Augmented Reality in Business: How and When to Use It
With relatively cheap implementation costs and easy accessibility, mobile AR is a great choice for a goal-oriented tech asset. Businesses can use augmented reality to increase customer engagement, improve brand promotion and awareness, and facilitate the creation of product demos.
Multiple high-profile companies are investing in AR tech. Among them are Qualcomm, Apple, Facebook, and Google. The two smartphone giants, Apple and Google, are particularly invested into developing their respective AR software development kits (SDK).
Update July 2022: There are almost 3.5 billion AR-enabled devices of any type, with 891 million Android smartphones and 1.25 billion iOS phones. However, the number of active users of AR is significantly lower. The potential for commercial adoption of this tech is still untapped
The AR market alone is blooming, with various forecasts projecting it to reach between 30 to 80 billion USD in the upcoming years (1, 2, 3).
No mainstream implementation of costly technology necessary to bring it to the users makes augmented reality that much more accessible. On the other hand, virtual reality or mixed reality headsets are still too expensive for such widespread adoption.
But what is all the fuss about? Can AR apps transform businesses and add tangible value? Check out how augmented reality is helping businesses.
How Businesses Use Augmented Reality to Improve Operations
Before jumping into the world of augmented reality tech, there are a few questions you have to answer.
If you want to include AR in your business strategy, first ask yourself what it is specifically that you want to achieve through an AR solution.
To give you an example: a problem can be something missing in the workflow.
Let’s say quality assurance at your company takes a lot of time to complete. The reason why might be that QA professionals need to comb through stacks of paper instructions to complete the process.
This inefficient approach results in a waste of time: seconds turn into minutes and minutes into hours. In the long term, it amounts to a significant drop in productivity.
Augmented reality could come in handy here by feeding all the steps and actions necessary to conduct a QA test into a mixed reality headset. The application would interact with and respond to the actions of the tester in real-time.
Here’s Renault’s road to quality assurance supported by mixed reality:
Wondering what companies use augmented reality? Let’s look at some of the use cases of augmented reality across industries and sectors.
The manufacturing sector is expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of cross-reality solutions. Combined with the rollout of 5G connectivity that offers speeds 100x faster than 4G LTE, augmented reality can be a huge opportunity for manufacturing facilities to improve a number of their processes and workflows.
The upside of using AR in manufacturing facilities is that it’s a fraction of the cost compared to investing in complex hardware.
Besides, augmented reality is much more convenient to exchange information since there are no physical restrictions such as cables, devices. Data is fed to the AR application virtually.
Onboarding. With AR, employees just starting out in a manufacturing plant could see interactive hints and instructions on how to use machinery, with all important information layered over the physical equipment. AR onboarding can increase employee safety and shave off ramp-up time.
See an example of using AR for training purposes at BMW:
Productivity. AR headsets equipped with AI technology could help employees get from point A to point B in the most efficient fashion, leading to potential productivity gains in the long term. Moreover, engineers could send a request for a specific part by simply pointing at it.
Operational information. With AR elements overlaid in a factory, manufacturing employees could have easy access to information about the performance of existing equipment and infrastructure. For example, interactive gauges over different areas on the assembly line offer real-time insight for employees.
Safety. Mixed reality solutions can inform employees about dangers (e.g., areas closed for maintenance/cleaning). And when an emergency happens, workers in need of help or assistance could transmit an interactive beam with their whereabouts.
Relying on complex technology and hardware, cars are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain for mechanics, who may not yet have the know-how necessary for servicing. The pace of the digital evolution in the automotive industry calls for improvements in various workflows and processes.
Remote assistance. AR-based remote assist lets engineers show other employees how to conduct complex repairs and service maintenance on vehicles.
Training. Cross-reality workshops are a safe and efficient way to share information. Engineers can enroll in digital training where they learn the workings of complex machinery and how to assemble various parts. Instructors show trainees how to disassemble an engine without actually putting it apart.
Prototyping. Every new iteration of a prototype can be costly for an automotive company. Car prototypes can cost upwards of $100,000. Immersive designs aid in iterating and improving on product designs without companies having to spend anything on expensive prototypes.
