Niantic’s Harry Potter augmented reality game already sounds like it’s going to be as big or even bigger than Pokémon GO based on all the breathless reports about the game’s imminent arrival.
But why aren’t more AR apps generating this kind of excitement now that 2,000 apps that have been developed using Apple’s ARKit?
Here’s why: based on the quality of the apps being created so far with ARKit, AR apps have a long way to go before they really catch create the kind of sustained excitement we saw with Pokémon GO. The market has been flooded with underwhelming AR apps. Businesses and developers need to tread carefully and apply discipline in developing AR-based products. An approach that allows brands to test and learn while minimalizing cost and risk is essential.
Good News and Bad News
First, Apple is invested in adding new features and capabilities to ARKit. Included in the recently released iOS 11.3, ARKit 1.5 allows developers to detect vertical planes in order to activate more advanced experiences.
To be sure, businesses have made major breakthroughs applying AR, such as IKEA’s Place app, which makes it possible for consumers to use their phones to envision how IKEA products look in their homes before making a purchase. The app has generated widespread positive media coverage – and there are many other brands succeeding with AR.
On the other hand, the market has become quickly flooded with many AR apps that are not ready for prime time in the aftermath of Apple’s iOS rollout. As author Charlie Fink discussed recently in a column, most of the new AR apps available in the App Store are nothing better than delightful demoware.
With few exceptions, AR apps currently available in the app store aren’t good and are buggy,” he wrote. “To make matters worse, while iOS 11 will play new AR apps on our current iPhones, they drain the battery with lightning efficiency.
Consumer reviews of the most popular AR apps suggests that even the more popular ones are works in progress. Consumers will weed out the less compelling apps by simply abandoning the ones whose drain on battery power outweighs their value. But app abandonment means a product has failed the customer and the business, wasting time, money, and resources along the way. Businesses can avoid AR app abandonment in three ways:
1. Stay Focused on Apps that Support Sustainable Growth
Businesses can create AR products that deliver real value to customers by focusing only on product ideas that that support sustainable growth of the business. Only products that can be tied to the business’s strategic goals are worth creating (and it’s hard to believe that the 2,000 ARKit-based apps are doing so). Tying a product to business outcome forces the business to rule out AR for the sake of experimenting with AR. For example, IKEA rolled out IKEA Place because the app supports a business need, which is making the purchase process easier and cutting down on the rate of product returns.
2. Meet a Customer Need
Going hand in hand with supporting business strategy is staying focused on meeting a customer need. AR will take hold when more businesses use it to help people perform tasks more effectively. For example, Sephora offers augmented reality experiences through its mobile app that allows customers to test how products like make-up and lipstick look by scanning their faces and overlaying the products. The app offers tutorials on topics such as how to achieve the ideal smoky eye and contour highlighting.
The Sephora app is lovable because it meets a customer need: experimenting with cosmetics before making a purchase. According to NDP Group, it’s not uncommon for female consumers to wear five or more makeup products a day, and younger consumers especially like to experiment with them before they buy.
Creators of apps such as IKEA’s and Sephora’s stay focused on meeting customer needs by asking a multitude of questions to ensure lovable outcomes, for example:
- What user problem are we solving or need are we meeting?
- What kind of physical space requirements are we working with? What is the user’s environment like?
- How does AR solve that problem or meet that need more effectively than a 2D product could?
The core element underpinning these questions is empathy. Your development team that explores, designs, and delivers the app must possess strong customer empathy to create lovable products. Without empathy, it’s impossible to design a product that people will use over and over.
3. Employ a Test-and-Learn Approach
But customer empathy is just the start. Businesses also need the right process to test potential ways to create lovable products with AR. Businesses also need an efficient test-and-learn approach to experiment with the design of breakthrough lovable products while minimizing risk and cost.
Many companies use techniques such as design thinking to rapidly develop prototypes for products – an approach that applies to AR products and apps. I advocate combining the techniques of design thinking and lean innovation to create minimum lovable products for customers and then scale those products for commercial application.
Through design thinking, businesses identify the right problem to solve through empathetic research, create and consider many possible product options, refine selected directions, create realistic prototypes, and validate them with users. They employ tools such as customer personas and journey maps along the way. For instance, you might ask, “What kind of consumer problem am I trying to solve – and how do I think an AR app would solve it?” — and test possible solutions from there.
On the other hand, lean innovation is about developing an actual minimum lovable (AR) product based on the prototype you created during design thinking; and then creating a real product for commercial application. With lean innovation, cross-functional teams collaborate on holistic product design in an iterative, agile fashion. Lean innovation employs a continuous process that requires product managers, experience designers and engineers to collaborate from inception to completion.
The marriage of design thinking and lean innovation creates an ongoing process for discovery of ideas, creating products, and optimizing their value.
Applying AR to create lovable products is achievable now. Keeping focused on your business strategy and customer needs – and employing the right process — allows you to test AR apps, reject the ones that don’t pass the test, and then take to the market lovable products that people will never abandon.