However, progress in moving over AR from a fun gimmick to having a genuine value in a range of business has been slow. Just as businesses were starting to get a handle on the technology, the pandemic hit and everyone was forced to pivot. It may still be a niche technology and is not used to its full potential, but here are 5 examples of AR solutions for the pandemic era and beyond that show how it can truly empower business.
1. Virtual try-on
As the pandemic moves in waves and lockdowns are reinforced in various places, the fashion industry continues to struggle. Physical stores are seeing less and less footfall and sales are moving online. Most fashion retailers already have a robust presence, both on their own sites and on marketplaces like Zalando and Amazon. And giants like H&M and Inditex (owner of Zara) have announced further big pushes towards online sales with physical store closures and significant eCommerce investments in 2021.
One of the greatest challenges for online stores is giving shoppers engaging online experiences that are similar to those in-store—which is where retailers are turning to AR solutions for the pandemic era.
The biggest issue is allowing users to try on products when they are shopping remotely. Luckily, according to Google Research, 66% of people say they are interested in using AR for help when shopping and savvy stores have taken advantage of AR technology during and even before the pandemic. Using much the same idea that Snapchat brought to market, customers can try on clothes, glasses, and even makeup with AR-powered phone apps.
2. AR solutions for industry trade fairs and B2B sales
Trade shows have always represented the most important dates on the calendar for many manufacturing and distribution companies. It’s old-school but still absolutely essential to be able to show complex products to potential buyers and discuss the parameters and fine details. Unfortunately, with mass gatherings forbidden in most countries, B2B industries have suffered.
Once we return to trade shows after restrictions are lifted, many companies will be working in restricted budgets and with changed priorities. The cost of insuring, transporting, and displaying huge machines at trade fairs will be a challenge—and yet these events are still the biggest opportunity for sales and new business.
One of the most notable AR solutions for the pandemic era helps with the display of complex machinery. Along with ValueLogic, Seco/Warwick developed a perfect AR image of one of its massive industrial furnaces and presented it at trade fairs in 2019. Visitors only needed to point their phone at the AR marker and could explore the machinery inside and out, from any angle. Potential buyers actually saw the equipment in more detail than ever before and the cost to the company was a fraction of transporting and displaying the physical machine.
This is also a possible solution for B2B salespeople who need to present complex machinery to customers in an interactive way while working remotely.
TechTrend2020: Digital transformation during COVID
3. Entertainment industry AR solutions for the pandemic era
Music has always survived because albums can be copied but there is no substitute for the live music experience. Not only are live shows the most lucrative earning channel for bands in the digital music era, they are also the most engaging and intimate moments bands can share with fans.
With mass concerts unlikely for some time, musicians are looking towards AR solutions for the pandemic era which give fans light, fun experiences. Ageless rock hall-of-famers Pearl Jam supported the release of the second single from their 2020 album Gigaton with AR technology. The song, Super Blood Wolf Moon, was released with an AR app that allowed fans a sneak listen of the tune days in advance. Users could scan a QR code and then point their phone at the moon to hear the tune.
It’s only one small thing but it is an example of how AR is an “engagement technology”. It does not always have to offer immediate customer conversion. It should give customers new and exciting ways of interacting with bands (or brands) to start the buying journey. Users come for the novelty and stay for the quality. As the pandemic continues, finding new ways to engage people becomes even more important.
4. Office space booking with AR stickers
The way we experience workspaces has changed drastically due to the pandemic, but we need to stop repeating the myth that “we’re all working from home”. It is true that many professionals have largely moved to home offices; however, we shouldn’t let ourselves get caught up in the stats. A team of economists in Norway estimated that approximately 36% of jobs could be realistically performed from home—a number that confirms earlier estimates.
There are also those who can feasibly work outside the office but prefer not to do so because of poor internet connections or sub-optimal working conditions at home. Employers are currently using apps that allow people who prefer the office to book desks. Such apps help limit the amount of employees in the workspace during the deeper parts of the pandemic.
At some point, we need to open offices up again, but the caution will remain. Touchless technology will be vital for businesses as they try to eliminate common contact areas in the workplace for at least the next year. Bookado is one such solution for room and desk booking in the office. It uses AR stickers that can be scanned by a mobile application in seconds, without office workers needing to touch anything other than their own mobile device. There will be a raft of similar touch-free AR solutions for the pandemic era hitting the market in the years to come as “contact is contagious”.
The dual benefit for office administrators is that millennials have long preferred BYOD workplaces. Allowing workers to integrate office software with their own devices is a step that actually vastly increases employee satisfaction and safety.
5. Augmented Reality & education
Spending in AR and VR technology has dropped in 2020 but is set to see something of a rebound in 2021 as businesses look to AR solutions for the pandemic era that will enhance and augment experiences. Education is one area which is in great need of new solutions and investment.
When the first lockdown hit in March, teachers were unprepared and lessons were often chaotic (if they took place at all). With no technology infrastructure and no prior IT training, many teachers simply emailed the numbers of pages from the textbook which kids should read and asked pupils to send photos of their homework for “marking”.
Most schools spent the summer preparing for inevitable future home-schooling. They trained staff and then students on the use of MS Teams and other tools to allow for more fulfilling and interactive online lessons. These give children better learning experiences and at least some contact with their peers.
However, for online lessons to remain engaging and effective through potential next waves of the pandemic and future lockdowns, educators need to look to AR solutions for the pandemic era that will excite kids and deliver memorable lessons. AR technology is, surprisingly, not prohibitively expensive and is actually simple enough for many teachers to integrate into lessons. As we begin to realize that closed classrooms may become a regular occurrence, we need to make sure that home-schooling is not second-rate. It needs to give kids information but also allow them to have engaging experiences with their friends. And AR is one way to do just that.
AR is an under-utilized but powerful technology. Companies spend a long time looking at uses for AR and VR only in the gaming industry and in social media, and it took some time for practical uses in other industries to appear. Like any global crisis in history, the pandemic will ultimately accelerate the path of technologies and AR will be among the eventual winners. Innovators will start to think how it can solve some of our urgent problems and that will lead to more mature adoption and use cases across the board.
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