The 2020 Guide to Augmented Reality

While once a technology considered futuristic, augmented reality now interweaves into our daily lives, elevating experiences and helping us to understand buying choices. Augmented reality has become so widespread both in business and personal use, that by 2025 this sector is expected to hit nearly $200 billion.

In 2019, only about 13 percent used augmented reality in some capacity. Now, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, most of us are using a platform or app that offers this technology.

What is augmented reality and how do we use it? Here is our Ultimate Guide to Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

Don’t conflate augmented reality with virtual reality. Both technologies are unique and offer different user experiences.

Virtual reality technology provides users with an alternative virtual world to create a real-life experience in a digital space. Virtual reality is popular for video games and is used to take the gamer into the world of the game; these virtual video games usually include headsets that the player wears to interact with the gaming realm.

Virtual reality also is commonly used to create simulations for employees as training tools. Examples of this include flight simulators used by pilots or even customer service simulations for new retail employees. These simulations are created using special headsets that transport users into a virtual realm where they can interact with virtual characters and navigate through different scenarios.

Stores and automotive dealerships have used virtual reality to create interactive shopping experiences that can be accessed remotely. During the pandemic, dealerships and automobile manufacturers provided customers with a virtual showroom that allowed them to view all aspects of a vehicle model. These virtual reality platforms sometimes allowed shoppers to change paint colors or other features, too. Clothing stores may have offered virtual options, too, so shoppers could view products from different angles.

While virtual reality transports users into a separate digital space, augmented reality, as defined by Live Science, “is the result of using technology to superimpose information — sounds, images and text — on the world we see.” Augmented reality is used in the gaming world, too, and one of the best examples is Pokemon Go!; this game takes players on a hunt for Pokemon characters by projecting their virtual images into real-life backdrops. The use of augmented reality, though, is most commonly found in the gadgets we rely on daily.

Are Virtual Assistants Augmented Reality?

Virtual assistants are one of the most prevalent uses of interactive technology. Calling out ‘Hey, Siri…’ will summon the iPhone’s virtual assistant. This simple command might not seem so high-tech, but the capabilities of these assistants illustrate the future complexity of augmented reality.

Siri, Google and Alexa now can control our daily activities and, in the case of Alexa, our homes, too. The intelligence of these assistants goes beyond the mundane task of simply calculating a simple math problem or finding a local restaurant. Alexa, Siri and Google, while programmed to search the web and its contents, also hold control over other gadgets in our lives.

These virtual assistants can schedule tasks and appointments, remind us of important details and meetings, make calls or send texts, they can dictate notes, but they also can manage the Internet of Things. Our homes were once hardwired with cord and plugs; to turn an appliance or device on or off, we either used a remote control or had to manually make these changes.

The Internet of Things (or IoT) has elevated the manual into the digital. Plugs and powerstrips feature a computerized intelligence; electricity may power the lights, HVAC thermostat or coffee maker, but technology links it to our augmented reality assistants. With these smart strips and plugs, Alexa can turn off the lights, adjust the temperature, or even brew the coffee.

Alexa, Siri and Google provide convenience in the form of automated technology, but these assistants don’t fit the true definition of augmented reality. However, virtual assistants can represent the future of augmented reality. For example, Amazon has already taken Alexa to the next level with Echo Frames, glasses that can summon Alexa!

GPS & Navigation Devices Feature Augmented Reality

Some navigation systems or GPS devices use augmented reality to help drivers better understand their surroundings while driving. Street views may provide a real-life glimpse of the route, while a digital representation of the automobile is shown on the screen in movement.

Sygic’s GPS utilizes augmented reality, and the company states “…the AR feature is not only intuitive but it’s also safer than traditional navigation apps. Drivers can rest assured they won’t miss anything crucial on roads or highways, as the real-time camera preview enables them to check conditions on the screen without impacting driving safety.”

Many new car models also feature augmented reality built into the navigation system. Smart rear view mirrors utilize cameras to provide drivers with a more precise glimpse of the road—and the vehicles– behind them. These mirrors also may offer an illuminated vantage point in darker road conditions or in poorly lit areas like a parking garage.

Augmented Reality for the Home

If you’re in the market to buy new furniture, you might have used an app to preview a paint color or even the look of new furniture. These apps provide shoppers with the technology to try out a design or new look before they make a purchase, and, yes, they are all examples of augmented reality.

The Ikea Place app lets shoppers move a new piece of furniture into any space…virtually. Try out a new sofa or desk and see if it complements your living room or bedroom. For shoppers, this feature takes the guesswork out of a new purchase and could perhaps encourage them to try out other accessories, too.

Glidden’s Room Visualizer enables homeowners to swipe different shades of paint onto the walls of any room without any commitment. Try out different hues to see which colors best compliment the space and the furniture. Other paint manufacturers and stores offer similar apps and programs.

Augmented Reality for Marketing

Companies often use augmented reality to market their products to customers; in fact, this may be a really popular technique to build curiosity and excitement about a new launch. You might have even participated in a few of these unique experiences.

Before the second season of the series Stranger Things, Hubspot reported that Netflix used augmented reality to bring viewers into the scenes from the show; Snapchat lenses transported viewers into the Byers’ home…yes, demogorgons were included.

Hubspot also reported that AMC used augmented reality in its theaters as a means to encourage guests to check out details on upcoming features. Guests who downloaded the AMC app could snap a photo of a movie poster hanging in the theater to access more information about the movie.

