DEFINITION of 'Augmented Reality'

The modification of a real-life environment by the addition of sound, visual elements or other sensory stimuli. Augmented reality is a growing trend in mobile computing, where apps can alter a live or saved image captured by the device’s camera.

BREAKING DOWN 'Augmented Reality'

Developers have begun creating augmented reality, or AR, applications for a wide range of uses. For example, some early adopters in the retail sector have developed technologies designed to enhance the shopping experience. Furniture and home goods chain Ikea is one such company. By incorporating AR into its catalog app, the store lets consumers visualize how different furnishings would look like in their home. Shoppers point the camera at the appropriate room, and the product appears in the foreground.

The investment website VentureBeat cites health care as another industry where AR has the potential to play a much bigger role going forward. For instance, technology firm DAQRI released an app that enables the user to see a highly detailed, 3-D image of different body systems when they hover their mobile device over a target image. This gives medical students, in particular, a powerful learning tool that they can take with them virtually anywhere.

Since its conception, marketers and technology firms have had to battle the perception that augmented reality is little more than a slick marketing tool. However, there is evidence that consumers are beginning to derive tangible benefits from this functionality. For instance, according to Mobile Shopping Tools, more than half of respondents, as of 2014, claim that AR significantly improves the online buying process.

Some pundits have speculated that the dawn of wearable devices such as Google Glass will only expand the popularity of AR. Whereas smartphones and tablets show a tiny portion of the user’s landscape, “smart” eyewear theoretically could provide a more complete nexus between the real and virtual realms. It’s still unclear, however, whether these devices will become mainstream or remain technological novelties.


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