Augmented reality (AR) smart glasses are on the rise as enablers of new services and customer-experience enhancement. The reason is obvious: these wearable devices make it possible to create consumer-facing services that really feel like magic.
By blending the physical and digital worlds, AR smart glasses add an entire new dimension to your value proposition and empower your brand to deliver revolutionary solutions, new revenue-generation services and amazing experiences.
These headset devices have been around for a while but have had various shortcomings, such as high price, software framework maturity, picture quality and tracking. With the rise of next-generation headsets, AR wearable technology has started spreading fast into entertainment, historic heritage and industrial productivity.
Creating an AR experience with smart glasses is different compared to AR on smartphones or tablets -- because the device is worn and is far more intimate and engaging.
If you’re planning to create new revenue streams or enhance the customer experience with AR smart glasses, here are some tips to consider.
ACCURATE CONCEPT CREATION
Add real value and create “wow” moments
With great technology it’s easier to confuse amazing features with amazing products. Consumers buy experiences that solve their problems and create “wow” moments (exceed their expectations).
So ensure you start with a solid concept and superior business model. While doing this, take the user’s perspective, determine key contextual needs, identify expectations and then build “wow” experiences around them.
At the beginning, I generally recommend using a minimum viable product approach and focusing on those core features that are sufficient to deploy the service and its distinctive experience to users. Later, by leveraging real-life insights and customers’ feedback, you’ll be able to enhance it more effectively.
Know your audience
Customer surveys are key in product and concept development but even more important here, as AR in headsets is so new. I generally recommend a focused survey, to understand the appeal of your concept and measure the potential take-up rate.
Later in the project, this will help you calculate the business case, define the roadmap and the minimum viable product. A customer survey is the beginning of an interaction with your customers that will need to continue during the entire service lifecycle.
Business case: keep pace with evolving technologies
At the heart of any activity in a company there’s the business case. When creating yours, consider that smart glasses and AR solutions will be evolving extremely fast this year.
So, when performing a business case analysis, pay close attention to the expected lifetime of the smart glasses you are considering and determine eventual future investments in newer models.
Instead of purchasing headsets, you might also think about of using them as-a-service (some HW manufacturers provide this). This might help you ramp-up faster and with less risks, but it will probably end up costing you more later on (have heavier impact on the business case).
CONSIDER CONTEXT AS ONE EXPERIENCE ENABLER
AR with headset is not virtual reality (VR)
Differently from VR headsets (that take the user somewhere else entirely), the quality of an AR experience depends on how well it blends the physical and digital worlds.
This might seem obvious, but many AR developers to this day still measure AR experience only in terms of image quality, completely ignoring the contextual dynamics. To avoid this mistake, start from the context when designing the experience.
Study the physical environment
The physical context is a key experience enabler and has a direct impact on deciding which AR headset fits better your needs.
Consider aspects like the space where the user will be experiencing your service, the light intensity, indoors or outdoors use case scenarios, temperature and if the environment will be controlled or not.
When planned carefully, the physical environment drives great user experience — if done superficially, it can ruin it.
Consider content density and emotional responses
With wearables, apps feel like an extension of ourselves, so much so that content density becomes a crucial part of the user experience.
Content needs to be well balanced not only from a static perspective (how much content I can provide in a specific context) but also from a dynamic viewpoint (if the users just had a content-intense moment, they will need some rest before attention and interest return to normal levels).
Users’ attention and their ability to grasp what is seen on their smart glasses can vary a lot depending on expectations, what they have just experienced and their emotional state.
Take into account that content-intense experiences are not only triggered by quantity but also by quality: certain experiences generate deeper emotional responses that linger in our minds longer.
So the advice here is: set the pace carefully, plan moments where attention can rest and effectively consider the users’ emotional involvement.
Examine the movements of the user
The type of interaction the user has with the physical context will greatly affect the design of the digital experience.
This often-neglected key aspect includes - among others - user’s movements (type and speed), the nature of objects that will be involved in delivering the AR service and the distances between the user and the objects. In certain cases it is also important to take into account the interactions with other users and people nearby.
Ensure this element of the experience gets covered in detail and planned in accordance with the desired user journey.
EXCEL IN EXECUTION
Select the right AR headset
The selection of the best device depends on the experience you need to deliver, but there’s one general rule: the less you feel the glasses, the better.
So don’t just focus on price and field of view. For example, a wide field of view could be the best solution in a controlled environment with a greater number of digital elements and little movement from the user. On the other hand, in a use case scenario where movements are fast and the physical environment is central to the experience, a smaller filed of view might allow users to move around easily without stumbling over something they haven’t seen.
If your AR service is experienced in a closed environment with little movement, tethered devices can be used; while in outdoors situations, untethered solutions are the most suitable. If the session is short – just a few minutes long – a heavier device can be considered; but with a longer one – 20 to 40 minutes – a light device is essential. If the device will be used by many customers and with a high rotation, you need smart glasses with a longer lifetime to avoid frequent purchasing cycles.
Do you need headsets to support users with glasses? What about the temperature and lighting? These are just a few questions you need to ask yourself before selecting the headset.
Focus on content
It depends on the circumstances, but it’s safe to say that the majority of the cost for an AR app will go on content creation.
While common frameworks and SDK offer ready-made tools for various AR functions (for example: object recognition, integration to app dev solutions, Unity support, cloud recognition, geolocation and SLAM), for content you often need to start from scratch to ensure it enriches the experience.
Content creation for headset devices requires a different approach compared to VR and AR on handheld devices.
So you need experienced AR designers who are ready to take a new perspective and not just replicate what worked on handheld-devices.
Don’t underestimate the operational impact
To deliver a great experience you need a great operational plan that lets you manage all the logistics in a smart way — so it’s painless for you and delightful for your customers.
You need to take into account various operational aspects here: for instance, these are devices that need to be worn, so there is an element of hygiene involved when you handle them – you might need to replace the parts in contact with the users’ skin after each use.
These operational processes need to be well-blended with your support organization: what is your solution if a device stops working? What’s the training plan for your personnel? A great idea without a great executional plan doesn’t deliver.
Ensure your development team has what it takes
Several tools and frameworks are available for AR on headsets these days but with technology evolving every few months, not all developers are up-to-date with what is going on — many simply relay what they already know, suggesting only the solutions they are familiar with. In certain cases this is fine, but the risk is that you end up getting merely what the developer is capable of doing, not what is best for your business.
So it’s essential that you make yourself familiar with the evolving technologies and assign the right time and effort to select the best team and platform for the job.
Hardware compatibility and flexibility are key drivers of your AR app profitability. Headset technology is changing so fast that there’s a good chance in 12 months you’ll discover new headsets better suited to your business -- and if that happens you don't want to be caught unprepared.
So my suggestion is: make the SW flexible enough to at least be partially compatible with various platforms and don’t fall into the trap of a solution that might seem more convenient now but that will require heavier investments later on to stay on course.
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