#marketing technology

The AR Expectation Gap

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Things are looking exciting for VR. Upgrades, user-friendly headsets and new-gen high resolution glasses are giving consumers more choice for high-end applications. And in a few years, this high resolution will work its way down to cheaper devices and the cutting-edge technology will become ever more mainstream. Gaming and entertainment applications, among others, will all benefit, as will the increasing number of consumers able to access them.

The trouble is, AR and MR headsets are not having the same levels of progress, yet. It seems that the AR headsets produced so far suffer from the sartorial issues of being slightly clunky and obvious, and the combination of real world and image can be a poor mix. The integration between the real and the augmented needs to be smoother and far more sophisticated before it can live up to its potential.

This puts AR headsets in a bit of a bind. Generally, the purpose of AR is very much task-orientated, making it ideal for businesses. You wear the headset to complete the task then you take it off again – usually for specialised applications which may well be important – but still it feels as if AR is VR’s poor relation.

So, will we ever get the AR headsets that really do look enough like glasses for us to forget what they are? Will AR ever be projected on us as demonstrated so vividly in films like Blade Runner 2049? Possibly, but in the meantime, there is a lack of understanding and subsequent lack of development in the areas where AR can really benefit. AR is amazing and can provide substantial business benefits, but only if it is understood. While there is an expectation gap, both businesses and consumers can find it disappointing.

If you are expecting a seamless integration between augmented reality and reality, then you may be frustrated by the experience.

North Focals glasses are getting close, however. Like Google Glass, the aim is for them to be worn all day by glasses wearers. They do look like glasses and mainly, people can’t tell unless they happen to be standing in just the right place. Unlike Glass, where the display showed something to the right and up, making it very obvious when you were looking at it, the display on North beams a laser onto the lens which reflects into your eye. This precision, however, means that the glasses have to custom-fit individuals to avoid distortion.

But North and Glass are not quite AR – they don’t overlay on the world, yet – they give you a similar interaction to that you’d get on a smartwatch – you just don’t need to use your hands.

AR simply augments or supplements the environment that already exists (reality) with computer-generated information, overlaying the real world with digital elements: perhaps graphics or haptic feedback. The advantage of AR is that it can translate to very specific, beneficial applications.

For example, a learning environment can be made more immersive, enabling active participation for the learners such as flight simulation or engineering and design.

Communication can be overlaid with interactive graphic images. In a business environment, AR can enable better product development through digital design and remote communication, or in retail, a visual dressing room could enable customers to try on clothes remotely.  Navigation can benefit from live visual map information whilst useful information such as terrain, weather and map data can be displayed on windscreens, and visits to tourist attractions can be enhanced. In gaming, digital gameplay takes place in the real-world environment.

So far so good, but there are drawbacks. For example, some AR applications collect and use biometric data which may in turn, create issues with data protection laws.

Also, as AR blurs the distinction between the real and the digital, there have been safety concerns that AR reduces caution in users and diminishes their ability to discern real dangers (remember Pokémon Go).

Despite its potential for beneficial applications then, developing AR does have certain implementation requirements. For example, specific devices need to have the adequate processing capabilities to run the applications which could prove prohibitively expensive for smaller businesses. AR also depends on developments in AI technology which are necessary for its ever-expanding potential to be fulfilled. Because AR is a technology in development, there can sometimes be a gap between people’s expectations and what it can actually do.

In time, as with all technologies, AR will refine and improve. Until then, we’d be wise not to inflate what we want it to do but appreciate what it can currently deliver.

The Future of VR is already here.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

VR has come of age – and what’s more, it looks like the VR industry is on the verge of massive expansion. Which goes against some spurious predictions that it’s peaked already.

When people talk about VR, they are usually referring to the gaming market. To be fair, that’s where HTC and Oculus – the two big names in headsets – focus their attention because, being early adopters, gamers are always going to be good consumers – always wanting to get hold of and experience the latest thing.

