It took just over two hours at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference for Tim Cook and company to cover the entire Apple ecosystem, and introduce the latest and greatest software and hardware coming from Apple in 2017. Historically, Apple is known for letting competitors edge them out on innovation early, only to land later with a smarter, better, more user-friendly solution. So to follow the narrative, they introduced an augmented reality and artificial intelligence suite that included HomePod, a digital assistant for your home and a damn good speaker for music; Macs powerful enough to support VR; Business Chat, an AI-powered platform for brands to engage with customers in iMessage, and more — a lot more. All are established technologies disrupting the status quo.
To the excitement of many, Apple has been secretly researching and developing augmented reality hardware and software. For years Tim Cook had lauded the potential of AR, acquired computer vision start-ups, and hinted at work being done behind the scenes to create Apple’s AR solution.
Here’s what brands and marketers should know about where we are in the AR landscape and the rise of contextual brands.
Augmented Reality: Big News This Fall
The realization of all of that R&D is ARKit, a software development kit launched at WWDC for building powerful augmented reality experiences into your native apps. When iOS11 launches in the fall, all current iPhones and iPads will support these AR experiences, which will turn Apple into the largest AR platform in the world overnight. This will be especially true when Apple announces the much-anticipated AR-powered iPhone 8 in September, touting some of the biggest software and hardware feature enhancements since the original iPhone.
Alongside Facebook, Snapchat, and Microsoft, Apple has now plotted their AR future and joined the world’s foremost tech companies in ushering in the next wave of computing in virtual and augmented reality.
Don’t Type. Point.
In 2017, our mobile devices are becoming super-powered with technological enhancements meant to enable AR. Slowly, Facebook, Apple, Pinterest, and Microsoft are training us to not type, but to point. Open an app and point your phone at a living room and see that new table lamp you want from IKEA. Point your phone at the world around you and receive ratings and reviews about the restaurant you’re standing in front of. Point your phone at the toy on the shelf and see it come to life to tell you a story (with a link to buy of course). The augmented reality computing revolution starts with more and more people pointing first instead of typing. Layer in voice assistance and AI and our behaviors evolve bit by bit throughout 2017 and going into 2018.
The Rise of Contextual Brands
For brands, augmented reality offers an entirely new channel that’s been there all along: the whole world. They’ll need to quickly arm consumers with tools and data to engage with contextually, where it’s relevant. If consumers are pointing for information, it needs to be there, within the channels that exist. To do this, they’ll need to become contextual brands.
The contextual brand is one that identifies the places and things in our environment that are relatable to their product. For example: cabinets, dishes, laundry, and food are all contextual to home appliances. In retail, brands can augment the physical products with product data, virtual demos, and e-commerce solutions activated through the camera lens. By using AR and spatial mapping, outdoor equipment brands could scan a camp site and recommend an ideal gear layout. By starting this year, brands can begin to build out the ecosystem and experiment with how best to assist consumers through an augmented reality application or platform. This will put them ahead of the curve as smartphones evolve from visual search engines to visual augmentation through companion “smart glasses.” And that’s still roughly two years away.
Bottom Line: As we pass the halfway point of 2017, we’re seeing a seismic shift in the way we use our devices. In just 6 months, the mobile technology has gone from stale to exciting: The developer tools have moved from labor intensive to user friendly, and consumers have raised their expectations with regard to brand contextualization. All Apple, Facebook, Snapchat, and Microsoft are asking is for you to raise up your device 45 degrees and point it at the world. The content is virtual but the opportunities are real.