MobiAD Archives

Mobile Augmented Reality Builds Deep Consumer Engagement

ar-iphone-leader-170.jpgSometimes a new technology will suddenly hit a magic “tipping point”, and all of a sudden you read about it everywhere – news sites, blogs, conferences, your friends, etc.

These days, it looks as though Mobile Augmented Reality has reached that tipping point and has now become one of the hottest topics in the mobile arena.

It’s already clear that mobile AR will have many applications in the area of mobile advertising and marketing, so we thought it would be a good time to take a more detailed look at the current state of this exciting new technology and the ways it can be used to create consumer engagement.

What is AR?

For those people who have not yet seen mobile AR, an “Augmented Reality” system deals with the combination of real-world and computer-generated data. In general it produces a composite view for the user that is the combination of the real scene viewed by the user and a virtual scene generated by the computer.

Even though mobile AR is fairly new, already the applications that are coming out seem to fall into a few categories:

  • adding an object to the actual image as seen through the camera in the phone. For example, this object might be a piece of furniture being superimposed on a view of a room (see example below), or a child’s image being added to a scene from a story.
  • displaying an imaginary scene or objects when the phone’s camera recognizes a particular trigger image.
  • location-based AR, where information tags are overlayed onto an image of the actual scene, based on the phone’s location

In the sections below we’ll give examples of each of these and see how they can be used for creating consumer engagement.

Adding an image to a real scene

This is perhaps the most straightforward and easy to understand use of AR. Basically the image from the camera is shown directly onto the phone’s screen, but some objects are added by the AR system.

For example, here is a screen from a clothes shopping app. In this case, the room and the girl are from the actual scene as seen by the phone’s camera, but the colored blouses are generated and overlayed by the AR system. Using this system she can see how she looks in the different clothes, but she doesn’t need to go to a store and actually try them on. She could also send this image to her friends to get their opinion as well.

IKEA used this approach to introduce an entire new line of furniture. Consumers would first select a piece of furniture from an on-screen menu, then aim the camera of the phone at the area of the room where the furniture might be placed. The image of the room appears on the phone screen, along with the furniture, which can be scaled larger or smaller to make it fit better in the scene.


This campaign is described in detail in this MobiAD article.

And just for fun, if you go near the well known Abbey Road Studios in London, you can take a picture of yourself wıth the Beatles on the famous crosswalk!


Generating images based on a “target”

ar-fanta.jpgThis approach has been used by a number of companies for marketing campaigns, including Fanta.

In the Fanta campaign, AR was used to create a virtual tennis game for consumers. First they would download and print out a paper with a special image on it. In this case it is a stylized tennis court. Then they would launch the Fanta AR app and point the phone camera at the paper tennis court. Once the phone recognızed the tennis court image, it would generate a virtual tennis game that could be played by two people.

This may sound a bit complicated, so here is a short video so you can see it in action.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="300" height="250" wmode="transparent" /]

Location-based AR

This is the area that seems to be getting the most publicity recently. 4 main factors have contributed to its growth:

  • smartphones – the rising availability of smartphones with high quality screens and powerful processors,
  • GPS – the fact that many of these smartphones now include accurate, fast GPS capability,
  • sensors – the inclusion of compasses and tilt-sensors in many new smartphones,
  • software – the development of special software from companies like Mobilizy (Wikitude) and Layar which enable developers to easily build applications with this feature.

In general, location-based AR applications work as follows:

1. GPS is used to determine where the phone is.
2. The compass is used to determine which direction it is facing.
3. Knowing these, the AR app knows what image from real life should be showing on the phone’s screen.
4. The app then determines what information is specifically relevant to this location and the objects that are showing, and displays the relevant information by overlaying it onto the real image on the screen.

The kind of information that is retrieved and displayed can vary widely from application to application, and this is what makes the area of AR so interesting. Here are just a few examples.

