16 Key Augmented Reality Business Models

A cross-post from Gary Hayes’s Personalizemedia Site (with permission!) … As promised a more specific ‘commercial’ follow up to my previous post on this topic which was more ‘story’ centric. I am developing and producing a range of Augmented Reality (or if you prefer AR, ‘blended or layered media’) applications at the moment. I have also been asked to present at a few conferences and create a detailed white paper on the implications of AR for government & business looking at privacy, legal, copyright & crime issues. As readers of this blog will know I also lecture, run workshops and work with creative teams to come up with future ‘social entertainment’ based around virtual worlds and augmented reality.

But the purpose of this short post is to simply list and try to categorise the many types of business Augmented Reality apps appearing in the market. The first manifestations of AR appeared in the late 60s, became real in the 70s and by the 90s were already being used by major companies. Now portable computing is finally powerful enough to deliver AR to anyone who has a smart phone or latest generation PC or console. But first my simple definition of Augmented Reality.
Information, 3D models or live action blended with or overlaid onto the physical world in real time. A camera & attached screen is used to view the combination of reality & real time virtuality. Devices or systems commonly used for AR include

But the purpose of this pretty detailed post is to simply list and try to categorise the many types of business Augmented Reality apps appearing in the market and to try to identify opportunities.

Augmented Dollar
Augmented Reality Business by Gary Hayes

According to wikipedia, the first manifestations of AR appeared in the late 60s, became real in the 70s and by the 90s were already being used by major companies. Now portable computing is finally powerful enough to deliver AR to anyone who has a smart phone or latest generation PC or console. For those unfamiliar here is my simple definition of Augmented Reality.

Information, 3D models or live action blended with or overlaid onto the physical world around us, in real time. A camera & attached screen is used to view the combination of real world and metadata or rich media. Devices or systems commonly used for AR include:

  • Mobile devices with inbuilt cameras such as iPhone, DS Lite, PSP or Android
  • A head mounted display HMDs (eg: glasses or futuristic contact lenses) attached to a wearable networked computer
  • A PC or Mac with webcam
  • A games console with camera accessory
  • A large TV screen with advanced Set Top box and Web cam
  • Others in development

There will be hundreds of business, marketing and educational applications alongside the many 1st generation entertainment examples currently emerging. As usual the video game and porn industries are pioneering the research and development of the technology but we are about to see a plethora of more mundane utility & life enhancing applications about to swamp the market. Combine this with hundreds of space cadet ‘toys’ and viral fluff and we start to see the beginnings of a large industry. Of course the usual caveats apply but unlike say virtual worlds which suffered from too much early hype, these apps are much more accessible to anyone with a decent smart phone, up to date games console or computer with webcam – there is a big difference.

But before going onto my list (which is of course non-exhaustive) here are my basic types of Augmented Reality from a slightly technical perspective but which we can apply to commercial and marketing applications. My presentations and paper have much more detail with specific case studies of each.


  1. Surface – The most understandable form of ‘reality that is augmented’ would be screens, floors, walls etc that respond to the touch of people in them providing them with virtual real time information or collaboration
  2. Pattern – The AR system performs simple pattern recognition on a shape, marker (usually on a framed card in the real world scene) or face and replaces it with a static or moving element e.g: a 3D model, info, audio, video stream or loop etc: You view the ‘items’ in the scene with you
  3. Outline – This is where your hand, eye or body outline is picked up and seamlessly ‘merged’ with the virtual elements. Simple example where you can pick up a 3D object that doesn’t exist because the system is tracking your hand outline.
  4. Location – Based on detailed GPS or triangulation location & position/view of the camera/device the AR system can overlay information precisely over buildings or people as you move through real space.
  5. Hologram – Using ‘smoke & spinning mirrors’ literally in some cases, virtual or real items are ‘projected’ into the physical space you are in and can be interactive with based on cameras tracking real world impulses e.g: hand gestures or audio signals

Before the more detailed list I embed my summary flickr chart whose purpose is to try to categorise types of business orientated augmented reality apps so to identify opportunities. The graph places 16 on axes of commercial value (likely revenue or marketing potential) vs adoption (scale of popularity vs a niche, client user base). It is a starting document to aid classification of this emerging commercial sector that I hope you find useful. The AR types, color key linked to each model is suggestive only. (Click on image for enlargement over at my flickr pages)

16 Augmented Reality Business Models

Below are longer descriptions of my top 16 Business Applications/Models for Augmented Reality and I suspect I will develop twenty more before the day is out! I have tried to break up some of the big AR areas such as ‘locative AR’ and separated them into several opportunities. This is an exercise looking at the marketing or commercial ‘intention’ vs a traditional pure business model, broad approach. It is a starting document to aid classification of an emerging commercial sector that I hope you find useful.

