tablet showing furniture

Mixed Reality is Transforming the Online Shopping Experience

Scott Lozier

Scott Lozier


A seasoned engineer with 10+ years experience, Scott has expertise in web applications, as well as experience using web-based software for complex projects within marketing, game design and APIs. 

By Scott Lozier | Wednesday, October 18, 2017

You know that moment in the Wizard of Oz when the drama switches from black and white to color? The story becomes magical. A whole new viewing experience where anything seems possible. Well, that moment will soon happen on the web. 

In the near future, now-familiar 2D websites will transform into vivid 3D experiences — turning online shopping into a whole new ballgame. Flat images will be replaced with 3D objects (mixed reality) that can be customized to meet shoppers’ specific needs. 

In other words, websites will become a whole lot more interesting. As an added bonus, the process of releasing a new site will be far simpler that current practice.

Mixed Reality Will Soon Replace 2D

Up until two months ago, development of augmented and virtual reality applications was stymied because Apple devices didn’t support the new technology. Fortunately, the folks at Apple realized they were missing the Next Big Thing and built their new operating system to support AR/VR. With iOS11, Apple says users can “view virtual content on top of real-world scenes for interactive gaming, immersive shopping experiences, industrial design and more.”

Mixed Reality

Ikea’s Place application is the perfect example of this new reality. With it, shopping moves from desktop to phone or tablet. Looking for a new sofa? The Place app allows you to choose an Ikea sofa (or any Ikea product) and see what it would look like in your home. Not a generic living room. Your living room.

With Place, you can virtually walk around the room and look at the virtual sofa as you would a real object. It gets bigger as you approach it. Even the lighting is realistic. Here, check it out: 

A New Experience

At ICS we have created several virtual shopping experiences that allow users to manipulate products and design rooms. But we’ve been limited by existing technology to presenting those rooms in flat 2D. That makes it tough to create a compelling visual experience that effectively mimics reality. 

Compounding the problem is that creating even a 2D experience can be costly and time-intensive because of the effort required to produce the image assets. Clients routinely tell us they can’t give us an image for a specific product, or they can get one but it will take (too much) time to set up a photo session. 

Fortunately, this will soon be a problem of the past. With the advent of mixed reality we now have assets in 3D that we can easily position and light in code. No additional photography or Photoshop work is necessary. That means less time and less expense for our clients.

A few examples of 3D:

Click on the "texture" button to show the 3D model. You can rotate and zoom the object.

Chair

3D Sneaker

Here’s a simplified example of what the process of setting up products to sell on your website or mobile looks like today and how it will look very soon. 

Currently:

  • Product is designed
  • Product created from design
  • Products photographed
  • Photos resized and Photoshoped 
  • Photos added to website

Near future:

  • Product is designed 
  • Designs added to 3D experience on website 

No more photography. No more waiting until something is manufactured to put it online. Soon, people will be able to see a realistic 3D representation of what they want before it’s even manufactured! 

Problems with 3D

3D is definitely cool. And it’s cost-effective. But is it practical? It a commonly held belief that 3D objects take forever to load. That file sizes are too big. That web can’t do video well. But is that accurate?

Not anymore thanks to glTF (GL Transmission Format), a runtime asset delivery format for GL APIs including WebGL, OpenGL ES, and OpenGL. With glTF it is possible to stream 3D assets to a client instead of having to download the whole asset at once. This, combined with changes in web browsers that are making preload easier and faster, is making the practical application of mixed reality on mobile possible. 

So how long will the 3D transition take? At the Apple and Android stores, mixed reality apps are already among the most downloaded and most highly recommended apps available today. Though the commercial use of mixed reality is in its infancy, apps like Ikea Place are the new frontier. 

ICS is paying close attention to the impact this and similar mixed reality apps have on product sales as we harness the latest tech to help our own customers move the needle.

If you’re interested in exploring 3D or developing a mixed reality app, get in touch and we’ll guide you through the process.



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