As part of this discussion, we should all be taking a closer look at “augmented reality”. Not to be confused with its more straightforward cousin, “virtual reality”, augmented reality (or A.R.) can be loosely defined as the integration of the digital sphere into real-time experiences. A.R. involves splicing the virtual world over the top of the real world - the flagship example is probably Pokémon Go, the free-to-play smartphone game by Nintendo which sees the player interacting with fantastic creatures that appear on the screen as if they were “really there”. The social phenomenon caused by Pokémon Go is well-known, and the popularity of the game – which played an important part in reversing Nintendo’s ailing fortunes and revitalising the reputation of the videogame giant – is a testament to the ability of augmented reality to inspire audiences like nothing else.
Indeed, A.R. is being heavily touted by Apple as the next big thing. At the end of last year Apple rolled out a video campaign promoting iPad Pro and iOS 11, in which the A.R. capabilities of the device, enabled by the new operating system and a special module known as ARkit, were shown off: in the video, a freewheeling millennial uses her iPad Pro to drop furniture and other objects right in the middle of an urban scene. The app she uses is extremely reminiscent of Ikea Place and its ilk, A.R. apps which allow users to see how furniture will fit in their homes by dragging virtual copies around the screen. This functionality in particular gestures to the way that brick and mortar outlets will become ever more obsolete: once furniture, carpets, and even clothes can be simulated remotely by the user, the need to physically test these products instore before purchase will be wiped out.
The research body Markets and Markets has projected that A.R. will achieve a valuation of $117.4 billion by 2022. This staggering figure suggests that the hype surrounding augmented reality should be believed – that this is not just another echo chamber generated by the marketing industry’s tendency to get overexcited, but a real sign of important changes to come in the way we experience and market products.