  1. IN SITU: Aiding sale by seeing projects & products placed in the environment before completion. The benefit of a customer or client seeing a finished project, before it is complete. For example 1) real estate agents can scan and show an empty house full of stylish furniture or 2) an architect who can show the billion dollar client the skyscraper as a model perfectly aligned with the other buildings on the empty site and 3) Customers who want to see what the clothes look like on ‘them’ (as in the Zugara video above and Cisco below). The list of applications goes on.
  2. UTILITY: Selling life enhancing AR applications perceived as useful. Development and commercial sale of applications such as underground train orientation, bus stops & times, traffic alerts, airport gates & plane arrivals etc: all overlaid in real space. Sometimes called AR browsers as they cross reference what or who you are looking at with anything or everything off the web or like this UPS example allows you to see if your ‘stuff’ will fit the ‘virtual’ postal boxes.
  3. TRAINING: Hands-on with complex equipment and work scenarios. Using ‘outline’ recognition this allows us to be virtually ‘hands-on’ with complex equipment in difficult-to-practise work scenarios. Bomb disposal, surgery, flight simulation. . Indeed according to wikipedia the actual phrase Augmented Reality was coined by Tom Caudell in 1992 while at Boeing where workers trained to wire aircraft on AR systems. A massive industry for the developer community charging b2b rates.
  4. SOCIAL GAMING: Both connotations of the word, pay-per-play mixed reality games in physical space. The potential to run pay per play (e.g: virtual paintball style) games in physical location and also live connected betting on sports or other competitive play – e.g: You point your iPhone at the horse and wirelessly place a bet – mid race! (odds adjusted of course) or using basic surface AR you play with others in a new kind of ‘games’ room!
  5. LOCATION LAYERS: Blended guides to new places, tourism, enhanced travelling or themed space. For travellers just arrived at your city, theme park or other experience you can provide them with pay for tools that will help them take the most ‘mutually beneficial’ route after they arrive. Free data from wikipedia, local bloggers or more commercial entities add depth.
  6. VIRTUAL DEMO: Display to promote sale, of product in pre-release or remotely via catalogue etc: To promote advance sales before the consumer gismo hits the stores, an AR display or the device/s so potential customers can manipulate it, see it from all sides, even customise the order. We may see future stores displaying the majority of items on the shop floor as AR while the item is shipped to your house before you get home! The reverse of this, an AR catalogue (as in the Ikea video below) that pops up models to help you build or see the product in 3D.
  7. EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION: Pay-per-visit educational services to museums, ancient sites etc: Pay-per-visit (ppv) to visit highly experiential museums, theme parks, zoos, ancient sites or exhibitions but with a higher purpose of providing deeper levels of information & visual sense than a simple plague or hard to follow guide book ever will. The sleepy animals in the zoo come to life, the ancient fossil is animated into an overlaid Google Earth, the Battle is enacted ‘on the original battlefield.
  8. ENHANCED CLASSIFIEDS: An AR directory that promotes local 3rd parties product & services overlaid at the location. One of the obvious apps where someone in a city or town looking for a specific item could be ‘guided’ to it. A very affiliate model where the company that owns the Augmented Reality listing mechanism will take a slice of any fulfilled sales. A lot more to this of course.
  9. 3D VIRALS: Branded company or personal promotion & ads using ‘cool’ 3D toys. Pattern based 3D model that entertains and is spread virally. The YouTube moment as a million links to cool ‘3D stuff’ that takes place next to you. Already we see some AR apps that allow you to record scenes of you interacting with said ‘3D viral’ and pass those around too, titillation, quirky giveaways- JibJab-type, put ‘you’ in the cartoon but revered, they are with you in 3D space.
  10. PERSONALIZED SHOPPING: Walking around stores made relevant, opt in personalization and targeting. The oft mentioned Minority Report example. But in the pulled model, here you can deliver information to potential customers scanning stores, streets or shelves for discounted or personally relevant products.
  11. COOPERATION: Service industry for augmented virtual meetings. We are all familiar with video conferencing, a few have dabbled in 3D virtual world get togethers but AR meetings are a game changer. The potential here using ‘discrete’ personal screens is to have the inevitable remote meeting with live feeds of your colleagues, blended into your room – pay-per-ARmeet
  12. BLENDED BRANDING: The equivalent of hoardings, virtual poster ads. Once given a reason to be scanning outdoor areas with their AR devices the potential to deliver topical, timely and relevant ads or branding into the scene. Again care must be taken as AR spam (like social network spam) will quickly irritate, but like free to air TV, using various sponsored or freemium biz models will mean a certain amount of branding will be acceptable.
  13. AUGMENTED EVENTS: Pay-per-use of enhanced sport or pop concerts. At live events spectators can pay and then scan their view of the ‘match’ for the latest information on sporting achievement or pop star gossip and of course tracking trails or watching replays in situ, merged over say a static real sporting scene.
  14. INTERTAINMENT: New form experiential TV and films. Following on from my ‘AR story’ post, we know people will pay a premium for a new kind of ‘film’ experience where you ‘live the experience’. How about one that plays out at ‘your’ place. Semi customised marker or location AR apps will layer Brad or Angie into your lounge, onto the coffee table or your ‘composited’ in real time into the latest Mixed Reality TV show. Combined with 3D viewing technology will make Blu-Ray seem so 18th century.
  15. UNDERSTANDING SYSTEMS: Creating AR for internal or exploded views of complex objects. Primarily useful in training or helping sell something where physically taking it apart is not possible a view of a car or other complex object can be enhanced. Labels or even an exploded view in real time can help get the message across.
  16. RECOGNITION & TARGETING: Pushing ‘relevance’ to outdoor consumers – facial recognition linked to online data. To be used with care! It will be interesting to see how privacy laws affect this but in a pushed model you could ‘scan’ visitors to your store, identify their faces, do background links to their ‘social networks’ followed by personal targeting while they are shopping. We all know this is going to happen!

