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The new reality is here, finally

Immersive human experiences are no longer just hype. They are real and available — and can enhance the brand experience.

If you can believe it, it was back in June 2014 that a VR headset took centre stage for the first time; we’re talking about the Oculus Rift in this case. Since then it has been hard to get away from the hype and hyperbole of VR and AR.

With all this noise, it is quite reasonable that many marketers might have put AR/VR aside, seeing it not for now; as a gadget or gimmick for the few and not a strategic opportunity for the masses.

Yet something big is happening in our virtual worlds. Gartner’s Hype Curve of Emerging Technologies in 2017 flagged virtual reality as well on the way up ‘The Slope of Enlightenment’ and while augmented reality was right at the bottom of the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ history shows that even six months on, it’s likely AR will be climbing out the other side.

Although VR and AR capable devices are still relatively few and far between, there are moves to integrate location aware, augmented reality capabilities into consumer handsets. The growth of headsets linked either to phones or consoles is helping boost VR take up. All in all, first generation VR/AR capabilities are going to be in the hands of many consumers and colleagues sooner than we think.

Apple has developed ARKit for iOS, which allows users to create AR experiences on iPhone and iPad. This will roll out to the mass market with the proliferation of the latest iPhones on iOS 11. On the Android side, Google has released the competitor framework ARCore. Based on leading research and the current adoption levels of ARKit on iOS11, our prediction is that 200-300m phones are likely to be capable of handling sophisticated AR within months.

Businesses have the opportunity to transform their services around these new technologies. We’d suggest that 2018 is the year to really understand how AR/VR might integrate into the human experiences of both your customers and your colleagues. Different human experiences require different technology capabilities and will cope with differing levels of friction.

While for some experiences consumers might be more than happy to grab their handset and point at an object, others will only really work when wearable AR comes of age and doesn’t demand a spaceman-like visor system, or extremely deep pockets.

So what immersive human experiences might we be able to create?

Buying a car: Imagine sitting in a car in the showroom, and as you look around the interior, you can make changes to finishes and features to personalise it to your tastes. Not only does this aid up-sell and customisation, it generates a valuable stream of data for future design and production.

Empathetic experiences: Imagine charities or lobbyists being able to put those they wish to influence in the boat with an RNLI crew, for instance. It could equally help people understand the sensory overload felt by those suffering from autism, or put you right at the heart of the Calais ‘jungle’, to understand what its really like to have your life on hold in that environment.

Follow fashion: Imagine being behind the scenes at a fashion shoot, not just being on set with the top artists and industry pros, but interacting with products and participating in choices that affect the outcome of the shoot. This ‘personal’ experience can help brands get closer to their customers.

Imagine if all the above were available now, gathering insight and feedback from customers and developing the immersive experiences of the future. Well, all the above are in action right now. They’re delivering insights, lessons learnt and, more importantly, results. If you are not exploring these ideas, which of your competitors are, and what experiential opportunities might they seize before you do?

Lawrence Weber is managing partner at Karmarama and Matteo Aliberti, is senior manager at Accenture Interactive.

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