Sephora continuously uses augmented reality to help market its products. The Sephora app lets customers try on makeup products virtually. Snap a photo and then see how a new shade of lipstick will look on you! This feature may help Sephora reduce returns, as customers feel confident that a shade complements their complexion.

Augmented Reality for Kids

Parents could be using augmented reality to keep kids entertained and to elevate experiences. Apps are transforming coloring books and reading, too!

Disney’s Coloring Book app integrates traditional coloring fun with interactive elements that turn those two-dimensional images into interactive characters. While kids color the flat images in their coloring books, characters also show up as 3D images on the screen.

While Disney’s app takes its coloring pages to another level, Fatherly reports that Holotats takes the temporary tattoo fun to an interactive level. With these tattoos, children can snap a photo and then see them in action…literally. Every design is animated!

Kids and adults who sign onto the Wizarding World app (once known as Pottermore), they can participate in a virtual sorting ceremony with the Sorting Hat. The app can access the camera to bring the user into the experience.

The My Very Hungry Caterpillar app also uses augmented reality. The cute little caterpillar from the story can be integrated in a child’s world—from the house and into nature! This app lets children immerse into the story and the character’s experiences.

Star Walk Kids helps children understand the cosmos. Fatherly highlighted this app, which offers interactive features that help decipher the stars. Just point the phone’s camera up at the sky, and the app will illustrate details and explain the viewpoints.

While many kids are engaging in virtual learning during the pandemic, there are many apps that utilize augmented reality that can help engage children in the learning experience. The Seek app helps children (and adults, too!) immerse into nature and biological science. Users snap photos of any plant, animal or bug, and the app will identify the species. This app can be used while hiking or exploring outdoors to help better understand all the life that exists out in nature.

Augmented Reality to Reimagine Your Lawn Design

If augmented reality can be used to preview new furniture and paint color, why shouldn’t it be used to redesign your backyard? For homeowners who want a new look for their landscape, augmented reality allows them the chance to redesign their surroundings.

The app iScape lets homeowners add in different trees, flowers and shrubs. Snap images of your yard and start creating a new design by swapping in new landscape details for a preview of your new lawn. The app also provides planting tips.

Apps like iScape are perfect for homeowners who aren’t quite sure what look they want to achieve for their lawn. Augmented reality provides an opportunity to play around with different ideas without commitment. While a certain design idea might sound perfect, a homeowner could see it against the backdrop of their home and decide it just won’t work.

Augmented Reality: Social Media Filters and Teleconferencing

The most utilized form of augmented reality—at least right now—might just be teleconferencing. Many businesses continue to operate remotely, and this means most employees are conducting meetings virtually using teleconferencing apps like Zoom.

How is the teleconference a form of augmented reality, though? If you’ve changed your backdrop to appear as though you’re on a beach or somewhere else, you’ve stepped into the realm of augmented reality during the conference. These features allow us to take the boring backgrounds of our home offices, living rooms and kitchens and transform them into a tropical paradise or even project a window with a beautiful scenic backdrop.

Filters also are one of the ways we commonly use augmented reality in the social media realm. Instagram’s filters allow users to modify their images with dog ears and other fun and cute superimposed details. With these features, users can transform their image into something unique…or even perfect their looks.

Augmented Reality to Preview Physical Changes

The need to perfect or streamline aspects of physical appearance may inspire an individual to contemplate cosmetic surgery. Some look to celebrities for the features they desire, but will Angelina Jolie’s features complement an individual’s own unique face shape?

Augmented reality apps also can provide physical previews of cosmetic changes. With certain apps, individuals can change the size of their nose or other facial details to see how cosmetic surgery may alter their appearance. Those who are uncertain about the procedure may use these apps to play around with different looks, too. After all, programs and apps aren’t permanent!

Even little changes, though, can be previewed using augmented reality. Ever wonder if you would look good with pink streaks in your hair? Or maybe if you should rock a pixie cut. Big hair changes can instill complete fear to those who are accustomed to their current look…even when they crave something new. The Daily Mail cited a survey from Toni & Guy that about 20 percent of women have “burst into tears after leaving a hairdressing salon.”

Bad haircuts are a horror that can take weeks, if not months or years, to fully grow out. Augmented reality apps allow an individual to preview a hair change to see if that look really would work. Finding out via an app that a cut looks more like an ‘80s-inspired mullet than punk princess can stop the tears from flowing by dodging a hair disaster.

Augmented Reality is…EVERYWHERE!

Augmented reality has infiltrated our lives in so many ways. Many of us use some type of augmented reality app every day. If you regularly teleconference using Zoom and alter your background during those meetings, you’ve embraced the world of augmented reality.

Many companies also use this technology to elevate marketing by encouraging users to explore their products in a semi-virtual realm. Homeowners can utilize virtual reality apps to preview paint colors, furniture concepts and even add flowers and unique landscape designs to their lawn. For children who are in the midst of virtual learning, augmented reality apps also can enhance the educational experience; Star Walk allows kids to explore the cosmos and Seek helps children identify all the life in nature.

While virtual assistants aren’t technically a form of augmented reality, even these platforms are stepping into this realm; Amazon’s Echo Frames are smart glasses that interact with Alexa! Augmented reality surrounds us and enhances the way we see the world, shop and interact…and the future developments of this technology will likely integrate into more of our daily habits.