Also, the gaming market is worth a lot of money. Yes, the headsets are expensive, but gamers already have the hardware to use them, so HTC and Oculus target willing gamers who are the ideal testers. And with the VR market predicted to be worth around $117 billion by 2022 it doesn’t feel like a technology that’s in decline.

But actually, research suggests that this growth won’t be driven by gamers so much as by businesses. In fact, according to a MarketWatch report, the three factors driving the growth in VR and AR will be demand from big tech, demand from retail and e-commerce, and demand from the medical sector.

This implies, however, that this VR and AR technology is somewhere in the near future. In fact, savvy companies are using it right now. Employers use it for employee training, the military use it for flight and infantry training and remote use – for example drones. It’s being used in medicine, disability technology, and VR learning programmes in education are constantly gaining exposure.

And then there’s the potential of VR in biometric feedback and psychographic analysis, emotional response generation, and as an entertainment platform that offers gaming as only a small proportion of what’s actually available.

As these platforms move forward, we will see VR being integrated more completely into the way businesses interact with their consumers. As companies are looking for more interesting and effective ways to engage with their audiences, and as the technology advances, integration between the two will rapidly become the norm.

To get biometric feedback, algorithms calculate how your brain responds to stimuli providing data on posture, motion and gestures that can be translated into psychographics (grouping people according to their attitudes and tastes) and demographics. The power of this is extraordinary. If you consider the way Netflix uses its data to not only predict what will be successful, but increasingly to drive production and development, then the inclusion of VR into this process would have significant impact.

Netflix currently can see when you stop watching a show and what you watch next. With the inclusion of biometric feedback, it would be able to determine why as well.

Emotional response generation is a way of using VR to experience what may, for example, be a challenging scenario. Experiencing a difficult situation through VR may impact on, and inform, how we then view and respond to other people in a way that we never have been able to before. If we experience their difficulties, we may feel empathy, supporting us all to exhibit more positive or compassionate behaviours. Not necessarily entertainment, but certainly important. VR that allows people to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes could revolutionise HR, training and development.

VR is developing rapidly and is only going to become more and more relevant to medicine, education, retail and tech. The technology is here, and moving forward, it has to become an integral part of business models large and small.

We would predict that it will become as incorporated into the day to day business world as the internet, digital marketing and social media. Businesspeople over a certain age can remember when the internet was new, and the question of ‘why would I want to advertise online’ was a genuine and reasonable one.

Companies which foresaw the opportunities gained a significant advantage over those that lagged behind. But probably more importantly, there was a whole slew of companies that raced into the digital arena with no idea of what they were doing. The dotcom boom and bust was full of companies whose only real business model was to ‘be on the internet’.

Now VR (and AR) are probably as the same stage, from an adoption perspective, as the internet was 10 years ago. The difference is the rate of change is much faster, the technology is changing fast, and the time from early to late adoption is far shorter.

So, businesses that are investing now, and getting the best advice, will benefit.

Imagine not having a website in today’s world. Three years from now, that will be the position on VR.

A new Oculus VR headset – which one do you want?

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Remember when Oculus helped begin the whole VR scene with its Oculus Rift headset? Announced in 2012, it really did make VR seem real.

But now the Rift has been retired and on offer is the entry-level Oculus Go which is self-contained and pitched as a VR video player.

Also (and crucially) self-contained is the user-friendly and convenient Oculus Quest. This has been upgraded to have sophisticated hand controllers, full-motion tracking and is pitched as a mass-market console for gaming – though it does lack experimental features and offers limited computing power.

And then there’s the replacement for the original – the Rift-S. Described as the ‘gold-standard’ for VR gaming, it still has to be connected to a gaming PC and this is the option needed for the exclusive high-end Oculus games.

The Rift-S now has the “Insight” system, first seen on the Quest, which uses tracking cameras built straight into the headset. It has five cameras to the Quest’s four, with two on the front, one on each side, and one on the top of the headset.

