In his 1950 book, “The Human Use of Human Beings,” cybernetics theorist Norbert Wiener argued that machines are meant to interact harmoniously with humanity through automation. The augmented reality (AR) cloud could truly fulfill Wiener's prophecy.
Whether guiding people through crowded environments or uniting remote workforces, the promise of the AR cloud is vast. It has been called the single most important software infrastructure in computing. Its complex architecture of technologies enables developers to overlay a 3D virtual map onto the real world, where information and experiences are augmented, shared, and tied to specific physical locations to occur and persist across apps and devices.
This shared 3D spatial web of the future will eventually serve as the data framework for enabling the use of shared spatial screens among hundreds of millions of digital devices. These shared experiences (not just videos and messages) will be augmented with information for visualization of a dimensional universe of virtual data, objects, and logic.
Ovum believes the enablement of multiuser engagement combined with the AR cloud's persistence of information will greatly enhance the overall customer experience by transforming the way enterprises serve and interact with customers and the way they work and collaborate with employees. The scenarios for how the AR cloud will improve customer support and engagement are endless.
For example, consumers would be able to search for information just by visualizing an object or concept rather than by clicking through pages online. Or, when reporting issues or a product malfunction, a customer could simply use an AR-enabled camera to present the object, such as a nonfunctioning cable box, to a technician. The technician, in turn, would see not only the issue through an AR-ready device or visual browser, but also the complete history of the relationship between the cable company and the customer.
On the enterprise side, rather than click through customer histories, contact center associates could simply visualize the information. Together, the components of the AR cloud would give in-store associates a real window into inventory to search for products on the floor for customers and then blend that with their historical and real-time data. And marketers could use AR tokens or objects as a means of gamification or to engender customer loyalty. Such capabilities will inevitably transform the way enterprises serve and interact with customers.
Here are six examples of the potential benefits businesses could gain from engaging with customers and employees via the AR cloud:
Enhanced customer engagement and loyalty -- The interconnectivity and transparency of personal data enabled by the AR cloud will allow enterprises, especially retailers, to deliver hyper-personalized interactions because of the ability to analyze IoT data and then enable its persistence. Being able to visualize or get quick information on products right on a mobile screen would enable a retailer to personalize offers and drive engagement, using strategic techniques to connect customers to brands in hyper-personalized ways.
American Apparel, for example, is equipping customers with mobile app-driven experiences. Essentially, a shopper opens the app and scans a picture of signage. The app pulls up product details, including customer reviews, color variants, and pricing. In another example, the latest version of the Warby Parker app for iOS includes a new Virtual Try-On feature that shows users how they’ll look in any pair of glasses.
Shared experiences at scale -- Like all interactions in the AR cloud, the virtual realm will be layered over the view of the physical world, so the technology can detect the real-time movements of people. The ability to enable shared experiences will yield engagement opportunities across commerce, gaming, and medicine, and will create new ways for employees to collaborate.
Ride-hailing company Lyft, for example, last October acquired Blue Vision Labs, an AR localization and mapping startup. Blue Vision connects ride-sharing passengers with their drivers by overlaying the car's position onto the rider's smartphone screen in AR. The company said the application of the AR cloud is allowing developers to create shared new AR experiences at unprecedented scale.
Connected global workforce -- Companies are increasingly investigating AR and virtual reality (VR) to deliver new workplace experiences such as improving collaboration or making hands-free data access easier. Typical examples of these workplace experiences include training, design, and field service. The potential of AR headsets such as Oculus Rift and the Microsoft HoloLens connected to the AR cloud could create virtual meeting places and communications platforms where documents and information persist, enabling users to conduct business collaboratively, work in teams, and transact.
Ford, for example, is using the Oculus Rift to create virtual models of cars and collaborate on design changes with different team members. VR minimizes Ford's need for physical prototypes and allows engineers to explore creative design. And Microsoft is equipping the global workforce of deskless employees in warehouses and factories with HoloLens headsets to build 3D models, receive training, and other activities.
Reduced support costs -- Many companies are turning to AR to improve maintenance, repair, and support processes as well as to reduce on-site and travel costs for technicians. The advantage is that important information is provided quickly and at the right place, resulting in faster repairs and prevention of mistakes during specific tasks.
ThyssenKrupp, an elevator manufacturer, is using HoloLens to visualize an elevator repair before the technician reaches the site. Once on site, the technician can use AR to view digital overlays of manuals and repair guides while fixing the elevator.
Real-time employee visibility and productivity metrics -- Ovum expects the greatest momentum around the AR cloud will come from the adoption of AR tools to create greater visibility and transparency throughout organizations internally. A specific hotbed for growth lies in the contact center. Consequently, in the coming months, Ovum expects to see several cloud contact center and platform providers offering AR tools geared toward supervisors to monitor performance levels and identify coaching opportunities.
Genesys, for example, demonstrated AR software loaded onto a tablet that supervisors can use to scan the contact center. Three-dimensional icons of contact center agents at their desks pop up on the screen, depending on where it’s aimed. The device simultaneously displays real-time data, so supervisors and agents can simply visualize the clusters of data around them presented in bubbles and nodes through a 3D user interface to help them decide where to go and who needs help in real time.
Increased redemption and conversion rates -- The AR cloud presents a unique opportunity to move off screen and into the physical world. This is especially valuable in retail, where companies can overlay products with targeted offers and upsells. In the AR world, retailers can guide and inform users along their shopping journeys, providing a concierge-like marketing and guided service that is rarely achieved in physical stores.
Retailers such as Walmart and Ikea will begin adopting immersive AR experiences that allow shoppers to use their phones to view how products will look and feel in their homes. And home goods retailer Wayfair has released an AR app that uses a phone's camera to create a digital version of an interior. The app can then place a 3D object such as a virtual sofa in a room to see how it would fit in certain spots and to try different fabric colors and patterns.
To read the full report, “Ovum Market Radar: AR Cloud's Promise of Persistent Virtual Data and Interactions,” go to www.ovum.com.