Some examples:

CISCO’s future of shopping

BMW Future of Car repairs

Augmented Reality in Marketing and Sales

James Cameron’s Avatar – Augmented Reality Entertainment

IKEA’s Future Augmented Reality Catalogues

To finish a few lines that describe one of my presentations coming up that acts as a nice conclusion…

It has been called the future of social mobile networking, experiential marketing and entertainment, Augmented Reality is about to snowball. With hundreds of apps launching onto iPhones, Games Consoles, Advanced TV and your PC this new technology allows us to view our world in exciting new ways. Once the domain of science fiction or super computers this new technology, blending the real with virtual, is now literally in the hands of everyday consumers and business. Augmented Reality is simply using a camera with screen to layer rich media and information over ‘our’ real world, in real time so we can now scan and layer web info over products and people in the store or street and provide virtual, ‘in situ’ hands-on demonstrations and deliver the ultimate ‘guide’ to our complex physical world. Is AR the new 3D viral experiential marketing or another temporary fad?

Finally, finally for those interested here is my Augmented and Mixed Reality YouTube playlist if you have an hour or so to spare to view the current collection of 60 +


4 responses to “16 Key Augmented Reality Business Models”

  1. […] Tom Werner on October 26, 2009 A fun video from Cisco showing a vision of how augmented reality might change […]

  2. […] opportunity space augmented reality 16 key augmented reality business models […]

  3. […] a few such as a nice list from Kevin White who covers AR specifically for retail. I also like what Gary Hayes put together in his list of 16 Business oriented AR […]

  4. […] an Ad:Tech Augmented Reality panel later this week in Tokyo going beyond simple AR business models (see this post from over a year ago) and current delivery, real world possibilities, and talking about a near term futures and […]

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