Even though you’re attached to a computer, the S is still an improvement over the original Rift with the complicated inconvenience of its wired camera stands. The new Rift’s self-contained setup is far simpler. You plug in one USB cable and one Port cable, then run the Oculus desktop software. To put boundaries around your play space, with headset on and controller in hand, you trace lines on a video feed of the real world – just like the Quest. No camera stands or running wires.

In addition, Oculus has slightly redesigned its old touch controllers, but they seem to be neither better nor worse than the original, and the old over-the-ear headphones are gone – replaced by directional speakers designed to direct sound into your ears.

The Rift-S has a slightly higher-resolution screen than the original Rift, at 1280 x 1440 pixels per eye. However, this is still lower than the Oculus Quest and in fact the screen refresh rate has actually been downgraded. Most VR headsets (including the old Rift) have aimed at a minimum of 90Hz while the Rift S refreshes at a lower rate of 80Hz.

The rationale behind this is that if your gaming PC met the old minimum Rift specs, it should also work with the Rift-S. So, it’s great if you’re using an older computer but potentially frustrating if you can’t take advantage of the power of a more modern one. It may seem surprising then that Oculus didn’t increase the recommended specifications or drop support for its minimum specs if the Rift S is aimed at people who don’t mind buying a new graphics card or a more powerful computer.

However, though VR is growing, PC-based headsets are still a niche product, and even a brilliant Rift upgrade may only have a small consumer audience. What the Rift-S does gives developers is the Quest’s basic set of features without its hardware limitations.

Overall, it seems that Oculus has delivered one major improvement and several (debatably) helpful trade-offs. And for the time being at least, that’s the price you pay to play the biggest blockbuster games.

So, what exactly is UI design?

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

UI design stands for user interface. In computing, an interface is simply the space where humans and computers interact and in UI design, the interface is designed with the user in mind for the mutual benefit of both the consumer and business. So far, so good.

UI design focuses on the style and aesthetic of a technological device. The design process tries to unite, strategically, the visual and practical elements of the device to optimise its usability by anticipating the needs of users and visually guiding them through the interface.

In practice, this literally means the buttons users will click, the images and icons they’ll see, and the text they’ll read. Naturally, UI designers want the look and feel of an application to act harmoniously with how it actually functions, so that the result is an engaging and understandable UI design that is appealing for users. Consequently, many of the principles of art and design are integrated into the process.

However, UI design is only part of the finished article. User experience (UX) design is also crucial. Put simply, UI design is concerned with the form of an application, and UX design is concerned with function. When you browse a website, what you see – the colours, the images, the logo etc are the work of a UI designer. What appears when you click on the menu is the UX input so what you see is pleasing and what you get is useful. The ideal is to get UI and UX design to work together seamlessly for the best possible user interaction and experience.

Visual and practical clarity is vital. Good design will anticipate the expectations of the user, enabling them to navigate an app or website easily and confidently. Users want to feel in control.

Consistency is also key. Once a user has learned how to navigate an interface, they don’t want it to change and they don’t want to relearn it. In practice, this means keeping colours, fonts, sizes and positioning consistent – minimising confusion, and giving brands the opportunity to cultivate their look and feel, thus marketing the brand through the interface and increasing brand recognition.

Inevitably, design intends to communicate some type of message or idea. A key principle for the designer is attempting to guide a user’s eye towards the most important information. This is called the visual hierarchy – arranging the elements to illustrate importance. Legibility and readability are obviously crucial, but the actual size of text is important as well. Just as newspaper headlines are writ large to draw the reader in, designers make the most important text the largest, so users more likely to engage with the content – and the same goes for images. The visual hierarchy communicates to users, and businesses rely on it to guide the user through the buying process.

And there’s the crunch. UI design should ensure that each interface works to accommodate the needs of the user – whether it’s paying a bill, streaming a film or online shopping. The whole point of UI and UX design and function, through emotion, psychology, visual stimulation and ease of use, or indeed or any other route, is to fulfil the objectives or goals of the application.

