AR Summit – The Talks
“Virtual Reality can take us completely out of the real world. Augmented Reality is just life, digitally augmented a bit,” said Ken Blakeslee, WebMobility Ventures chairman and our compère for the morning at London's AR Summit.
That was the first attempt at pinning down the exact definition of Augmented Reality, but it certainly wasn't the last. It's a tricky concept to explain, even to a room full of people familiar with the technology. In their introductory 'shenote' speech, Westfield head of digital Katz Kiely and MEC head of social media Ann Longley admitted that the exact boundaries of AR are somewhat nebulous.
That's just one of the problems with selling AR – which has the potential to be a hugely exciting and disruptive technology – to the man on the street. Most of the other hot topics also raised their heads at some point during the morning – the lack of awareness, the dangers of novelty, and the shakiness of the technology. Is this technology really augmenting my reality? Or is it just a one-trick pony?” asked Westfield's Kiely. That, as far as AR is concerned, is the question.
The morning's unspoken theme was the journey towards making AR apps intuitive and valuable to users, and moving the technology's appeal beyond, as Kiely put it, the “geeks”, and taking it to the masses.
The various speakers provided numerous solutions: “Content is always king, but context is queen,” said Webmobility's Blakeslee, urging us not to “give everyone the same billboard”. He also pointed out that we have five senses to be augmented, but currently AR content is almost exclusively visual. AR companies need to work out how to incorporate the more out-there senses, like smell – which is, after all, a powerful marketing tool for perfume brands and burger joints.
If that sounds like science fiction, well, you won't be surprised to hear how many sci-fi films and authors were cited, including but not limited to William Gibson, Douglas Adams, the Terminator films, and Minority Report.
In truth, most of the talks felt very speculative. Kiely and Longley in particular chewed over the effects AR might have on society, dating, and identity, even stepping into the possibility of AR gravestones and memorials. But it was all very future-tense, with much fewer hard facts and campaign results that your average conference.
Even when the agencies and brands took the stage - with Ryan Davies, digital consultant at multichannel agency RAPP talking about Pampers and Bacardi campaigns and Virgin Media's senior customer communications manager Natasha Conetta showing off its Blippar-enabled customer magazine - numbers were thin on the ground.
Qualcomm senior business development manager Julian Harris broke the trend a little, discussing the 26,000 downloads of the Vuforia SDK, which has powered 700 apps, and sharing results from an app for Starbucks's cup campaign, which was used by 91 per cent of those who downloaded it, and saw 450,000 engagements within a month. He also discussed Canadian outdoor clothing retailer Moosejaw, whose X-Ray AR app enabled users to reveal what lay beneath models' clothing in a catalogue – whether that was their underwear or, in one case, a squid strapped to a male model's chest. The campaign was downloaded 75,000 times in five weeks, and drove a 37 per cent increase in sales and a 4 per cent increase in traffic to the retailer's website.