Mobile augmented reality (AR) is often described as a solution in search of a problem.
The promise of augmented reality is a world where you can view data overlaid on top of your everyday surroundings. People can walk around like little Terminators, scanning information about nearby people, places, and objects.
Until now, mobile augmented reality’s greatest successes have been limited to games and rudimentary travel guides.
Over the past few months, encouraging new developments that link augmented reality to e-commerce have demonstrated a new potential for the technology.
Throwing Image Recognition into the Mix
In the past augmented reality experiences had to be launched by scanning a code similar to a QR code. Once identified, the viewfinder of a webcam or smartphone is filled up with content ranging from 3D images to videos.
Now augmented reality apps are using image recognition instead of barcodes to launch new experiences.
Amazon Flow is a great new example of how this enables new e-commerce opportunities. Launch Amazon Flow on the iPhone and point it at any logo or product nearby. You can watch the app bring the product into focus, and once it is recognized you can purchase directly from the viewfinder and move on to the next scan.
Extending Existing Platforms
We’ve discussed in the past how useful hack-a-thons can be for brands, but they are extremely useful for technology startups.
Layar, a company involved in mobile augmented reality since it was possible, held its Layar Creation Challenge in August.
The teams that won didn’t just look for new ways to view content through AR; as Programmable Web points out, each of the top 3 winners integrated e-commerce into the AR layer in a fresh way.
Food2You came in 3rd place and holds a special place in my heart. With Food2You you can scan takeout menus to get health information on the item and go directly to place an online or phone order.
We’re still not going to come out and say that 2012 will be the year of augmented reality. The fact that companies are looking for new ways to tie the technology into e-commerce demonstrates that not only does augmented reality still have potential but also that mobile commerce in general will continue to expand into new forms and experiences as mobile technology evolves.
Simeon Spearman, 11.20.2011