That couch you're thinking about sure would look good in your living room... or would it?
To drag up a decade-old (!) catchphrase: There's an app for that. There are a ton of apps for that, really. Seeing what furniture might look like in a room is one of the go-to examples of what augmented reality is good for, and there's no shortage of retailers doing it in their apps.
But when you've already got someone interested in making a purchase and poking around the item in, say, Safari, getting them to stop and download an app is kind of a big ask.
With cases like that in mind, Apple introduced a feature in 2018 that baked the "See this thing, but in your room!" concept right into iOS/iPad OS.
Called "Quick Look," it allows for instant/one-tap AR experiences right within the apps the user already has, like Safari, Messages, Mail, etc. The retailer provides the 3D model (as a USDZ, a file format built in collaboration with Pixar), and Apple taps ARKit to render it as it would appear in the real world, handling everything from scaling to lighting and shadows.
At first, though, Quick Look was really just for that — looking. You could look at an item in AR, but that was about it.
Apple is expanding upon the concept a bit, allowing developers to bring a customizable button into the mix. It could be a purchase button, triggering an Apple Pay prompt on the spot. Or it can be wired up to do just about any other single action a retailer might want. It could initiate a customer support chat to let a customer ask about color options — or it could point them to local retailers who have it in stock so they can see it in person.
Apple is also quietly rolling support for spatial audio into Quick Look in the latest developer builds of iOS and iPad OS, allowing these 3D models to emanate sound — like, say, the bleeps and bloops of a toy, or music from a speaker — from wherever they've been virtually placed in the room. Move around the room, and the sound should shift accordingly.
Bringing more of the user experience directly into the built-in AR tool may seem like a small move, but it's an interesting one. In 2018, Houzz CEO Adi Tatarko said that users of their AR tools were 11x more likely to make a purchase. Build.com found that people who checked out an item in AR were 22% less likely to return it. There are clearly benefits to AR in the mobile purchasing process — but the whole thing only works if it's easy to use, quick and feels native. The more friction there is in the mix, the more people will drop out along the way.
Apple previewed the feature at WWDC last year; this week, a handful of big retailers -- Home Depot, Wayfair, Bang & Olufsen and 1-800-Flowers -- are rolling out their implementations. If improved sales/return numbers like the aforementioned hold true here, I'd expect it to become fairly commonplace across major retailers... and just like that, AR takes one big step closer to the mainstream.