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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that allows us to overlay information and virtual objects onto real world positions in real time. In essence it takes the existing environment and then adds information to create a new artificial environment. The concept of AR has been around for decades ever since Boeing researcher Tom Caudell coined the phrase in 1990. However, it is only in recent years that an innovative trend has been seen around the technology as it's beginning to breach multiple sectors from retail to entertainment. AR made its first notable debut in 2013 when Google released the Google Glass, a piece of wearable technology that provided a new way to experience AR but didn't really take off due to a number of factors such as price, design and timing. Today in 2018 most of us are using AR tech potentially unknowingly on applications like Snapchat and Instagram which allow us to add filters onto photos and videos, also the Pokémon Go app played by hundreds of millions of users is an AR application. These examples are only scratching the surface of what the technology could be capable of as people still don't view AR as mainstream technology. However, some of the latest innovations are demonstrating the potential power and disruption that augmented reality could cause to major industries in particular the retail sector. “augmented reality (AR) is emerging as yet another avenue to turn industries on their heads” (Dajee, 2017).

There have been a number of factors that have slowed down a mainstream adoption of AR technology. These include the fact that most people simply didn't have access to AR enabled devices and that one of the biggest initial marketing campaigns The Google Glass failed to capture people's imagination. Today however things have changed as the number of AR capable devices in existence is set to reach over 1 billion in 2018 (Deloitte, 2018). As with many emerging technologies a success factor is the ability to create and maintain a psychological flow in order to generate user acceptance. The latest wave of innovative AR applications is being downloaded by millions of users and the types of applications being developed and downloaded are becoming more various not solely games and photo apps. As AR tech has advanced a number of businesses are starting to see the marketing value whilst consumers are enjoying and wanting more AR experiences “As augmented technology becomes more sophisticated and the cost-saving and business applications expand, the demand and investment in AR will increase” (Marr, 2018)

 Examples of businesses that have invested in this marketing concept include IKEA Space which allows you to virtually place IKEA products to scale in your real environment to try them out, another example is Dulux Visualizer which allows users to virtually see their rooms in any Dulux colour. The fact that more and more people are starting to notice and use these kinds of applications demonstrates that designs are being created that support a psychological flow state that is making users more comfortable with adopting AR trends, rather than sticking to traditional methods of practices like furnishing and decorating.

Applications such as these are going to revolutionise many industries one in particular is the retail industry where AR is being established as a new channel for businesses and brands to engage with and improve their relationships with consumers. Examples like IKEA space are using this technology to enhance the consumer experience, the idea of augmented reality furnishing so that you know an item is going to the work in a space before you make the purchase is an ability that consumers are going to want. This will encourage widespread usage of AR beyond games and marketing stunts such as PepsiCo's Cheetos Vision. Using this tech for entertainment purpose is only going to keep people interested in so long “A stunt (Baird, 2018). However, AR utility apps are going to have users return to them again and again which will help inspire more innovative and creative thinking about what from a business point of view you can learn from consumers using this technology.

Something that could create caution and potentially slow the momentum of AR is the risk of causing a wave of Technological Unemployment. This is because if businesses flock towards these kinds of applications that allow consumers to test and purchase products like furnishings and decorations and very possibly soon clothing from their own homes, then the need and the relevance of the retail high street will be diminished further at a time when it's already struggling and in the decline. The potential disruption could eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in the retail sector. This demonstrates that it's not just highly skilled jobs that are being threatened by the rise of emerging technologies like AI, Automation and AR. The threat of the rise of the useless class may therefore impede this move towards AR innovation until a solution is found to tackle technological unemployment.

Another area that exciting AR based innovations have begun to breach is Navigation, both indoor and outdoor. An example of an award winning AR application being used for indoor navigation has been developed by Gatwick airport to help passengers navigate their way around the large interior. To do this they installed 2000 beacons throughout its two terminals as opposed to GPS due to unreliability when used indoors, this demonstrates a creative solution during the implementation of an AR system. Gatwick annually receives 45 million passengers many of whom won't speak the local language and so it's easy to see how an application such as this would be useful to them for acts such as finding the right check-in desk and terminal. Solving practical problems using this technology will be a big factor that will encourage people to use it more and more in their daily lives because if this innovation works here then why wouldn't they use it to navigate other enviroments such as museums or the London Underground and beyond. This is how mainstream trends begin.

There are a few potential big problems that augmented reality could face as it continues to develop and expand into new areas, reshaping industries and our day to day lives. One of these problems is a threat to people's privacy and security. For example, when true AR becomes a reality it's conceivable to imagine the arrival of virtual dressing rooms, these would allow customers to try on items of clothing online rather than physically which is an interesting concept, however it's not a massive leap to imagine that this technology could be adapted to overlay virtual nudity onto a person and stream it in real time. This is the sort of potential problem that exposes genuine privacy concerns.

These kinds of concerns involving safety and privacy are legal issues which leads to another problem, government oversight and interference, the introduction of restrictions and regulations which in turn slows down innovation. In order to combat this issue and enable a new generation of AR technologies to become used in the mainstream, industry standards need to be established for developers to consider and follow.

Overall as an innovative trend augmented reality has a vast potential to reshape the real world and become part of our everyday lives as a means of solving problems and enhancing our experiences in every sector of industry from entertainment to retail to education to healthcare just to name a few. Currently this technology is still in its infancy and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of AR's capabilities. The recent and continuing advancements of both software and hardware are making the technology more accessible and its mechanisms easier to use, which is only going to lead to the industry expanding and propel AR into becoming a dominant technology with an expected 1 billion users by 2023 (Zacks, 2018). This potential for rapid expansion as with any emerging technology doesn't come without risks and concerns that may impede its progress. The impact and disruption it could cause to the status quo of existing industries is huge as augmented reality could become a leading cause of technologic unemployment, particularly in the retail sector. The as of yet still unclear safety and security concerns surrounding the tech can lead to regulation impeding innovation if they are not addressed. However, the continuation of AR innovation proves that there is a growing ecosystem that will eventually lead to a mainstream adoption which is going to reinvent traditional industries and create a world where we live in an artificial reality.

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