Augmented Reality or AR is simply the overlaying of a digital image on the real world. Think of the Terminator movies and all the information that the Terminator could see related to the object in view. Also think of PokemonGo, selfie face filters and even the helmet mounted displays that provide real time information in the line of sight for modern fighter pilots to gather situational awareness – all these are examples of AR in use. Today AR is leveraged for entertainment (using selfie filters to wear Deepika Padukone’s Padmavat jewellery), to help try on a product like cosmetics or sunglasses and even to even assist with medical procedures earlier this year, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine performed its first AR assisted surgery.
AR in everyday
AR from a futuristic technology, is now increasingly becoming part of everyday interactions. Users, for instance, are finding AR as a great way to connect with brands – a global survey conducted last year about 78% respondents said that AR was an interesting way to interact with brands. And brands on their part have been quick to capitalize on this interest – an Accenture report from September 2020 states that immersive technologies have transitioned from novelty to utility with over 64% brands interviewed in the survey experimenting with the technology.
In India – the last three years have seen an exponential growth in terms of the number of users experiencing AR, as Adhvith, founder of AliveNow a creative technology studio in India puts it, ‘in three years AR revenues have increased from a almost negligible to about a third of the company’s revenue’. His is not an isolated experience and a similar sentiment of growth is echoed by Snehaal, founder of Superfan and Cameraah. About three years ago AR became accessible to a large user base through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snap, greatly expanding its reach from when it was available only in bespoke apps.
Building AR experiences for the world
Brands globally are supported by a vivid developer and agency ecosystem. The Indian agencies are creating AR content not just for the India market but also international markets. Some like AliveNow are getting majority of their AR revenue from global markets. The demand for content has also created a demand for skilled talent where agencies are both upskilling in house staff as well as actively recruiting for new talent. Cameraah specializes in AR and all of their staff work on AR projects. In a short span of three years they seen a 4x growth in team on the back of the AR ecosystem.
As Snehaal puts it, AR is no longer a futuristic technology and there are very real use cases today that significantly impact business outcomes. He takes the example of using AR to reduce ecommerce customer returns, if AR can be used to improve a user’s experience of the product in terms of fit, placement etc. it can bring down the number returns that ecommerce companies process creating both positive user experience and reducing business cost. Add to it the lowering of the carbon footprint associated with the return logistics.
AR for everyone
Though the technology has moved leaps and bounds with processing times and file sizes reducing, there is a long way to go in country where smart phone penetration is only about a quarter. Adhvith believes over the next 2-3 years, as 5G becomes a reality and users organically upgrade their phones, the same level of immersive experience will be available to a larger audience. He strongly believes that ‘we should not look at taking away from the immersive quality of AR to expand access’. Snehaal expands on this by saying that ‘not only do we need to improve access for users but we also need to do the same for the creators – those who may not have access to high end laptops and high speed internet connect. By concentrating on simplifying the creation aspect, his start-up Cameraah is working towards just that.
It easy to sometimes box the impact of a technology and not realise it’s full potential. The surge of interest in building AR experiences points towards a great future, and an industry ripe for creating employment for both technical and creative talent.
The author is Charu Chadha, Policy Manager-Data Advocacy, Facebook.