Beyond The Hype: Business Results With Augmented Reality, Wearables, And More

First, our computers shrunk into phones. Now, they’re morphing into wearables – smart watches and glasses, a projected US $12 billion market according to BI Intelligence. When coupled with wearable for augmented realityinnovations in augmented reality (AR), 3D visualization, location-based services, and the plethora of sensor data these devices collect, there are endless possibilities to enhance existing apps or create completely new use cases.

Here’s an interview I recently conducted with two of the panelists from SAP – Josh Waddell, VP of Mobile Solution Management and Damien Murphy, Senior Mobility Specialist. These guys eat, sleep, and breathe mobile – keeping on top of each iOS update and new device release. They collaborate with SAP customers on a daily basis, helping these leading organizations determine which of these technologies they should implement, and how to do so most effectively.

So, let’s jump right into it with a bit of an icebreaker. What’s your favorite app today – pick one that highlights some aspect of these mobile innovations?

[Damien] One recent innovation that has caught my eye is a Kickstarter project called “Structure Sensor”. It is essentially an Xbox Kinect shrunk down to fit on an iPad. What I like about this is that you can now convert real world objects into 3D virtual objects. So why is this cool? Well, now that the real world is virtual, you can have virtual objects interact with the real world like never before. Then, combine this with vrAse (AR headwear), and you have a fully immersive augmented reality system that interacts with the world around you. Watch this video to see a demo.

[Josh] There are so many. The new IKEA catalog app with AR is really interesting, especially when you start thinking about the impacts it could have in terms of the bottom line for IKEA. The app allows you ‘see’ their furniture in your house before you make a purchase. There are several others out there that have a similar use case – trying on a pair of virtual sunglasses for example, but the potential benefits of reduced returns, shipping costs, restocking, etc…for IKEA have to be more exciting than sunglasses. Another AR app I really like the LEGO app just because I love watching my daughters play with it. They are both Legomaniacs.

All of these underlying technologies are exciting and sexy. As a result, they get a ton of news coverage. However, why do some take so long to become main stream – or some never do at all? For example, we’ve been hearing about AR for years, but its use is still not prevalent. Has it’s time arrived? And if so, why now?

[Damien] The reason Augmented Reality (AR) has started to gain more attention in recent years is because the hardware is now powerful enough to track 2D & 3D objects and render video, images and 3D at suitable frame rates on mobile devices to enable AR applications. Where we are now is a turning point similar to when the first iPhone came out which had far more CPU & GPU power than previous mobile devices and also boasting JavaScript support, making it more like a desktop than ever before. That was 6 years ago and now the iPhone 5s is 40 times faster than the first iPhone.

What about wearables?

[Damien] Google Glass was announced in 2012. However, today the population of owners is still quite limited – only a small community of about 10,000 innovators or developers who were lucky enough to be hand selected by Google, and who also paid $1,500. Is this something that will become a mainstream consumer device in the near term? I realize there’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario here as there won’t likely be mass consumer appeal until there is a robust marketplace of apps, while at the same time, most developers won’t want to invest their time and effort until they know the audience exists.

[Josh] Having Google develop a wearable is great for the entire industry. Just their presence alone is generating buzz – establishing the accelerating the market. To a lot of people I speak too outside of work, Google Glass has already become the Kleenex of wearables, despite other name brand companies like Epson, Brother, and Samsung investing in wearables. But, you are right. Getting your handing on pair of glass, or any other glasses is not easy today. Even if you can get your hands on a pair, wearables that people will actually wear are still waiting on technology.

I personally haven’t made my mind up on the “chicken and egg” scenario. Certainly in some areas like fitness consumers are leading the charge, but opposed to other recent trends, I believe the enterprise will lead a lot of the adoption of glasses in particular. A guy who looks like he just left Dragoncon staring at you in the coffee shop – Creepy! The FedEx driver dropping off a package at your house or the HVAC repairman, utility employee, etc. – if they were wearing smart glasses to provide you with better service – it wouldn’t be creepy.

You have the opportunity to work on a variety of mobile apps across different industries. Tell me about one of the exciting projects you’ve been tackling lately.

[Damien] This has to be SNAP, a consumer app for the retail or consumer products (CP) industry. Think about buying a new piece of furniture or a new grill – something that requires assembly – and then coming home and having to endure the painful assembly process using print directions with hundreds of steps and terrible illustrations. SNAP revolutionizes this experience with a 3D interactive, step-by-step guide that is beautifully, and accurately, displayed on a tablet or phone. Plus we’ve built in many other bells and whistles that enhance the consumer experience.

I’ve had the opportunity to play around with some of those apps you’ve referenced – they are in fact very slick, and incredibly realistic. But, what does it take to get the models into the system. Seems like this would be prohibitive, applying this to a manufacturer with hundreds or thousands of different products.

[Damien] I had been working on some 3D apps on iOS when I first joined SAP back in 2011, and I felt like it could take a team of developers years to get all the things I needed to do in 3D complete. So I started to reach out to other people in SAP to see if there was a team already working on such 3D frameworks that I could leverage for mobile. To my delight I was informed we had just acquired a 3D company called Right Hemisphere. I reached out to them and learned that they would be releasing a 3D framework (SAP Visual Enterprise Mobile SDK) for mobile which we could leverage in our apps.

As soon as it was released, I downloaded it and had the perfect app to add it to. Just 3 days later, my app had 3D animated scenes and instructions included. Something like this would have taken me far too long to develop on my own, but using this new SDK, I was able to achieve my goal in a trivial amount of time. This then allowed me to scale from a single embedded 3D scene to a cloud based repo of 3D scenes which could be downloaded to the app on the fly. These advancements enable enterprises to distribute 3D data over the air to mobile devices simply & securely.

It’s definitely an exciting time to be involved in this industry. With constant innovation come new opportunities to throw in this device functionality here or add this sensor data there. How do you prevent overload – adding too much to an app so that it actually makes the app slow and clunky or just flat-out too confusing for the end user?

[Josh] I believe the impact of AR and the usability of wearables will really become an entire topic on its own. Today we are working directly with our customers, and their end users, to design these next generation user interfaces. We have been hosting a series of design thinking innovation academies with customers and in all of the sessions it has become immediately clear that while we are making great progress, in some ways we are just beginning to scratch the surface. Because we have not seen the widespread adoption of wearables, a lot of constituents that we anticipate will have influence, such as labor unions and state and local governments, have not really begun to think about the impact of the technology. This is fine of course, it just adds a little extra pressure to make sure SAP and our customers get it right the first time and stay focused on maximizing the benefits of the technology. While many of the benefits of a hands free working environment seem clear, we have stay focused and make sure we don’t, for example, replace the safety benefit of working with both hands with the safety risk of distracted drivers.

If you’d like to hear more about this topic…

Be sure to join us on November 20, 2013, for the Webcast Beyond the Hype: How Augmented Reality, Wearables, and Other Mobile Innovations Are Driving Business Results Today.

During this hour, Damien and Josh will cover:

  • What’s real and what’s hype when it comes to some of the latest mobile innovations
  • How to hone in on use cases that will wow users and drive business results – today
  • Five steps you must take to incorporate these innovations into your mobile strategy
  • Plus they will leave plenty of time for live Q&A

This blog originally appeared on the SAP Community Network.