Now, $100,000 might not seem like a lot for big automotive companies, but when we’re talking about multiple iterations, it can amount to a nice sum.
Content consumption. Enhanced with augmented reality, written content can be expanded to include immersive experiences. AR can also serve as a visual aid in non-fiction writing to better illustrate concepts and events.
Board games. Traditional board games could use augmented reality to enhance the level of immersion for gamers. Physical boards can be transformed from 2D experiences into interactive 3D adventures — the board stays the same while the elements turn virtual.
In the military, soldiers can use augmented reality that transforms sensor data into visual input to gain greater insight into their surroundings as well as to improve navigation.
Situational awareness. Sensors and cameras implemented in AR tech provide soldiers with more information regarding their surroundings. Other critical information can also be fed into a headset from headquarters.
Since 2018, the US Army has been looking into AR when developing the Integrated Virtual Augmentation System (IVAS). The IVAS provides mission-critical information to soldiers on the battlefield, for example, the system performs a quick object identification check.
Navigation. In aviation, augmented reality blends complex charts and maps into a pilot’s field of view, decreasing the need to check the information on displays.
The US Army is exploring the possibilities of augmented reality goggles for combat dogs. The idea is to give dogs in the field more contextual information, along with visual indicators that tell dogs where to go.
Ordinarily, soldiers guide their dogs with lasers or hand gestures. During a mission, however, it might not be possible for the soldier to be close enough to the dog to give it commands. This is where AR goggles step in, letting soldiers guide their dogs through visual cues rendered in the glasses. Additionally, the goggles attached to the dog’s head transmit what the dog sees back to the soldier.
Tenant instructions. Landlords renting apartments can use augmented reality to provide tenants with instructions. For example, to help tenants orient themselves around the apartment or explain how to use and locate different utilities.
Along with smart locks that eliminate the need for the landlord to hand the tenant the keys, augmented reality further decreases the necessity for contact.
Tenants simply put on a headset or turn on an app and explore the flat themselves with detailed instructions.
Immersive experiences. To advertise offered destinations and facilities, travel agencies can turn to augmented reality to create AR tour presentations. This way, customers get to experience interactive content and learn more about a destination. AR tour presentations also help travel agencies prepare offers with content customized to cater to different target audiences.
Moreover, to improve customer experience, travel agencies can equip their customers with advanced digital tour guides. These augmented reality guides can be further tweaked to include memorable and personalized experiences to tourists in a given location. For example, an AR guide could contain sightseeing places that match customer needs and preferences.
How Businesses Use Augmented Reality: Use Cases
AR for Increasing Sales
Houzz enhances its selling and reach capabilities with AR, to help customers better visualize how a product would look like in their house. A growing selection of products available for an AR viewing helps Houzz fuel sales and increase engagement.
Once you’ve set up AR capability inside an ecommerce app, creating and adding 3D models of products is a relatively inexpensive way to bring AR to your customers.
Great-looking shoes don’t always look equally great on feet. Wanna Kicks gives its customers a chance to try how a pair of sneakers would look on their feet before making a purchase.
There’s still a huge opportunity in retail AR that will most likely be explored in the upcoming years. For example, customers could create a 3D image of their body to be used across shops for better fitting experiences. And I’m not talking here about a simple superimposition of an image of a shirt onto the picture of your body. A 3D scan would reflect how the material flows on different body shapes.
Increasing Engagement and Interaction to Boost Retention
Now that’s a piece of app that I absolutely love. When I first downloaded Google Lens, I had this nagging urge to g-lense everything around me. And even if not all the stuff I g-lensed was properly identified (for some reason, my sleeping cat’s paw got tagged as a rat), Google Lens has proved to be really useful in real-life situations where you need to translate or identify something.
But that’s just one side of Google Lens. The app can also be used as a powerful marketing tool. For example, by scanning a product, customers can check product reviews, product information, or price comparison. Brands can offer coupons or promos hidden inside ads. The key is to provide plenty of info that can be delivered to your customers via Google Lens.
Moreover, ads can be further explored and give a greater background when a user simply scans a billboard, no QR codes involved.
