At its most basic and relevant-to-print level, Augmented Reality (AR) uses a printed image and a smartphone or tablet app link to a video, animation, or other content somewhere in the “cloud.” Various custom apps are presently the gateway, but this is changing rapidly. We are still in AR 1.0, or maybe AR 1.5, but AR 2.0 is almost here.
AR could be viewed as a 21st-century replacement for QR codes, those ugly, old-school squares of inscrutable markings typically viewed on a static web page, but AR brings a new dynamic to any printed image.
Examples of AR Applications
- Brochures and direct mail. Using AR, a brochure for a Caribbean resort, for instance, might have photos of people kayaking or enjoying dinner in a beachside restaurant. With AR in play, someone pointing their phone at an AR-enabled image would link the person in the advertisement to videos about kayaking at the resort and/or dining at the restaurant. Additional links within the video could lead to details about kayak rentals or the menu in the restaurant.
- Slides in a presentation handout. Enabled by AR, a set of graphs on a slide can be animated to match talking points or an included video, replicating those elements from the live presentation. Such features add value to printed documents, fostering interest and customer engagement that can drive additional sales or interaction with the company.
- Catalogs. Graphics linked to AR sites can contain additional details and special pricing. Not to be outdone, direct mailers are getting into AR too. In fact, the USPS claims a 37% uptick in response rate when AR is used in a mail piece.
The good news for printers and document creators is that in many cases the printed images are nothing more than PDFs. The smartphone app “reads” the image and the magic happens on the remote web page where the app plays a video, animation, slide show, or whatever.
Dynamic and Timeless
Old-fashioned QR codes can also link to a website, but an AR link is both dynamic and timeless. QR codes are generally static—linked to a specific URL such as a web page holding an image or block of text. They are not intended to point to changing information, so if the information on the site a QR code points to is changed, the QR code and its associated URL for that page should also be maintained (a largely manual process) to ensure the link remains accurate and in place. This is additional, exacting work for document creators that takes time and increases the likelihood of errors—which show up as dead links.
In contrast, AR links can be continuously updated without needing to change the original printed image. In our Caribbean resort example, the kayaking video could change from single-person kayaks to a video including children. The restaurant video could change to show new menu offerings, all without changing the image in the brochure. What this means at the printing end of the process is that the same images can be used on hundreds or thousands of brochures and direct mail pieces, printed occasionally or all at once, but still providing a gateway for prospective travelers using their smartphones.
The Three-Foot Effect
Or consider packaging, poised to be a leading player at the intersection of AR and print. While not an area where the customers of most copier/printer dealers spend much time, packaging is at the forefront of AR and is compelling because so many people have smartphones with them all the time.
The “Three-Foot Effect” is a retail packaging tactic intended to attract shoppers’ eyeballs from about three feet away. Using AR, labels and even entire packages can be linked to a nearly unlimited range of information about a product. For example, a box containing an air conditioner can offer details about its cooling power, ability to dehumidify a room, and its remote control. Packaging in a grocery store can provide info on a vendor’s organic products, while cosmetics products that use beeswax and honey can show videos about the benefits of those ingredients. The potential for AR at the product level is endless, along with the associated brand extension opportunities.
As you probably expected, this is not totally simple. The biggest gotcha is the apps. Depending on whom you talk with, there are as many as 40 different smartphone/tablet applications that can make AR possible. This is the “Gold Rush” period when every player hopes their AR app will be the one that becomes the standard.
Standards, however, aren’t what they used to be. The big dogs, phone makers like Apple, Google, Samsung, and others are not sitting still. AR apps are already being included in Android and Apple operating systems, and some type of all-purpose AR access will be commonplace within a year or two. Lest you doubt this, recall that only four or five years ago, QR codes required dedicated apps. Now, your smartphone’s camera can read QR codes automatically. The same will happen with AR, and upcoming versions of what are now proprietary AR apps will link to the ones embedded in phones’ operating systems.
Some AR applications, like those noted above, will tie closely to print. Others will replace print, and still, others will have nothing to do with ink or toner. The latest Apple iOS, for instance, can let you view furniture on an AR-linked website and, using the phone’s camera, show how it looks in your home. An app in beta at Mercedes Benz seeks to eliminate printed owner’s manuals. Slide into a new Benz and use the app to get a tour of the car, learn how the climate control and adaptive cruise control systems work, delve into maintenance intervals, and more.
Where’s the Market?
Pretty much everyone, baby boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials alike all watch videos and look up information on their smartphones. The biggest target is millennials, those 19 to 38-year-olds who are digital natives. As it turns out, this group, the largest demographic segment since the baby boomers, actually likes print but also looks for “experiences” they can relate to, something static print can’t provide. AR can provide connections that resonate with them—and can influence purchase decisions.
It’s still early days for AR—think of it as AR 1.5—but there is a lot more to come, and the print-related opportunities are significant.
(A lengthier version of this article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of The Cannata Report. That original article is available to subscribers only. See below for information on how to subscribe.)
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