When it comes to AI for marketers – less haste means more speed.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

If the hype is to be believed, AI is one of the most exciting innovations in the ad industry, with what tech can do, and what it will be able to do, set to change the world.

But while it’s tempting to go for the biggest and shiniest new AI solution, you should be very discerning about what is surface fluff, and what tech will actually make the most difference to the success of your business right now.

The thing is, despite the hype and visions of robots coming over the horizon, AI has been around for a while, and is very much here and happening. The tech you’re seeing now is what you can use now. If you sit around waiting for the future to arrive, you might find that other people are actually using what they’ve got in the present – to get ahead of you.

So, what to do? Well, it’s an old idea but it’s tried and tested: start small, start now, but start something. There is plenty of basic AI that marketers can be using to improve workflow or use A/B testing to identify the best subject line for an email campaign. Machines are already capable of lightening our load by taking on small jobs which save time – so don’t waste it waiting for what might be arriving in the future.

So, you start small and build slowly. Get the foundations firm and complete and then you can build more complicated features of AI into your campaigns from a position of strength and understanding, rather than one of starry-eyed enthusiasm. Remember that AI is a tool like any other with specific strengths for a specific purpose. Using it, for example, to create reams of data just because you can, is meaningless unless you analyse that data and use it for a purpose – not to mention a waste of money and time.

You have the opportunity through the AI that exists now, to understand your audience better and in a more nuanced way. Instead of simply pushing more and more ads, through AI you have the opportunity to target them in a much more specific, less scatter gun way. This means that you’ll have a far better understanding of when, where, how and how much to engage with them. More efficiency, less waste. And, of course, by not bombarding consumers with the same message, on the wrong platform, at the wrong time, they are likely to be much more receptive when you do capture their attention. Remember quality, not quantity, is key.

Be consistent. Long-term success will not come if you jump from new technology to new technology, at different times, in different areas, just because it’s there. Across your team you need to adopt a unified and consistent approach – it’s not a competition to see who the best is at using AI. Just make sure, whatever you’re using it for – optimisation, data stories etc. – that you implement it consistently across all platforms.

Pay attention to detail and be strategic. This way your message will be consistent to consumers and more likely to have the desired result. Yes, it takes a bit of bravery to jump in and get on with it, but if you wait for the next thing to come along, you’re missing out on what AI can do for you now.

And then, when the future AI does arrive, you’ll be in a great position to know what to do with it.

Robot ‘eyes’ aid for motor impairments.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

The Georgia Institute of Technology has developed an interface system with augmented reality technology which gives a ‘robot’s eye view’ of the surroundings that could help people with motor impairments operate a robot to perform routine personal care tasks – even those as specific as scratching an itch or rubbing in hand cream.

The wheeled robot has two arms and a head, enabling it to manipulate objects such as a hairbrush, a water bottles and even an electric shaver.

Participants in a primary study used their own assistive equipment to operate a mouse curser to perform a task and were able control the robot remotely. Eighty percent of the participants could manipulate the robot to pick up a water bottle and bring it to the mouth of a mannequin.

In a second study, Henry Evans, California, tested the robot at home for seven days. He not only completed the tasks anticipated by the designers but was able to combine the operation of both robot arms at the same time – one to control a flannel and the other to use a brush. As much of the assisted technology available today is designed for very specific outcomes, the fact that Henry found new opportunities for using it suggests that the technology has great potential for empowering and assisting users.

Most impressively, the interface enabled Henry to care for himself in bed over an extended period of time.

“The most helpful aspect of the interface system was that I could operate the robot completely independently, with only small head movements using an extremely intuitive graphical user interface,” he says.

The web-based interface shows a view of the world from cameras placed in the robot’s head. Clickable controls overlaid on the view allow users to control the robot’s hands and arms and move the robot around the environment.

As the interface has been built around the actions of a simple single-button mouse in a form of universal design, lengthy training sessions are not necessary for people to use it, and it can be accessed by many – the next step is to reduce size and cost, enabling the technology to become commercially viable.