Imagine a user having the ability to access in real time everything she needs to know about her immediate surroundings. The extent to which that could enhance her experience would be truly remarkable, right? As luck would have it, that technology happens to be rapidly advancing…
So what is augmented reality (AR), exactly?
Wikipedia defines it as “a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” Holition, a UK-based company specializing in augmented reality luxury solutions, describes it as “a method by which the real world is superimposed with virtual images.” Basically, it’s the augmentation (process of making greater) of your reality (the world as it actually exists) by overlaying information in a digital sense.
Why is this so cool? Want to know how it can benefit your company and why you should pay attention? Read on.
1) All the cool kids are doing it.
Net-A-Porter has deeply embraced the world of augmented reality. For Fashion’s Night Out in September 2011, the company created pop-up stores (called “The Window Shop”) in both New York and London which featured a giant window covered in images of different items from the site. Using their Smartphones or iPad2’s, visitors had the opportunity to scan the images and watch the models wearing the pieces come to life. Not only that, but they could shop the items directly from the app and, quite often as you’ll see from the video, win them for free.
Back with a second dose of AR, Net-A-Porter featured this same concept last week when debuting Karl Lagerfeld’s collection. This time, the company expanded to five cities (Paris, New York, London, Berlin and Sydney). Check out this amazing video showing film from the launch—Karl even gives his thoughts on fashion going digital!
You already know Burberry is leading the pack in regards to mastering the digital platform. In April 2011, the company celebrated the launch of its flagship store in Beijing with a runway presentation featuring only six live models—with additional models appearing as holograms seamlessly integrated onto the catwalk.
Check out the full show here.
House of Holland
Henry Holland, a true innovator and early-adopter of the fashion/tech merger, brought the cover of InStyle UK to life with the release of his own augmented reality app. After downloading the free app, subscribers of the magazine were able to point their cameras at the front of the December 2011 issue, causing the leopard skin to morph—revealing videos of the House of Holland S/S 2012 runway show. Users could also click straight through to the House of Holland website in order to shop the looks.
2) It makes things exciting.
Part of the thrill of augmented reality is the novelty of finding that “new exciting thing” we’ve never seen before. The possibilities are endless, and most of them blow our minds because these things haven’t been done before in these ways–we’re looking at the definition of “cutting edge.” And honestly, that’s just fun.
Cassette Playa, London-based streetwear fashion label, integrated augmented reality and projection into her Autumn/Winter 2010 show. Each analog model wore a shirt with an embedded digital code—a digital camera then scanned the label, projecting the augmented reality upon the screen. Check out this amazing video, complete with designer Carri Munden describing her inspiration to employ this technology, crossing fantasy with reality.
GQ made the covers of its 2011 Men of the Year issue come to life using Aurasma, the same augmented reality platform as used by House of Holland. It allowed a user to access a video just by viewing the cover with an iPad. Additionally, inside the mag subscribers could also listen to a campaign from luxury menswear label Alfred Dunhill.
Starbucks even jumped in on the AR action. For their Holiday 2011 marketing, they created a Starbucks Cup Magic App that made holiday scenes come to life from mobile devices when focusing them on the red cups, the Christmas blend bags, or even on in-store displays.
Online retailer Moosejaw created an “X-ray app” coinciding with their Winter catalogue that allowed the user to view the models “nearly naked”—revealing what they’re wearing underneath their heavier winter attire. Talk about engaging!
3) It’s inevitable; best to get on board now.
We love this quote from Raj Rao, global director of eCommerce and Digital Marketing for 3M Corporate Marketing, taken from a recent Forbes article outlining his take on how to own the digital space:
“We are used to thinking of retailers as fellow marketers who spend billions on Facebook, Google, and agencies. The truth is that they’re also premium publishers who are looking to partner with us to build distinctive brand experiences to influence shoppers and maximize sales conversion.”
The big brands are already looking to augmented reality to build unique, exciting experiences for their audiences. After all, that’s the beauty of AR—the enhancement of actions that the user would already be taking anyway—an attractive and potentially prosperous equation. It’s the natural evolution as we search for further stimulation and greater interpersonal connection with our markets.
Additionally, our founder, Liza, predicted that augmented reality will continue to make strides in 2012.
(Editor’s note: She also wrote, “Hardcore geek science will have a sexy, sexy year in 2012.” Don’t you just love her?)
4) It actually makes things more “real.”
Contrary to what you may think, augmented reality isn’t about simulating an experience—it’s about enhancing one. The ability to create a more intimate shopping experience for an online consumer is a gap that many e-tailers have been trying to close for years. The integration of social networking into the consumer’s shopping experience has certainly increased the quality of the user’s experience—but augmented reality has the ability to truly revolutionize this.
Zugara (one of the major augmented reality software development companies self-described as being “focused on creating solutions that will change the way people shop online”) stated in an interview that they became aware of a disconnect with online shopping.
“Namely, it’s a process not an experience. I mean, if you think about how you validate a purchase online, it hasn’t changed much since Amazon went live in 1995. You look at thumbnails and you click on them to see a larger image. We found it ridiculous that it’s still the same process. People are visual, social. And for many, shopping is visual and social. So we decided to solve that problem, and make shopping an experience.”
Their software, Webcam Social Shopper, is an application that basically turns a user’s webcam into a mirror. Jack Benoff, Zugara’s VP of Product and Marketing, perfectly describes the process: “It uses an online shopper’s webcam, a motion capture interface, augmented reality, and social media integration to replicate that offline moment at the rack where a shopper holds a dress or blouse up to herself, turns to a friend (or the mirror) and asks ‘what do you think, is this me?’” We’ve seen the initial attempt to capitalize on the emotion of shopping and to replicate the offline experience from companies such as Poshmark, but Zugara takes it one step further using AR technology.
5) These are the possibilities.
Many would, without hesitation, categorize augmented reality as still in its “gimmicky” stage. While this is perhaps true, in no way do we think this technology should be discounted. Many times over we’ve pointed out that the inevitable and obvious progression is currently toward a mobile-centric way of life—augmented reality is a future extension of mobile.
Layar is a great example of where the world is headed. This app is sort of an umbrella app with many different “layers”—all sorts of different avenues can be accessed, from finding a coffee shop to an Italian restaurant to a listing for an apartment-for-rent to the nearest Instagram photo just uploaded (sort of creepy/cool, right?)
And what if we’d like to showcase our talents with more than just a virtual portfolio? A man named James Alliban can help with that—check out his augmented reality business card.
As far as fashion goes, what are the possibilities? Designer Henry Holland notes that he “can see a future where people stop each other on the street and Aurasma each other’s clothes, watching multimedia content that seems to be embedded right in the fabric itself… We need to start thinking about what this new technology means for the way we work with print and the way we as designers communicate our ideas beyond the physical collections themselves.” That sort of technology isn’t even remotely out of the question.
Dying to know where that random-woman-on-the-street’s adorable blazer came from? Hold up your iPhone and see. Want to know if the skirt you’re pining for is in stock at that J Crew on the corner? Hold up your iPhone and see. Was that the H&M where your best friend said she bought that killer bracelet? If she left her AR mark, all you’ve got to do is hold up your iPhone and see. This is the (near) future–and boy, do we like it.
Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.
*The rad featured image is a crop from House of Holland’s augmented reality InStyle UK cover.