Apple has finally unveiled its long-anticipated anniversary phone: the iPhone X. This device is the best iPhone the company has ever made, with an edge-to-edge screen, no home button, and face recognition dubbed Face ID. Face ID uses machine learning, stores information on a dedicated chip, and will be able to test drive consumer AI algorithms with Apple’s wide user base.
What’s even more exciting is that the new iPhone has improved Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities, which sets up the mobile world for some cool near-future apps. At the same time, Apple has released an ARKit that developers can use to create apps and AR experiences within its ecosystem. Let’s talk about what that means for the world of commerce.
Apple’s Face ID Brings AI into the Mainstream. What’s next?
In the past few years, Apple has been acquiring facial recognition startups leading up to the technology behind Face ID. It has acquired FaceFirst, PolarRose, RealFace, and in 2016, Emotient. Emotient uses AI to analyze facial expressions so it can read emotions.
Apple’s efforts culminate in the iPhone X which boasts a dedicated AI processing chip so Face ID doesn’t put a strain on the other systems. Face ID’s hardware also includes a dot projector, infrared camera, flood illuminator, and regular camera. The system can sense depth, so it cannot be fooled by a picture, and it can also recognize your face in the dark.
The algorithms can even learn as you change your facial features, say you grow a beard or put on glasses. So what does that mean for AI and the future of smartphones?
iPhone’s AI capabilities (and the fact that Apple is selling a 256GB version) makes one think that they are prepping for some serious applications both in the AI and AR realms.
Think AI apps that anchor functions to facial expressions. Amazon’s 1-click patent just expired — maybe they will patent a single-wink purchase app that will make use of the new iPhone’s capabilities.
3D face scanning holds a lot more data points than 2D fingertips, and not only improves security but also allows for more creativity in the machine learning game. AI apps may be developed that can read your mood and offer content, meditation, or a visit to the doctor if you are stressed or exhausted.
The new iPhone X is the first device with enough capabilities and a large enough following to really create a mainstream AI ecosystem of apps that address common needs. Like personal physician-type apps that can detect if you have had too much coffee, not enough sleep, or if you are angry and keep you in check.
According to Michal Kosinski — a Stanford University professor — face recognition AI will soon be able to pinpoint your sexual orientation, political views, and how high your IQ is, just from your face.
Apple’s ARKit — Creating a New World and a New Avenue for Marketers
The other big feature upgrade to the new iPhone is its Augmented Reality capabilities. Earlier this summer Apple released an ARKit, inviting developers to start populating the category with apps and experiences.
Some early examples like GIPHY World are already releasing demos and looking for funds. GIPHY World allows you to leave digital notes over physical objects, say for your babysitter. The Food Network AR app will allow you to create and modulate food items. Think AR-realistic food models for iPad restaurant menus, like the ones designed by Kabaq.
The ARKit will allow brands to populate their stores with engaging media and to pin virtual signs and content to places and objects. And when developers link face recognition to AR, we will be able to pin content to people.
You will be able to scan a crowd at an event and find that contact from the industry you are interested in. Think also locating your friend in a crowd at a concert or measuring your world with AR apps like MeasureKit. You’ll also be able to get some loyal company with this virtual pet app by RidgelineLabs.
When Will Marketers Be Able to Jump on the AR Train
AR has been in the shadow of virtual reality so far, but it seems the technology has been setting the field up for a growth spurt. AR has been facing challenges, and most importantly, has been lacking a widely popular “hero device”, with a support ecosystem.
It looks like the iPhone X will take up that role and solve the other AR challenges as well — device battery life, mobile connectivity and an app ecosystem.
Apple is positioning AR for growth and investing in the technology. This move has been long into making as Apple acquired AR company Metaio in 2015.
The speed of app release and adoption for gaming, shopping, and advertising will likely increase very shortly. I think it is safe to say that within the next five years you will see virtual shopping assistants, AR neon signs, and content linked to most of the things around us.
What AR on Mobile Means for eCommerce
Suppose you are shopping online and you are not sure if a bracelet or a watch is going to look good on you. You will be able to point your phone camera at your hand and the jewelry will appear superimposed over your hand on your screen.
One of the early adopters of the AR technology is IKEA that first offered its app in 2014 addressing the issue that customers often bought furniture that did not fit in their homes. The app allows you to virtually test drive the pieces in your living room before you make a final decision.
IKEA is just one example of how AR can transform eCommerce, maybe even challenge the need for photos. Well… maybe not, but let’s just say that in a few years photos may not be enough to impress your customers.
Larger brands will lead the industry into creating virtual rooms resembling your home and filling them with items from their catalogs. Even your own AR avatar will probably be able to take a virtual walk around.
Brick and mortar retailers , in contrast, will likely take indoor mapping to a new level, using apps for real-time promotions and offering treasure (coupon) hunts within their physical locations, engaging their consumers like never before. Virtual store guides, personal shopping assistants, and AR mirrors will seamlessly let you try on hundreds of items.
All this is in the effort to grease the wheels of commerce and offer an immersive consumer expertise.
The virtual world will be ruled by app makers like ModiFace that offers an AR app called the Mirror to beauty brands. The Mirror can change your makeup, eye and hair color so you can virtually try products on.
Apps like Layer, an AR scanner that brings printed content in the digital world and generates shopping links or videos related to it, will let brands link their marketing channels.
Developers have been gearing up for the AR shift and are offering industry-specific platforms and apps. ViewAR is well-positioned to serve online retailers in placing furniture and other objects in the context of your living room or other spaces. Holiton is one of huge players in the AR and VR for eCommerce. They create virtual experiences for brands like LVMH, Lacoste, and UNIQLO.
AR has also taken healthy strides in creating virtual training manuals. For a great example, take a look at the Daqri smart helmet powered by Intel. The helmet uses AR to guide factory engineers through troubleshooting of facility systems.
User-Generated Data Will be Key in Targeting AR Experiences
The single largest mainstream AR success is Pokémon Go, but besides all the fun in catching Pokémon and going places at the same time, the game also gathered a lot of data about preferences and foot traffic.
Pokémon Go shows the rich world of AR and how it can be used to get to know your consumers better and respond in kind with targeted AR content. Pokémon Go users spend an average of 26 minutes per day on the app and that offers great value to marketers.
The more brands engage their users in AR ecosystems and offer value, the more data they will gather and be able to seamlessly embed content that nurtures users along the buyer’s journey.
The rise of iPhone X will also boost independent AR app development like Mirage. Mirage was created by Ryan Staake and Patrick Piemonte, who both used to be Apple interface designers. The app lets users attach AR emojis and content to physical objects around them. Apps like this one will be a great source of data that will serve as anchors for brands’ own AR offerings.
AR will also help data visualization, which will make it easier to see all data and analyze it better. Combined with machine learning, data mining and use will become more comprehensive and allow brands to make better decisions.
AR applications are not easy to develop, so you should implement according to your budget and test their effectiveness in your niche. If you are selling small wearable items like watches or jewelry, a mobile app that superimposes them on, say on your customer’s wrist, can be a good first step. The best way to start is to shop around for developers and get a deal that fits your operation.