From Star Trek’s Holodeck to the full 3-D immersion of the Matrix, creating new worlds by incorporating technology have been the stuff of science-fiction for decades, but recently the world has taken one monumental step closer to achieving that dream: augmented reality. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality is a real-time view of the physical world layered together with computer-generated imaged and video. While not as sophisticated as true VR, AR has been making its way into more and more apps and games that have enhanced the user experience to a whole new level, and the trend only seems to be increasing. With the potential repercussions to video games, online purchases and internet communications, it’s no wonder that social media has jumped on board.
Augmented reality is to social media as smartphones were to the internet: it’s a whole new way to experience our everyday world. At its most primitive, augmented reality is used in photo-editing apps that allow users to insert graphics and add tweaks to images on their phones before sending the new picture to friends or posting the picture to social media accounts. When combined with GPS navigation and mapping software, however, augmented reality apps create a limitless location-based digital experience. Clothing retailer H&M developed a social media scavenger hunt where customers using H&M’s app could go to specific locations and take pictures of virtual clothing items and imagery that would only appear in front of H&M retail stores. The app even allowed users to “try on” the digital clothes they encountered, which in turn unlocked 10% discounts for in-store purchases of those same items. Sharing those augmented photos with friends, in turn, unlocks further discounts. In one move, H&M managed to create not only a successful marketing strategy but a viral marketing campaign completely fueled by the user experience. With its catalyst-like success booster, augmented reality’s biggest business advantage is creating true interactivity within viral marketing.
Too much of a good thing is often the downfall for successful trends, and combining augmented reality with social media is no exception. The experience of using augmented reality-based apps is so engrossing that users become even more detached from their surrounds than with texting or talking, leading to more accidents, injuries, and even life-or-death scenarios. Many augmented reality apps have received criticism for inciting users to venture into dangerous situations like walking into oncoming traffic or lakes, much like the criticism early GPS devices had recieved. Beyond the underlying danger, augmented reality uses real-time environmental renderings that require precise accuracy and timing to be successful, which puts a heavy strain on a mobile device’s battery and the central servers that manage the data. Cutting back on the processing power required for the apps does no good either, as this diminishes the interactivity that makes the user experience of augmented reality attractive in the first place.
Despite these setbacks, it seems that augmented reality is here to stay. Better hardware and software are making better use of battery life, and app companies are refining the augmented reality experience to enhance the user experience further. Combined with the ability to share augmented reality’s most funny, unusual, and downright interesting moments on social media, this technology’s integration into the social media world is a foregone conclusion.
Article by Joshua Rood