The arrival of the iPhone X marks the dawn of a new (augmented) reality

Apple's all-screen flagship phone is out today, and there's one feature set to change the way we use our phones for good, writes the UK head of marketing at brand-supported mobile game Snatch.

With the iPhone X launch, it is not just the hardware people are interested in – it is the use of the software. With new tech comes new applications, and AR is the big focus of Apple this year with iOS 11.

Many new apps are being launched with AR in mind, including Snatch, our treasure hunt-themed marketing platform, which is backed by Unilever Ventures and officially launched this week after a beta stage.

But with AR comes a variety of new and interesting ways of interacting with the environment which brands and companies can use to pursue a variety of objectives.

Ikea has recognised that AR doesn’t just improve engagement but can significantly reduce costs and inconvenience

With ARKit and ARCore rising in use, more and more companies are exploring how AR can help their businesses. The role of immersive technology can range from life-saving to the disruptive, from engineering and training to education and, of course, gaming.

Immersive technologies such as AR have been around for some time, gaining more mainstream attention with the rampant popularity of Pokémon GO last year.

Yet with the recent development of more sophisticated tools and resource such as ARKit (from Apple), ARCore (from Google), and just this week Google’s Poly, an AR/VR object library, developers now hold a tool base which makes the potential for greater interactivity with consumers easier than ever.

AR helps with engagement

Now imagine an app where instead of mindlessly flicking through a web page or stream, the user is immersed into a different world.

Instead of being a passive viewer, the app demands an active participant. With AR, previously uniform user experiences are able to react to each user’s immediate surroundings and movements, opening up new functionalities and offering far greater personalisation potential.

As we’ve seen across a variety of channels, greater personalisation tends to lead to improved engagement rates.

The impressive engagement stats of Snatch, in part driven by the compelling nature of its AR mini games, are an example of this.

With time in app averaging 90 minutes a day, players are spending far longer engaging with the game, and crucially its brand partners, than can be expected from a more traditional comms platform.

Not just fun and games

The power of AR isn’t restricted to gaming.

In the medical sector, CuriScope allows users to hold up a mobile in front of a type of t-shirt to show the inner workings of the body. Instead of pages and screens to read through, a person can use their phone to inspect a body themselves, follow the veins and connected organs in an entertaining and intellectually fruitful way.

The first step in getting it right is identifying use of the tech that genuinely delivers against the organisation’s objectives

The same goes for selecting furniture. Ikea released an app which allows people to place prospective chairs, tables, wardrobes, and other catalogue products around the home, granting a new visualisation.

This gives people the opportunity to better consider how their home would look, lowering the risk of a wrong purchase by the family. Ikea has recognised that AR doesn’t just improve engagement but also holds significant potential to dramatically reduce the costs and inconvenience associated with returning unsuitable products for their business and their customers.

Such examples show how AR experiences, if designed properly, have the potential to assist people in a greater variety of ways than their comparably flat predecessors.

Long term strategic value

What is starting to emerge across a variety of industry sectors, is a realisation that AR is not just a fad and that its uses can reach far beyond pure entertainment.

AR has the potential to deliver long term and strategic value for organisations who use it correctly; it can complement existing objectives and, for marketing and communication in particular, we’re seeing almost daily how it can be applied to new problems and opportunities.

The first step in getting it right is identifying use of the tech that genuinely delivers against the organisation’s objectives, such as in the examples above.

Second is making sensible investment decisions. It can be all too easy to get mesmerised by new technology like AR, but its development is not cheap and not quick.

Working with an established AR provider like Snatch can allow marketers, at least, to dip their toe into the world of AR and experience its benefits as an engagement tool, without taking on its inevitable development risks and the hefty price tag.

The list of organisations using AR in an innovative and impactful way is sure to grow. In a world where the attention span of scrolling users can be measured in fractions of a second, AR gives brands the opportunity to interact with consumers in a whole new way, and those that don’t take that opportunity may end up being left behind.

Kate Taylor Tett is head of UK marketing at Snatch

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