I have been to Gitex 2016. A large technology-focused exhibition that is held in Dubai, UAE. In spite the focus on consumers’ products and latest advances in technology in general; there were vertical days where they covered various industries and there was a day for “Digital Marketing” that strangely enough had more sessions about virtual reality and augmented reality than we usually see in events for digital marketing … or maybe that is where we are heading ?! So, it got me thinking and thus my topic this month; are consumers ready for VR, AR, and AI?
VR or AR
I must admit, I was using the terms interchangeably until I focused in the sessions at Gitex on the differences. So if you are like me and not really into VR, it is when the user is completely immersed into a virtual world, aka, reality. Like in most video games where you are part of the projection of that game and you experience real sensations but within that virtual world. AR, on the other hand, aims to mix virtual objects or worlds with actualization from our own surroundings. So Pokemon Go is an Augmented Reality game as it factors in our locations, and through the device’s camera projects a character within our space.
Consuming AR / VR
When it comes to “Virtual” technology, the only way to experience it if we have purchased a piece of hardware to enable us to view what is offered. At the marketing sessions in Gitex, application developers were talking about software for retail or for brands that want consumers to experience their products in 3D/4D or in a augmented reality within a store or at their own homes. The question that made me so skeptic is are we ready, as consumers, to purchase those devices or walk around with them just so we can experience a product display at a retail store? It could be a car at a show room, but yet again, is that worth the investment. It is for sure a new dimension to the entire customer experience and might even close the deal for some, but are the majourty ready to invest?
There are many players and from the featured image on this article, you can see big names claiming this arena like Microsoft, Google, and Intel. However, even if the technology matured enough to be affordable. Are we going to carry those gadgets every where and live in an augmented reality of our own while others do the same within a common space? Would we do that to experience a product display or for our own amusement, thus the popularity of VR for games vs the skepticism around using Google Glass or Snap Glass?
What about AI?
If I am to add Artificial Intelligence, although it does not relate to the virtual technologies, I am thinking about the application of this and the impact on consumers. Unlike, VR and AR where we need devices to consume the technology or make use of it; AI, mostly, presents the application in a form ready for us to consume. So, if I am a brand and invested in an AI driven software like Google Now, Siri, or other more advanced diagnostic applications that are available online, as a consumer, I can make use of it now. It would be in my phone or online as part of a web app and I am already using it and engaged with that brand. Many companies already deploy machine learning or machine intelligence as part of the applications they develop. The scale and the impact is naturally driven by the amount of data used to build the application.
So, Are the consumers ready?
A research by CompTIA in June 2016 published by Emarketer shows that awareness of VR is much higher among businesses and IT executives in comparison to AI and AR. The numbers will for sure rise as the technologies grow, but awareness by businesses is one aspect and usage by consumers is another.
If I am to advise a business today on where to invest in the short term, I would choose AI or machine learning through “Robotics”. Brands can enrich the experience of their online visitors with a “cognitive website” that enhances the user’s experience and make use of devices within the reach of the average consumer. Another would be a virtual assistant through a “Robot” at a showroom or the reception of a bank to great customers and queue up their requests while engaging them with activities that might be basic from a human but, nevertheless, entertaining from a machine that was built for purpose.
Have your say ! Do you own a VR device? do you have a Google Glass? are you ready to use those in every day life? Are they worth the investment?