‘Try it before you buy it’, the old adage goes. Well, an AR preview might not exactly be ‘trying it’, but Amazon’s new ‘AR View’ function aims to help you figure out if a crock-pot clashes with your marble counters, or if that chair can really fit in that corner, adding a little more depth to the online shopping experience than you’re used to.
Now, US-based iPhone users running iOS 11 can start placing thousands of true-to-scale virtual items in their home to see just what they’re getting before the package comes.
Simply tap the camera in the Amazon app and then tap ‘AR View’ to browse products in AR—containing everything from chairs to teapots.
Amazon’s ‘AR View’ is exclusive to iPhones for now. Android users with flagship-level phones could soon have access to a host of similar AR functions however thanks to Google’s ARCore, which was announced a few months after Apple’s ARKit. ARCore is soon to be available on Google Pixel devices and Samsung Galaxy S8 and above, but won’t be integrated into other Android phones until Google and its partners think it’s ready.
Retailing giants like IKEA, Target, and Wayfair have also added AR functions to their iOS apps, making it easier for you to buy physical items by giving you a reliable visual representation—but there’s an interesting side effect to all this that people still aren’t really talking about. Effectively companies are now digitizing their products, and probably trying to find out ways to do it quicker so they can eventually offer their entire catalog virtually.
While low-profile, high-function AR headsets are still somewhere in our near future (with a form factor that doesn’t make it look like you’re wearing a weird helmet), these first steps by retailers to offer virtual shopping, albeit it with a limited catalog, will no doubt be considered integral features in upcoming AR headsets of tomorrow. Now, the virtual items represented are little more than hollow props, but the level of articulation these items could take on in the future might actually let you ‘try it before you buy it’ in a certain sense. The possibility of browsing through AR portals stocked with virtual microwave ovens that let you microwave a burrito to hear what the ding sounds like when it’s done, or a flat-pack desk that shows you how to assemble it before you buy it, aren’t really that far out. Creating such a detailed 3D item is entirely possible now, although probably not feasible on a large scale. Not yet anyway.
Healthy speculation aside, virtual reality is here now in consumers hands from a variety of established brands, and companies like Amazon haven’t plunged head-first into creating VR shopping apps for a reason—retailers know AR is instantly going to appeal to average consumers as a productivity device and they’re starting now so that when it comes time, they’ll be at the forefront.
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