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.

From Feeds to Stories

In its essence, social media is merely a window into someone else’s life – their hobbies, adventures, beliefs, friends and family. Over the past decade, social media companies have worked to expand that window as much as possible, giving users a more holistic view. What we’ve landed on, thanks in part to Snapchat, is the story feature – a comprehensive view of an individuals or businesses life at all points in time.tumblr_inline_p8didlS0u71uk4gsu_540.jpg

Since 2016, the creation and consumption of stories is up 842 percent, according to consulting firm Block Party. This is due in part to a broader movement of turning the camera into a platform, a trend we’ve been following for quite a while now. The camera is an entry point into a users virtual world and advancements in technology have allowed us to empower consumers with tools to better capture, create and share that world.

Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are all heavily invested in Augmented Reality tools, allowing people to enhance their experiences, aid in commerce, entertain and inform. We’re also slowly seeing the integration of more and more real-time data into these experiences, enabling more live sharing and contextual content creation.

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Instagram recently announced third party integration support for stories, allowing users on Spotify and GoPro to quickly share a song or video footage. While currently constrained to those two partners, we’re sure to see more services jump on, which will eventually give users an even easier way to post what they’re currently doing to their stories. In time, trend setting Millenials may not even have to take a picture of their Insta worthy brunch – they’ll simply press a button on their table, and it’s uploaded for them.

Implications

All the major social media companies have ad products designed specifically for stories, and if that’s where the majority of eyeballs are at, it’s also where your product or service should be. However, integrating with stories is not simply about disrupting a consumers content reel, but rather providing them with a value that can help to enhance what they’re currently doing. Are you giving them tools to create? Offering compelling content to consume? Or are you simply asking them to swipe up to unlock a special offer?

The augmented reality tools available for marketers to create content for these platforms offer a new way to interact with consumers. We’re currently undergoing a shift in media consumption, it’s no longer about simply pushing content, but rather enabling creativity for the end user. Brands that are able to provide consumers with experiences that empower them to create and share will end up seeing longer engagement and more return visitors, than those who simply aim for passive viewing.

Additionally, and even more importantly, how are you telling your own story? Your brands Instagram and Snapchat feed may be the one place that you can confidently reach millions of consumers at all points in time with a consistent message. It’s incredibly important to ensure that message is relevant, timely, and paints a picture of how you want your brand perceived. It’s always best to answer these questions with the end consumer in mind, and how you’re providing value to them.

Snap’s New Offerings Lead to a Shared Augmented Reality

This was a big week for Snap, as three new product offerings hit the market.

• Shoppable AR – A new media product that allows for seamless transition from discovery to purchase.
• Snappable Games – A new way for users to interact on the app.
• Spectacles V2 – A new way for users to create and upload content to the app.

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But what does it all mean?

Snap wants to brand itself as a camera company, but that’s still not entirely true. Sure, Spectacles have cameras on them, and they sell them as hardware, but they’re still not a camera company. They’re a social media platform that heavily utilizes cameras.

Which is great, because the camera is rapidly becoming the next home screen. It’s the first thing you see when you open the app and it’s the window into the virtual world that Snap is iteratively building. Shoppable AR and Snappable Games bring a new form factor to this virtual world. It’s a step up to the augmented art installations that were made popular late last year.

Those virtual works of art brought people together in AR. Now, brands are able to bring consumers together through their products, and games will bring users together through competition and network effects. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that users will certainly get competitive with their high scores. (Eyebrow controlled Galaga anyone?)

Spectacles V2 are a slight upgrade to its predecessor, but nothing game changing. You can take pictures now and they feel a bit slimmer – cool. What’s really going on is that Snap is getting the general public comfortable with wearing a camera on their face. The biggest update to these glasses is actually something they took away, and that’s the yellow ring around the camera. While there’s still a white LED light that turns on when recording, it’s much less noticeable. It will be interesting to see if there’s any consumer push back around this slightly more clandestine approach to capturing images and photos.

Industry pundits have long argued that socially acceptable AR glasses are going to be a game changer in many areas, but those aren’t going to be here for another 5-10 years. Until then, Snap’s taking the long approach. They’re creating the building blocks for users to hangout in an augmented world.

While this may occur through our smartphones now, that same interaction will feel eerily personal in the next decade.

Implications

If Snap is laying the groundwork for a shared augmented world, then brands need to be able to sell in that world as well. Today’s Shoppable AR products are a perfect foray into this space, as you’re able to create compelling 3D animations of your product or event, and use that as a testing ground for how users interact with them.

When you look at it from a big picture standpoint, it’s all about reducing the friction from discovery to purchase and allowing consumers to get a feel for your product or brand before they have to open up their wallets. By doing so, you’ll make the latter part of that equation a lot less stressful for them.

Snapchat Launches Shoppable AR

Over the past year, Snapchat has made tremendous strides to open up its platform to third-party developers and creators. They’ve opened up Lens Studio, to drastically bring down the cost of creating AR filters and lenses and launched the Official Creator Program, to partner and support quality creators. These changes have also meant that the barrier to entry for brands has drastically decreased. What used to be a six figure investment, can now be done for much much less.

The next logical step was to reduce the friction between discovery and purchase, and that’s exactly what they came out with today. Their new feature is called Shoppable AR, and it’s only the start of what will become a massive trend. Brands can now add a button to a lens or filter, that takes them to a website where they can learn more or simply buy the product. All of this happens inside the app.

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A few major brands like Adidas, Candy Crush and Clairol will be the first to test out the feature, but expect more to follow suit. Augmented Reality allows users to get a better sense of what a product looks like in their surroundings and how they can interact with it – further closing the gap between the physical and digital world. By consolidating the discovery and purchase phase of a consumer decision journey, Snap hopes to be a one stop show for brands and consumers alike.

Implications

With Facebook taking hit after hit around privacy issues over the last few weeks, and the general public starting to become more knowledgeable around the issue, it’s a perfect time for an ephemeral messaging service like Snap to make a big push. While Snap certainly acts off of third party data to target users, there seems to be more trust with users on the platform.

It will be interesting to see how marketers leverage this new feature in their social strategies. Brands will likely leverage the platform for more new product launches, event promotions, and sales. AR is a great way to show product features and benefits, vs simply telling – doing so will increase consideration among consumes. The ability to then track those conversions and see an actual ROI is what makes this new feature so attractive for advertisers.

Just as we’ve seen in the past, look for Instagram to respond by one upping their in-app commerce capabilities in the coming weeks.

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.

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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