Spurring Brand Engagement and Recognition
FC Bayern München
FC Bayern München knows how to keep its fans engaged and entertained. Their fan engagement AR experiences let fans explore famous murals and place favorite players inside the user's real-life environment. Fans can create custom AR images with the club’s players and post these images on social media.
This take on AR is a great way to stay connected with fans and keep them consuming more content and sharing it with the world.
FC Bayern Basketball AR-Experience
Riding on the success of FC Bayern's football experience, the club has created an AR app for basketball fans. The app lets users collect 3D player avatars and shoot virtual balls to collect points and level up
The app is available for iOS and Android. With every release of its fan-focused digital products, FC Bayern proves it knows how to engage fans and keep them loyal to the club.
Streamlining Customer Experience
UPS makes it easier for its customers to measure their packages with the in-app measurement tool that automatically inputs package dimensions after scanning.
Domki Marysia is an excellent example of the use of AR to facilitate purchases for customers. Domki Marysia uses AR to help customers determine if a house they’re interested in will fit into their lot. Customers can check the views from the windows and even walk through the house to see how it'll look like in reality.
Customers scan their empty lot and the app will render a 3D model of the house the customer is interested in.
Eco Structures AR
Eco Structures is a company that builds cost-effective accommodation suitable for a variety of uses. The company launched its mobile app with AR functionality to help its clients visualize how the tent-like structures would look like in their space.
Improving Product Demo Creation
JigSpace is a great app for everyone curious how stuff works. Users can explore available “Jigs” or create their own.
What started as an education app, however, has now evolved into a comprehensive tool that can be used by businesses for training, prototyping, and demos.
JigSpace has launched Jig Workshop Pro, where users can create interactive and immersive product presentations.
Using patented technology, RoomScan LiDAR creates floor plans using the iPhone's newest hardware, including Apple’s LiDAR Scanner and the A12Z Bionic chip.
Multiple export options, floor plan views, and whole floor scan are just some of the features RoomScan LiDAR offers its users. It’s a great tool for architects who want to quickly draw floor plans or for homeowners.
AR Ruler App
How many times have you been in a situation where you had to measure something fast but had no tools to do it? Well, to the rescue in such situations come AR-based measuring apps such as AR Ruler App.
AR Ruler App lets users measure distance, angles, volume, and height, among many other available measurement options.
While there are still inaccuracies present in the app, with the introduction of iPhone 12 Pro — that features Apple’s LiDAR Scanner — we can expect this family of apps to offer significantly better measurement accuracy.
SunSeeker is another tool valued by various professionals. From architects and homeowners to realtors and gardeners, SunSeeker gives users detailed information on how the sun operates in a given location.
Creating Memorable and Personalized Customer Experiences
Wella Professionals Smart Mirror
Wella’s Smart Mirror lets customers see how they would look with different hair colors. Equipped with face-recognition capabilities, Smart Mirror can be used to further personalize customer experiences by reviewing past looks.
Wella’s augmented reality solution was named a CES® 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree.
Inkhunter is a great app for those thinking of getting a tattoo. Users can see the design on a body part of their choice before making a lifelong decision. The customer may use their own art or Inkhunters’ gallery.
Augmented Reality Offers a High Potential for Disruption
As mixed reality technology matures, more and more use cases emerge where this technology can be applied to support businesses, professionals, and everyday users.
In the coming years, we are likely to observe an increase in the use of augmented reality. The sophistication of the hardware and the drop in price for AR devices will become vehicles for the mainstream adoption. When paired with artificial intelligence, AR can interact with the physical environment and get increasingly better at recognizing gestural input and object recognition and tracking.
Augmented Reality Is Helping Businesses and Professionals
Many companies have already implemented AR into the customer journey, letting consumers experience products before committing financially. The widespread adoption of AR by businesses can accelerate the transition to a new dimension of online shopping. And since the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to online retail by five years, AR-supported sales can be a key differentiator.
Businesses that incorporate augmented reality can leverage AR to improve user experience and increase customer engagement. Professionals using AR tools for work can streamline operations and boost efficiency.
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