Nearest Tube
(Developer: acrossair)
A great way to find the nearest underground station in London.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="300" height="250" wmode="transparent" /]

Wimbledon Tennis Championship
(Developer: IBM, OgilvyOne London, XS2TheWorld, Mobilizy)
This year there was a very good location-based AR app for visitors to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.

See the MobiAD writeup: Mobile Apps Score At Wimbledon – IBM Uses Location, Twitter, And Augmented Reality To Create Amazing Fan Experience.

Top Trees at Kew Gardens
(Developer: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)
A guide to 100 of the best trees in Kew Gardens, London.

There are many, many other location-based AR apps, such as history tours, architectural tours, shopping guides that display local sales, and restaurant locators such as UrbanSpoon. And more are coming out everyday.

Social media

Location-based AR is being closely linked with social media. For example, in Japan, consumers who have the Sekai Camera app on their phone can leave messages in specific places for other Sekai users. When a Sekai user turns on the app and looks around their environment, they see the real world overlayed by the notes left by others.


Another great example is Tweetmondo (Developer: Tweetmondo and Layar). This app uses GPS to figure out where the individual is, accesses Twitter to learn what Tweets have been sent from that area, and then overlays the tweets on the real image from the phone camera!

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="300" height="250" wmode="transparent" /]

TwittARound from developer Michael Zöllner provides a similar experience.

Beyond info tags

Most of the examples above displayed the relevant information as small tags or logos. But innovative companies are rapidly devising ways to go beyond this.

A new service which has been brought out by Mobilizy is Wikitude Drive – AR Navigation. This provides turn-by-turn navigation, similar to most Tom-Toms or other personal navigation devices. The difference is that it overlays the directions onto a real time view of the real world.

For example, if you need to make a left turn, you don’t see a left arrow overlayed on a map, you see a left arrow overlayed on the actual view of the real street.

This product is not shipping yet, but here is a video to demonstrate the idea.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="300" height="250" wmode="transparent" /]

3D Augmented Reality

The latest innovation seems to be the capability to add 3-dimensional objects into the view of the real world, rather than simple information tags. Layar has just released a new version of the mobile AR platform that can support 3D models.

This allows, for example, the virtual construction of buildings such as the Rotterdam Market Hall pictured below. This building will not be completed until 2014, but even now individuals who go to the site can see how the building will look, they can walk around it to get different perspectives, get closer or further and the image changes accordingly.


Another use of a similar technology was released by Mobilizy, who used 3-D AR to recreate the World Trade Center buildings in New York that were destroyed September 11, 2001. This lets visitors to the “ground zero” site see where the buildings were when standing. The application is also connected to the tilt sensors in the phone, so as you aim the phone higher up, you see the top of the buildings.

Here is a video to show what it looks like.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="300" height="250" wmode="transparent" /]

The Future

One thing that should be clear from all these examples is that mobile AR can be a great component of mobile marketing.

  • One approach is that advertisers can take will be to use mobile AR to make branded utility or entertainment apps that consumers will love.
  • Another approach is that in most of these applications, there is the opportunity to place location specific advertisements, such as shop locations, special sale notices, coupons, etc.

Even though mobile AR has become a very hot topic recently, there seems to be broad agreement that it is still in its infancy. In fact, Juniper Research released a market forecast estimating that the 2010 market would be roughly $2 million. However, they also estimated that it would grow to $730m by 2014 (see MobiAD post on this forecast).

Over the coming few months and years, we can expect to see further developments in several areas that will make AR applications even more compelling and useful. Among these might be:

  • more powerful processors in the mobile handsets to produce a smoother, more realistic experience
  • real time face recognition
  • faster networks, which means that the video could be passed up to central servers and the analyzing and recognition could be done on much larger computers.
  • real time visual search

The exciting thing is that as these new capabilities are put into the hands of the creative individuals in agencies and advertisers, we can be sure they will continue to develop ever better means of building engagement and interaction with their customers.
Interested in Mobile Marketing and Mobile Commerce?
Subscribe to MobiAD News
Get the newsletter!

Subscribe to MobiAD