Is Your Camera the New Search Box?

My neighbor has the most beautiful garden ever.

Season after season, she grows the most exotic, gorgeous plants that I could never find in any local nursery. Slightly green with envy over her green thumb, I discovered a glimmer of hope.

There are apps that will identify any plant you take a photo of. Problem solved. Now the rest of the neighborhood is getting prettied up as several houses, including mine, have sprouted exotic new blooms easily ordered online.

Take a photo, get an answer. The most basic form of visual search.

Visual search addresses both convenience and curiosity. If we wanted to learn something more about what we’re looking at, we could simply upload a photo instead of trying to come up with words to describe it.

This isn’t new. Google Visual Search was demoed back in 2009. CamFind rolled out its visual search app in 2013, following similar technology that powered Google Glass.

What’s new is that a storm of visual-centric technologies are coming together to point to a future of search that makes the keyword less…key.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the critical new components in the visual game. Let’s focus on what this means and how it’s going to impact your marketing game.

How many kinds of reality do we actually need?

The first thing we think about with the future of visual is virtual reality or augmented reality.

There’s also a third one: mixed reality. So what’s the difference between them and how many kinds of reality can we handle?

Virtual reality (VR) is full immersion in another universe – when you have the VR headset on, you cannot see your actual reality. Virtual reality is a closed environment, meaning that you can only experience what’s been programmed into it. Oculus Rift is an example of virtual reality.

Augmented reality (AR) uses your real environment, but enhances it with the addition of a computer-generated element, like sound or graphics. Pokémon Go is a great example of this, where you still see the world around you but the Pokémon-related graphics – as well as sounds – are added to what you see.

Mixed reality (MR) is an offshoot of augmented reality, with the added element of augmented virtuality. Here, it merges your virtual world with your real world and allows you to interact with both through gestures and voice commands. HoloLens from Microsoft (my employer) is an example of mixed reality – this headset can be programmed to layer on and make interactive any kind of environment over your reality.

The difference is a big fat deal – because an open environment, like HoloLens, becomes a fantastic tool for marketers and consumers.

Let me show you what I mean.

Retail reality

Virtual and augmented reality will reshape retail. This is because it solves a problem – for the consumer.

Online shopping has become a driving force, and we already know what its limitations are: not being able to try clothing on, feel the fabric on the couch or get a sense of the heft of a stool. All of these are obstacles to the online shopper.

According to the Harvard Business Review, augmented reality will eliminate pain points that are specific to every kind of retail shopping – not just trying on the right size, but think about envisioning how big a two-man tent actually is. With augmented reality, you can climb inside it!

If you have any doubt that augmented reality is coming, and coming fast, look no further than this recent conquering by Pokémon Go. We couldn’t get enough.

Some projections put investment in AR technology at close to $30 billion by 2020 – that’s in the next three years. HoloLens is already showing early signs for being a game-changer for advertisers.

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