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Sep 21, 2017 | 4 minute read

Virtual Versus Augmented Reality? Which One Will Win Out?

written by Harry Chemko

With the launch of iPhone X and ARKit, augmented reality has taken a giant leap toward becoming a mainstream technology rather than just a feature of immersive gaming apps. Both Apple (ARKit) and Google (ARCore) are making AR central to their mobile experiences. That means companies creating new digital customer experiences can start thinking about how to harness AR for ecommerce purposes. Brands can extend interactive, transactional experiences to customers wherever they are – as long as they have a mobile device in hand.

iPhone X is the thin edge of the AR wedge

Today, with the very top-end devices supporting AR, leading brands may consider matching their premium offerings with a premium customer experience. Today, ARKit works on iOS devices with A9 or later processors. However, as AR technology becomes popular and devices can accommodate it, more and more devices will incorporate it. For sellers, the idea of using AR will become more attractive.

You don't have to stretch too far to see the future of digital stores could be a 3-D game-like shopping experience, placing the customer "inside." TJ-Maxx's hilarious new online store notwithstanding, these interactions probably will not mirror the in-store experience. Rather they could present items personalized to an individual in a unique 3-D environment, created especially for him or her, or for the product.

Apple iPhoneX

Buy a tent on a mountainside surrounded by forest?

For example, to sell outdoor equipment, a company might create a 3-D mountain scape with a stream and lush forest surrounding. The customer could place potential tents, stoves, and sleeping bags just like they would at a campsite situation. Walk around the scene and check things out from different angles. Specification and review overlays could present more information. Unique, realistic, testing could demonstrate the tradeoffs between tent weight and waterproofness. Press "heavy rain" + "wind" and the tent is tested against a storm for waterproofness, allowing people to understand better which equipment will meet their needs.

Change the environment altogether to a dry desert with Joshua trees and no water. Now select wind and sandstorm to test the same tent in those conditions. The visual representation of the tent standing up in certain conditions is a far more effective means of communicating its efficacy in different conditions than an IPL specification.

These are just hypothetical scenarios and digital agencies will be working around the clock to figure out how to present new customer experiences to leverage new AR technologies.


Never forget a face

ARKit allows developers to model a user's facial geometry for facial recognition as well as for position and even for expression recognition. Right now, there's no way to really judge a customer's reaction to a product or service, unless they star or heart it, or come back to look several times. With AR, that all changes. Based on how a person is looking at the screen, or what their expression is, this in combination with personalization fueled by AI could call up their next experience.

Facial expression recognition provides a  new level of understanding "intent" for companies that they can use to assess the likelihood of a purchase and use that information to encourage or discourage that intent in real-time.

The customer doesn't like that car? Show the vehicle from another angle, or in a different color, or in a 3D moving environment.

Buyer LOVES that coat? Show them available matching gloves and boots in their size, on their bitmoji.

In a way, you could think of digital expression recognition, in combination with AI, as a replacement for the skilled, empathic sales person who can read people well and smooth the sales process. Now developers have the tools to make this happen in augmented reality.

ARkit facial recognition

Virtual versus augmented reality

Which will win out? Virtual or augmented reality? North Face gave Korean customers a cool in-store VR experience with their dogsled ride via Occulus Rift headsets. The key words there are "in-store." While VR is gaining traction, today it can't beat the always-on mobile phone in terms of anytime, anywhere delivery. Not for now anyway do people carry around VR goggles. Nor have developers got the easy-to-use toolkits equivalents of ARKit and ARCore to make creating those experiences easier, more cost effective and timely. In the near term, AR is set to dominate customer experience.

Immersing commerce capabilities with augmented reality or virtual reality technologies requires a flexible, extensible e-commerce platform. Learn more about Elastic Path Commerce.