Is Walmart’s innovation leader right that the AR revolution is a sure thing?
Pokémon Go may have come and gone, but big names in the retail world are making serious investments in the future of augmented reality (AR) and believe that mass adoption of the technology is soon forthcoming. That was the main takeaway from a session last week at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago given by Imran Ansani, principal manager of innovation at Walmart Labs.
“Earlier this week Apple had their worldwide developer’s conference,” Mr. Ansani said. “The big revelation was not some new iPad or a Mac Book Pro or anything fancy like that. It was [an augmented reality developer’s kit] called the ARKit. That kind of gives you an understanding of how important augmented reality is to some of these bigger players, and what we can start expecting to see in the future.”
Despite the current lack of a “killer app” or point of critical mass, Mr. Ansani sees AR as reaching ubiquity in the next five years. In fact, he believes the smartphone will become obsolete in favor of AR-enabled devices that allow people to interact with computers in a “more natural” way.
“The iPhone will give way to the ‘iGlass’ or whatever is coming next,” Mr. Ansani said.
Mr. Ansani noted incipient uses for AR in product design, warehouse picking, sales, marketing and training. He predicted that in-home previewing of where furniture fits in the home, like what’s offered in IKEA’s home furnishings AR app and other similar pieces of technology, will become table stakes for customers who are trying before they buy.
“Look at augmented reality in the future as ‘experience being the content,'” Mr. Ansani said. “Customers want to be able to touch, feel, hear and then buy. They want to engage all their senses. It’s not one at a time, it’s not a video here and a brochure there and an experience online, it’s pretty much a convergence of all of the senses that gives them a sense of understanding of what it is they’re buying, why and telling that story. That’s what AR enables them to do.”
“We’re moving from an information age to an experience age,” Mr. Ansani said.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Walmart Lab’s Imran Ansani be accurate in his prediction that AR — delivered through non-smartphone devices — will become the primary way of interacting with technology? What roadblocks might there be along the way to the retail AR revolution Mr. Ansani and others are anticipating?