Beware augmented reality's cool-factor and get past the gimmick, say agencies

Hype around world's "sexiest tech" can lead to time and money being wasted

Auggd’s Robert Lang has a sweet business card. As you might expect for the CEO of an augmented reality agency, it features a pop-up holographic representation of himself. But he probably won’t let you see it. Not yet.

“I don’t show that in the first part of a meeting because I lose the room for about ten minutes while everyone’s sitting there going: ‘How do I get one of those business cards?’” he told the audience at an Academy Xi augmented reality panel in Sydney earlier this week.

“Clients see it. And they go wow that’s cool. The hardest thing is getting past that gimmick and getting to the real business value.”

More and more businesses are exploring the potential of Augmented Reality (AR). The technology’s use cases are far-reaching, including advertising real estate , fighting wars and building aeroplanes.

It is, Lang added, “the sexiest tech on the market today without a doubt”. But, potential buyer beware, AR’s cool factor could end up wasting you a lot of time and money.

Not my cup of tea

“You’ve got to get past the gimmick,” Lang added. “If I said – oh I’m a teabag company and I want to have a virtual cup of tea appear on the table. Well okay, that’s fun for about 30 seconds while you show your friends and then that’s it. What’s the compelling reason that would make me download an app, then find a trigger, look at the trigger, just to see a virtual tea cup.”

A fear of missing out is leading to misguided forays into the field said Sydney AR app building agency Limpid Logic’s founder and managing director Bachir El Khoury.

“Nine out of 10 enquiries we get for projects are completely useless,” he said. “Companies just want to do them because their competitors are doing them. It’s like video just got invented and they want to use it to film a static image. They don’t get the advantage of having the technology.”

Read more: ​Google Daydream View VR full, in-depth review

AR you sure?

To dampen the fevered me-tooism, Lang says he has four questions for every client that approaches him about an AR project, and often sends them away to think about their responses.

“The first is what are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to convey information? Are you trying to get more people into the site etc. The second question is what is the compelling reason for someone to use AR for this?” he said.

“The third thing is what’s the total experience – this is a new way of looking at things. We’re comfortable with screens but we’re not comfortable with holding a phone up for more than a minute or two. You’re not going to watch a whole movie holding your phone up watching it on AR yet. We’re just a long way from that.

“The final thing is just the practical question of where’s the content coming from? Someone actually has to build the 3D models and so on.”

Virtual cowboys

While established AR agencies like Auggd and Limpid Logic have provided proven benefits to the likes of engineering firm Laing O’Rourke and green building consultancy Recollective, not all companies claiming AR capability really have it and are cashing in on the hype.

That’s according to 3M’s Sydney-based senior digital strategist Joe Millward, writing in a scathing LinkedIn post this month entitled I’m not paying your agency to learn VR.

“I am seeing an all too familiar trend. Mobile and Web agencies claiming to have a capability to develop for AR/VR. The same thing happened when print agencies claimed knew how to develop for the web and when web agencies said they could build apps,” he wrote.

“I wasn't convinced then and I am not convinced now.”

Millward warns that trusting advertising agencies that lack the necessary expertise with your business’s AR project is “insanity”.

“The viability of [AR] in enterprise will be judged by the effectiveness to drive true business outcomes. Don't risk the opportunity by working with amateurs.”

It’s essential to do the appropriate research ahead of approaching agencies, Millward says, a message echoed by Limpid Logic's El Khoury.

“When you choose your team, make sure you can walk into their office and see their work, don't be fooled by all the fancy websites or the expensive lunch they just bought you,” he said. “Don’t be the sucker!”

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