Currently, augmented reality might seem to be nothing more than a curious novelty. People walking around with their eyes glued to their phones in attempts to catch a Pokémon have probably been the most newsworthy application of this otherwise much more promising technology. How will AR transform the way we use our smartphones?

According to Statista, the market size of AR has been doubling every year, reaching $27 billion in 2018. Despite the number, this size is rather insignificant comparatively, making for just a quarter of the total mobile app revenue reported back in 2016.

However, just like almost everything in the tech world these days, augmented reality is silently making significant leaps forward in terms of its practical value.

Initially designed for headsets and wearables (think of the infamous Google Glass project).

Now AR is finding its way into our smartphones. So let’s see how augmented reality is changing the mobile industry right now.

The Nascent Grasp of AR on Mobile

The volume of the global AR-enabled mobile app downloads is predicted to hit 3.3 billion, up from 1.03 billion in 2016. What has impeded AR adoption in the software development area so far, now seems to be falling away with the coming of ARKit by Apple and ARCore by Google.

The AR adoption is now democratized for the technology for developers, and the result is to encourage more AR apps to spill onto the consumer market. Stats prove it: 86% of enterprise-level respondents expect their AR-centric products to be rolled out in by mid-2019.

We now have AR maps by the Gatwick airport, home renovation cues from the likes of Lowes and Dulux and numerous try-on apps from retail brands.

Various educational materials for both for corporate and academic use have helped expand AR – and that’s only scratching the surface. Home improvement is indeed one of the most welcoming domains for AR apps.

For example, picture yourself trying to assemble a piece of flat-pack furniture. In most cases, you simply can’t comprehend the ingenuity of Swedish engineers and find yourself stuck. So instead of trawling through pages of user manuals or looking for help on obscure forums, you could use your phone to show you how to apply the screws correctly.

Using your phone to show you how to put together a piece of furniture or hardware might sound like science fiction, but the technology already exists.

For example, Adam Pickard’s AssembleAR allows you to import assembling manuals already created for all kinds of different flat-pack furniture and then have each step be demonstrated right in front of you.

AR is also poised to create more engaging mobile experiences, and nowhere is it more desired than in mobile advertising. Now, let’s look at how AR is going to transform the way we see and interact with digital ads.

Mobile Advertising Meets Augmented Reality

Think of any single app that you currently use. Maybe there’s a social network app, some utility app with cooking tips and recipes, or just a third-party torchlight. They can come from various creators and app markets, but they are likely to have one thing in common: advertisements.

Due to the rise of free, easily shareable content online, many companies have shifted away from the payment culture of “buy once, use forever.”

The most profitable way to monetize apps these days is to release them for free but sell online inventory to advertisers instead. According to Invesp, companies spent $159 billion in 2018 on mobile ads, injecting them into everyday apps and experiences we enjoy.

From ad breaks in YouTube videos to a banner ad for the newest racing game, companies are desperate to get your attention and hopefully make you buy and engage with their products.

However, we are so saturated with content these days that it became almost impossible for brands to make their way through all the digital noise around us.

The audience grew so reluctant to perceive digital ads that this condition has even got its own name, Banner Blindness. Apparently, according to scientific journals, this trend can be dated as far back as 1998.

So, how do companies get around this? How can they ensure that their consumers don’t miss their advertisements and thus have a chance to consider their products?

Augmented reality is the answer. It offers companies the opportunity to engage with their potential consumers in a whole new way.

Instead of merely showing a viewer a flashy ad for a car, or a home appliance, or a garment, why not just literally show the viewer the advertised product in action? Thanks to AR, companies can allow their users actually to experience life-size products directly in front of them.

For example, thanks to advanced 3D modeling, you could even get into a virtual car and take a look around. This isn’t sci-fi either as this is already happening. BMW has been testing out their new AR car advertisements using Snapchat, allowing users to place their dream car in their field of vision, shift it around and even peek through the windows.

In general, Snapchat is a big game changer in AR-enabled advertising.

This messaging app with fancy photo sharing and chatting features is currently leading this campaign into AR mobile advertising through its Lens Studio service. With Lens Studio, users can directly experience and fully visualize brands’ products through their camera, locating the products in the real world around them.

AR developers from Iflexion have also begun experimenting with this, using AR technology to showcase retail brands alongside augmented media broadcasts and trade shows. All these emerging developments coupled with support from both advertisers and publishers show that mobile advertising – and marketing at large – is becoming the home to AR applications.

The New Engagement Frontier

AR shows the potential for being useful and valuable in numerous fields. It is an absolute fact that the real transformation of the mobile industry through AR will be in advertising.

For any company looking to generate more public awareness or push through a particular product, AR technology offers new audience engagement opportunities. AR is still in its nascent stage, so the wow-effect is guaranteed for brands taking this route to win their customers’ attention.

Such one-on-one, highly interactive ads have the potential to create an individual visual and audial experience for everyone, thus creating a truly personalized relationship. That is how, although it might have started as a gimmick, AR is rapidly turning into the technology that can utterly transform the mobile industry forever.

Tatyana Shavel

Tatyana Shavel is a VR/AR Technology Analyst at Iflexion. She works in the intersection of business and technology exploring the practical use of augmented and virtual reality for smarter business and a better world.