Apple’s Approach to Augmented Reality: The Future of Retail
In today’s digital era, it’s no secret that retailers are looking for new solutions to revitalize processes and transform the customer experience. To stay ahead of competition, many are implementing innovative technologies to create immersive shopping journeys, support informed purchase decisions, open additional revenue streams and new marketing channels, and ensure brand loyalty. One of the most prominent technologies in recent years: augmented reality (AR).
The Power of AR
In September 2017, Apple launched ARKit through its iOS 11 update, becoming the largest AR platform in the world. Apple offered a new framework to build next-generation AR experiences. Overnight, hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users were granted immediate access to AR-based technology, presenting a significant opportunity for retailers such as Ikea, Wayfair, Gap and Converse to tap into and harness this technology to redefine the customer experience.
Recently, Apple unveiled ARKit 2 and its iOS 12 software update, which offers enhanced AR capabilities such as shared experiences and 3-D object detection. Presenting an even greater opportunity for retailers, it’s critical that they invest in AR-based technology to create unparalleled virtual shopping experiences while showcasing products in their best in order to fulfill emerging consumer demands.
As retailers look to bolster their sales, many are finding success by developing consumer applications that leverage the AR features now available, including:
- Shared Experiences: One of the most appealing features of the recent update is shared experiences, which enables multiple users to access and interact with the same app simultaneously. In retail, this allows multiple people to collaborate while shopping, which drives connections and instills confidence when making purchases. Whether shopping for a new piece of clothing or conducting a home remodel, consumers can use AR to virtually try on a product or view how a home furnishing will look in a space.
- Measure: Under the recent software update, users have access to Apple’s Measure feature, which uses AR to accurately gauge the size of real-life objects. Particularly valuable for retailers that sell home furnishings, this capability allows consumers to virtually capture the dimensions of a product (e.g., a sofa or an area rug) and easily determine if it will fit into a space in their home. This not only elevates the consumer experience, but helps shoppers overcome uncertainties that are associated with buying large items online.
- 3-D Object Detection: A significant improvement to the ARKit software is improved object detection. Originally, the initial framework could only sense and take measurements of flat objects. However, the new version enables users to detect all objects, no matter their shape or size. All retailers can create apps that allow consumers to capture and take accurate measurements of items such as clothing, instruments and electronics.
- Universal Scene Description (USDZ). A valuable component of the software update is that it allows consumers to experience AR anywhere. With its new open file format, USDZ, and Apple’s Quick Look for AR, users can share 3-D content across apps, such as Messages, Safari and Mail. This allows shoppers to send AR-generated images of retail products to other parties — e.g., letting in-store shoppers share AR images with others to help determine interest in purchasing an item.
The Future of Retail
As the industry continues to evolve at a record-breaking pace, it’s evident that retailers need to adjust strategies to keep up with emerging consumer demands. With AR technology at the fingertips of millions of consumers, it’s poised to drastically transform the market, reimagining how shoppers search for, find and purchase items. To avoid being left behind, it’s crucial that companies invest in the technology, starting with leveraging the ARKit framework.
As AR-based technology continues to develop, it's critical that retailers look beyond current applications and outsource modeling and rendering services, or appoint internal resources to virtualize their 2-D product catalogs into 3-D models. Taking this next step will ultimately allow retailers the ability to enhance the consumer experience through AR and virtual reality environments. Those retailers that don't act fast will be at a significant risk of being surpassed by competition, losing sales and customer loyalty.
Pieter Aarts is the CEO and co-founder of roOomy, a provider of 3-D modeling, rendering & virtual staging services and design apps.