Augmented Reality comes at home
On Tuesday September 19th, 2017, Apple launched its latest mobile operating system: iOS11.
iOS11 brings a lot of new features to the user, chief among which is the Enhanced Augmented Reality. Using apple’s framework ARKit, app developers can easily create AR apps bringing a new set of experiences to the customer. Having a powerful AR app on a smartphone will bring a noticeable shift in the use of AR. The technology itself is mostly the same, but without the need for a complicated and anti-social visor, it is now available instantaneously and everywhere. Thus, it can be applied to a much broader field of applications.
IKEA has been one of the companies which immediately took advantage of this potentiality. On the same day iOS11 was release, IKEA launched IKEA Places. The app has a very simple scope. It allows to place virtual furniture, from the IKEA catalog of course, over what you see on the phone’s screen. In its simplicity, IKEA Places completely revolutionizes the way we buy furniture today.
Instead of going to the store and browse the infinite number of sofas, wardrobes and shelves trying to imagine how they would look like at home, the user will now browse the online catalog and immediately see how they would fit in his house. With this approach not only does the user gets a further chance of avoiding regrets, but also the entire process can be made faster and in a more relaxing way. Moreover, since the user can access the full catalog, he is more likely to find the product that best fits his need, reducing the risk on missing out on items which, for instance, are not displayed at the local store.
Looking some years ahead, it may happen that applications like this make the physical store disappear, and the user will have its chosen product delivered directly at home at the touch of a button. Apps like this can also be used in offices, libraries and public areas to get a feel of how future furnishing will look like. Let us imagine a public park where benches have to be fitted. An app that would display different benches in the park, as well as allow the users to upload their own design, and vote for the one they like the most, can get citizens more involved and in fact contribute to the creation of a space “for the citizens”.
Of course, the scope may exceed common sense, and we may start to imagine and display beds on top of building, sofas in the middle of the roads and other nonsense situations.
There is nothing wrong with that. Let the imagination run beyond the limit of common sense is often the best way to innovate, but there are some caveats.When the technology will get better and there will be eye implants that provide AR without the need of an external tool, distinguishing reality from virtual objects may get tricky. In this situation, seeing a sofa in the middle of the road and not be sure whether it is actually there or not may lead to catastrophic consequences.
This issue, which is possibly the biggest philosophical issue of AR, goes far beyond the simple IKEA app, and in fact the scope of this article. For now we can say that apps like IKEA Places definitely improve the customer experience and will in fact become an important tool for the future.However, AR can go far beyond being a simple buying tool. It allows to “display your imagination”, making communication more effective, and consequently many “high-level” process such as design will greatly benefit from it.
Oct. 12th, 2017
Note: This article was written as an homework for course CS 491 – Virtual and Augmented Reality, held by professor Johnson at UIC.