Mark Zuckerberg helps SMEs get creative with augmented reality. Source: Shutterstock

Mark Zuckerberg helps SMEs get creative with augmented reality. Source: Shutterstock

Facebook makes augmented reality accessible to SMEs

BUSINESSES looking to delight customers have been turning to augmented reality in recent times.

From Macy’s and Ikea to Amazon and L’Oréal, the biggest of companies are using augmented reality (AR) to give customers something to be excited about — without using any additional equipment or device.

“AR lets us redefine the experience for furniture retail once more, in our restless quest to create a better everyday life for everyone, everywhere,” Inter IKEA Systems Leader Digital Transformation Michael Valdsgaard said recently.

Given the rising popularity of the technology, think tank Gartner believes that 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store.

IDC, on the other hand, sees AR making an impact beyond consumer-facing avenues. It’s analysts see many businesses using the technology to make internal operations more efficient and to boost overall productivity.

“Augmented reality is gaining share in the commercial market due to its ability to facilitate tasks, provide access to resources, and solve complex problems,” said IDC Customer Insights & Analysis Research Director Marcus Torchia.

Unfortunately, most of the AR use cases seem to come out of large organizations rather than small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are usually expected to be more creative — but thanks to Facebook, that’s about to change.

The company has just launched Spark AR, an AR development platform, to help independent creators and SMEs build exciting augmented reality projects that they can share with the world.

The most exciting thing is that the platform provides SMEs with the ability to publish directly on Instagram, which is a boon and creates enormous potential for brands to go viral with their creativity.

“Starting today, anyone can create and publish their own Spark AR effects on Instagram,” said the Tech@Facebook blogpost announcing the development.

“We’re also introducing the new Effect Gallery, which includes niche AR effects from up-and-coming artists, making it easier for people to discover unique effects from the creator community. To discover and try on new effects yourself, simply “Browse Effects” at the end of your effects tray in the Instagram Camera.”

The fact that users can quickly discover new filters is what can help brands quickly get the most out of their efforts, making AR projects more valuable to them in the first place.

“What drew me to Spark AR was this great feature set. It’s on devices that everyone can use, doesn’t require headsets, and it has built-in shareability. Really, everything connected to the point where I thought, ‘I really need to be involved in this and figure out how people use this,” Instagram Creator Luke Hurd said.

According to the social media giant, more than 1 billion people have already used AR effects and filters powered by Spark AR on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Portal — and the public release of Spark AR is expected to send this number soaring, especially with 500 million daily active users on Instagram Stories.

“My advice to augmented reality developers: Be a good steward to the technology and understand that you’re carrying this thing to the future of society,” said Hurd.

Despite the affinity for Spark AR among professional developers, Hurd and others — including Facebook — believe that the tool is simple enough for non-professionals to use by themselves, making this an exciting opportunity for SMEs looking to dip their toes in the world of AR solutions.

In the coming months, therefore, AR is expected to find more interest among SMEs.