It’s much easier to scroll past those paid ads and suggestions on a graphical interface. If you currently ask Alexa to buy toothpaste, one of her responses is “Okay, I can look for a brand, like Colgate. What would you like?” To the vast majority of consumers, toothpaste is toothpaste, so Amazon just made the decision of which one you’re going to buy.

Implications

What will Amazon’s ad product look like in the coming years? Well, the tech behemoth is sure to integrate its massive trove of consumer data into the equation. Brands will be able to target users with some of the same capabilities that they do through online ad serving today, however done through a more expressive platform. Developers of popular skills will reap the gains by selling ad space during their experience. Today, these developers and brands are allowed to offer native ads through music, radio, podcasts or flash briefings as well as sponsorship opportunities in commerce based skills.

After that phase, we’re likely to see a paid search product from Amazon, just as Google and other major search engines have today. When this occurs, it will be at a point in time where voice commerce has become normalized. At this junction in time, being front and center when it comes to voice search, could be the difference between a successful brand and a dud.

 

2018 Trend Predictions

My team and I compiled 18 Trends for 2018 and Beyond. We’ve allowed you to check them out in a few ways.

The first being an interactive non-linear video which can be found here or by clicking on the below image.

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Additionally, we’ve expanded on each of those sections in a more comprehensive presentation format which can be downloaded here.

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