BY TRACY HOUSE
Maps and information of must-see tourist sites, ratings and reviews of neighborhood restaurants, free Wi-Fi locations, the closest ATM and directions to the nearest public transportation all in one place – your phone. With all these amenities so close at hand, augmented reality (AR) app developers are making life, and leisure, easy and fun through interactive computer generated 3D graphics and finding new ways for younger customers to interact with the technology.
“We have seen the industry mature in exciting ways,” said Kimber Johnson, managing director of Vanity Point Interactive Design. “Initially the augmented reality mobile apps we worked on were really focused on high impact promotional type apps, but now we are seeing our clients moving towards more functional ways to utilize the technology,” she continued. “Point-of-sale is one area where augmented reality mobile apps is really growing as they have opened up a whole new arena for interactive, high-impact point-of-sale presentations. Mobile has been making a big shift into retail locations and this is one of the most exciting areas is with augmented reality product information and displays.”
With more children being exposed to games on tablets and smartphones, companies are gearing their AR apps towards kids. An example of an kid-focused augmented reality app combines a webcam and mobile device to recognize special patterned markers on a book or puzzle to make amazing 3D objects and animations appear in the real world.
“We are seeing more customers ask us to build augmented reality apps that fall into the free promotional product-type category,” said Johnson. “This is especially true with products for the youth market. We have developed apps recently that are being used as a free promo item that comes with a toy or other items. This is a great way for these businesses to give away something that has a much lower production cost than physical goods and generates a high level of excitement among users. From our testing the children who have viewed these apps love them, so they are truly a win-win for everyone involved.”
Robert Siddell, vice president of Popar Toys & Sqwishland, mentioned that one of the hardest aspects of augmented reality is educating the consumer about the product line. His Tempe-based company create educational interactive AR apps paired with puzzles, books and more. Their products won “Best Toy of the Toy Fair 2012” from The View, received the National Parenting Seal of Approval 2012 and many thumbs up from notable organizations.
“We saw a large niche. Most people are using augmented reality for more of a gimmick or novelty for advertising or entertainment. We saw a large impact with education and books,” Siddell said.
After writing three books originally for teaching computers, Siddell said they started augmenting their technology. “People really loved our product line. We make it [more than a pop-up], we really wanted to make it interactive. When you ‘gamify’ education, kids don’t realize they’re learning, they think they’re having fun.”
Over the past several years Popar has made products more accessible for mobile device users to pair with books, puzzles, games, cards and charts. “We’re really advancing our technology and activity,” Siddell said.
The software is free with each product. “We make sure we have stand-alone products,” Siddell said. “Our books are truly just a book. You don’t need the technology. They’re educational, they’re hardcover, they’re very well-illustrated books alone that happen to come with our enhancement app that really make it cool and really gets people excited about it. We make sure games and education comes with every single one of our applications.”
While gimmicky AR pop-ups are still on the rise, there seems to be a movement to customize products and educate the consumer about product lines as augmented reality is assimilated into technology and becomes a valuable, experiential tool.
The AZTB gadget review team has our hands on some Popar Toys products, watch for our Gadget for the Guru article to see them in action and our thoughts on the technology.
To purchase Popar Toys & Sqwishland toys click here.
Photos provided by Popar Toys