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Ed Sargeant (left), InnovatAR’s senior vice president of creative, and Nick Kramer, senior vice president of interactive, show how web-based AR can deliver digitized experiences directly to a user’s device, bringing print marketing material to life. IMAGE: Agency MABU

Zander Mabin, CEO and founder, InnovatAR: Augmented reality is shaping the future of business

BISMARCK, N.D. – Augmented reality was once an expensive, elaborate technology that only global industry leaders could harness as part of their portfolio or strategy. Only within the past decade have (1) more companies started to invest in AR, and (2) more people started to actively seek out AR experiences.

Since its start in research labs of the 1960s, AR technology has advanced in ways that have reduced its costs and enabled access for a wider audience. And since the early 2010s, AR has started to crop up more frequently, in everything from sportscasts to advertisements.

Today, AR is seeing its strongest growth yet, both in popular culture and in business. The commercial embrace of it is on pace with other high-tech innovations such as 3D printing and artificial intelligence. A survey from ResearchandMarkets.com suggests that the global AR market will grow to more than $94 billion by 2023.

Understanding and enabling AR

This encouraging statistic might be enough to make some want to include AR in their business strategy. But before adopting AR, it’s important to understand what AR is, why its popularity has grown and how it will be deployed in the coming years.

AR is any interactive experience that overlays computer-generated information (most commonly visuals or sounds) onto a real-world environment. The results can be stunning creations that merge digital and physical spaces.

Simply put, AR delivers experiences that were previously impossible to create.

The hardware required to support augmented reality was once a major investment: something that only corporate giants such as Disney or BMW could afford. While this led to exciting theme park rides and never-before-seen advertising, there was still another big barrier keeping most organizations away from implementing AR, and that was the lack of accessibility for customers. Consumers (and business buyers) had to go somewhere to experience AR.

The arrival of smartphones with advanced processing power solved that issue. These devices untethered AR from fixed locations and made it available in new and exciting spaces.

This market trend, along with advancements in software development, have made mobile AR a cost-effective way to bring AR to millions of people. Today, companies can produce custom AR experiences that can be placed nearly anywhere in the world and activated through a person’s phone.

And while other AR devices (such as AR-enabled headsets) exist, they constitute a niche section of this technology. Overwhelmingly, individuals choose their smartphones to run app-based AR.

The downsides of app-based AR

Many industries have capitalized on this trend. Some have even found major success, notably the commercial smash hit Pokémon Go, a video game released in 2016. More commonly, though, companies do not leverage this technology to its full potential.

Mobile apps face three major usability factors. They must compete to:

  • Be found and downloaded in an app marketplace
  • Take up memory in a user’s device, and
  • Keep a user’s interest.

If an AR app does not stand out in the crowded app marketplace, provide enough value in the limited space on a smartphone or make the user want to re-use it consistently, that app might be removed soon after an initial download, or never be downloaded at all.

A fresh option in web-based AR

Though not as common, web-based AR is emerging as an alternative to app-based AR. This option requires no downloads and provides seamless AR interactivity.

As long as users can access the internet on their phones, they can access web-based AR experiences.

In North Dakota, McKenzie County Tourism understands the value of augmenting its content. The agency partnered with InnovatAR, the Bismarck-based tech startup that I founded, to include AR features in all-new marketing materials.

Within an AR-enabled brochure, audiences can view videos on the fly using their smartphone’s browser.

“AR-enabled print content will allow us to deepen the engagement opportunities,” said Doug Bolken, McKenzie County tourism director.

“The videos we’ve produced can now be connected within our printed visitor guides in a cost-effective way to fully utilize our resources.”

Mabin is CEO and founder of InnovatAR, a tech start-up that provides clients with web-based augmented experiences. For more information on fitting AR into a business strategy, visit innovatar.io.