Our Industry's Brand-New Bag: How companies are latching onto Augmented Reality

This article was originally posted in Kitchen & Bath Business.

A New Superpower For Brands: Kitchen Brands Love The All New Medium Called Augmented Reality | Dream Kitchen Builders

I first experienced augmented reality (AR) when my 29-year-old daughter sent me a snap. In it she and my grandson were wearing virtual sunglasses. It looked so real that I did a double take, the sunglasses moved in sync with the two of them. When augmented reality is done right the experience can be magical and Snapchat does it really well. 

What really got me thinking about AR was the worldwide developers conference last May in the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino California. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said that iOS 12 and AR had “awesome new features that would impact the world.” Apple introduced it's own AR measuring app called ... Measure. Measuring and recording real world images and spaces in real time and to scale is a game changer for the design and construction industries. That’s what disruptive technology does, it changes the game. 

AR is a brand new kind of media that builds on that of the past like radio, TV, digital and mobile technology and add a unique new superpower – the ability to combine the real world with the imagined world. I recently used AR to place a virtual range in my Kitchen in real time and to scale. Combining real time experiences with virtual data is profound. The history of computing has been 100% text input up until now but computers can now use images and video to “see.” That’s called computer vision.  Computer vision means you can point your smart phone camera at something and it can obtain data like location, dimensions, context and of course capture an image.

 

How companies are using AR

Trying to understand the power of AR, I asked Dr. Helen Papagiannis, author of Augmented Human, her thoughts about its use in the design and construction industries. 

“Designers, marketers and merchandisers can harness AR’s unique visualization ability to showcase their work and products to scale and in-situ and in customers homes, offices and even on their bodies with a try–before–you–buy experience“ she said. 

Some major corporations like Mercedes-Benz, are engaging customers in ways that seem almost science fiction like. Point your mobile device at whatever it is that you want to know about your car – like your dash control panel – and virtual data like images and video are uploaded to your mobile device to assist you. Simply put, virtual data is shared to your real time experience. That’s AR.

GE Appliances, a leading kitchen industry brand, is another early adopter of AR. According to Shawn Stover, the company's Vice President of Smart Home Solutions, engagement is the big differentiator. GE Appliances wants to engage customers throughout the buying cycle with quality interactive experiences.

“The kitchen industry is at the beginning stages of augmented reality“ he said. “We are now into utility; we want AR to enable showrooms to show more about appliances in less space.“

GE’s premium finishes can be displayed (superimposed by a mobile device) on top of the physical floor model, in real time. This means customers gain more product visualizations, and more personalization with AR. Kitchen and bath brands can now interact with customers in the discovery stage of a buying cycle – when customers might not even know something like a custom finish exists. 

   

New & Future AR Applications   

AR experiences in every stage of a buying cycle will help us when we need something whether it’s in the shopping stage or post purchase. Like getting more finish options for appliances in the shopping stage and learning more about your new car after you drive it off the car lot. Stover also brought up using AR to replace a water filter on a refrigerator. Homeowners can now access real time instructions using AR to assist with changing a water filter on a refrigerator.

There are new kinds of services popping up where we can access a live person for service. Remote Expert is an AR app where a  repair person can diagnose issues remotely using AR in a shared experience. I recently remodeled a kitchen and my client asked if my company could change a door swing on a wine cooler which made me think that instructions for reversing appliance door swings would be a good application for AR.

Jeff Wolfe, Director of Marketing for Wood-Mode Cabinetry is very upbeat about AR from a brand marketing perspective.

“I love that AR is about getting content when and where we need it“ he said. “This allows brands to connect with us in more ways and with more personalization. At some point, virtual reality and AR will become part of a show room experience.“

With AR I see a whole new kind of storytelling that enables us to merge our physical worlds with virtual worlds. Leading kitchen and bath industry brands are showing us how to do it.  Designers already use lots of design technology, so I'm interested to see my colleagues explore new avenues of creativity and storytelling using AR.