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Augmented Reality Will Mean the Digitization of (Nearly) Everything

Sami Viitamäki
Sep 14, 2017 · 4 min read

With Apple’s announcements, lots of media attention is always directed to the physical features and novelties of the devices. But with this week’s event, the biggest star was the ARKit software. It promises to do for augmented reality (AR) what the App Store did for apps: take it mainstream to the hundreds of millions of consumers already in Apple’s ecosystem.

According to Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, AR and Virtual Reality (VR) together constitute a ‘Fourth Transformation’ in human-computer interaction, the previous ones being the move from punch cards to text input, from text input to a graphical user interface (GUI) and from a mouse operated GUI to touch. This time however, it’ll not be just about how we interact with computers, but how we interact with the world, the people and the brands around us.

This in turn means the next gear in digitization of consumption as we move from music, movies, games and coordination of services like transportation or food delivery to areas we haven’t even considered up to now. The following snapshot is by no means exhaustive, and I invite you all to comment on what you see as the most promising areas.

Clothing and Fashion

What if you could afford flashy high fashion items that you can also change on the fly with your voice. With AR, you can. Augmented Reality is already in use by many brands for trying on clothing, makeup and hairstyles. But in the not so distant future, one can imagine how we’ll simply have sets of white / black clothing with AR codes in them. The people around you will see whatever you want them to see on you, and this can also be tailored to your audience: friends might see a Slayer shirt, while your mom would approve your suit & tie.

Why shouldn’t clothes be animated too?

Living and Working Spaces

Bespoke interior decoration and architecture have been largely out of reach for most consumers or small businesses because of the considerable effort and cost to tailor things to each space. Soon, measuring a room and lighting and auto-generating colors, garments, details, surfaces and finishes as well as any art and details will be done via your phone. And the result can be further adjusted to taste and switched around in seconds. You might have a brainstorming space for the first meeting and have it instantly cleaned up for a presentation.

You can’t sit on it yet, but maybe with an all purpose 3D printer…

Signage and Out-of-Home Advertising

Why should you have only one billboard or timetable up at any given time? AR surfaces can show each person what they want and need to see, in the format they need to see it in. Outdoor adverts can then display things tailored to gender, age, demographics, or even personal tastes, history and behavior. And the very same billboard can invite you to an instant and immersive meeting with the sales representative in the showroom. Signs at stations and stops can automatically show you info related to your personal commute today.

What if the billboard was a door to your brand’s showroom?

Travel and Exploration

Traveling to places, especially for learning purposes, can soon happen completely virtually. And even when you travel to physical places, AR can shift you in time. Want to switch on Victorian London, the Egypt of the Pharaohs or Ancient Rome? Consider it done! With services such as Airbnb’s new ‘Experiences’, tours and local guidance can be recorded once by the provider, and a virtual guide can accompany the guests. This makes the experiences scalable and customizable, down to pacing and the appearance, language and even the accent of the host.

Even the sky is not the limit

Interacting with People

Interacting with brands and things is great, but ultimately we’re all social animals and want real people around us. AR can ease and amplify your everyday social interactions by helping you find your way to each other, update you on who you’re meeting, what their latest behaviors and interests are, and even suggest topics to fire off the conversation with. What’s more, playing, exchanging information and digital assets, and e.g. working on a physical design together will get enhanced, with the people either in the same room or far apart.

Handy at festivals, but also in conferences

Parting Thoughts

Granted, for AR to become an integral part of our everyday at all times, we’re still going to need glasses, contact lenses, artificial eyes or neuralink intertwined with our brains. But the new iPhones and ARKit are a critical next step towards wide adoption of AR, alongside Facebook and Messenger 2.0, Google and ARCore, as well as Microsoft and Hololens.

In conclusion, it is my long term view that physical experiences will still be around, but these will be for people willing and able to pay a premium for them. The mainstream will increasingly adopt digital goods and services as they become available. They’ll be ‘good enough’, and allow for instant personalization and ease of use at an accessible price point. We’ve already seen this happen with music, movies and education. It will happen in your industry too. So start prepping — or prepare to be overtaken by the emerging competition.

We’ll still need food, but the restaurant experience will be augmented.

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