Should Virtual and Augmented Reality be a Reality for Your Business?

A couple of summers ago, the world was introduced to the unusual phenomenon of Pokemon Go. Throngs of people stared at their cell phones as they wandered down streets, ran through parks and trespassed on private property in hot pursuit of the virtual creatures. The augmented reality game was wildly addictive to this tech savvy generation – particularly those who’d grown up on the original Pokemon. But non-participants (and those not so plugged in) observed a bunch of full grown men and women, heads down, desperately chasing… nothing.

Today, augmented reality (AR) is a far cry from “nothing”. In fact augmented reality – and its sister virtual reality (VR) – could very well be the “something” that helps many small businesses move it up a notch.

AR vs VR

What’s the difference between VR and AR? The idea behind both is to immerse the user in a digital experience. Simply put, VR takes users completely out of their surroundings, while AR partly overlays virtual objects over the real world. AR can also be used with everyday devices, like a smartphone or tablet. And while VR requires a separate device to use it (like a headset), it’s becoming more user-friendly -- you can transform a smartphone into a VR viewer for less than $30. Both technologies are being adopted by businesses to create better experiences for their customers.

Here are some examples of the kinds of businesses that are using AR and VR:

Real estate : VR lets real estate agents show homes to clients anywhere in the world. Prospective buyers can walk through a home without leaving theirs, and get a more comprehensive view than they would from static photos of the homes online. It’s also a great time saver, allowing customers to easily filter out homes they don’t like and focus on the ones they do.

Interior design : Like the sofa bed but don’t want to haul it up three flights of stairs to see if it fits in with your living room? AR lets you “try on” furniture before you buy it. In fact, Ikea has created the IKEA Place AR App – technology so precise that you can see the texture of furniture. Not only will you know how furniture looks in your home, you can almost feel it.

Retail: Using VR, customers can virtually walk through your store, check the fabric, size and price, and even see how a piece of clothing looks on them, without actually trying it on – or physically being in the store. For online stores, the potential is even greater. For example, online marketer EBay is set to release an AR kit that it says will make shopping online more engaging for customers. Tire shoppers, for example, will be able to see what the new wheels look like on their vehicles before making a purchase.

Employee training: AR and VR make it easier and less expensive for small businesses to provide employees with in-depth training. With these technologies, there’s no need to book a venue or organize classes around everyone’s schedules. Employees access training when and where they need it, and can participate in simulated training exercises as many times as they need to in order to master a skill.

Skilled workers like technicians can also access training on the spot to address specific problems. With VR, technicians can tackle a complex problem for a client without going offsite. Using special augmented glasses, the technician can see what the client sees and fix the problem remotely.

AR and especially VR are technologies that have actually been around for a long time, but it hasn’t been till recently that their applications have spilled over into the world of business and marketing. While the technologies bring experiences that are digital, many businesses are discovering that the opportunities and benefits they offer are very real.

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