Firms tap apps that 'augment reality'

by Asako Takaguchi


Smartphone applications featuring “augmented reality” are being used by an increasing number of companies to promote their products.

Ikea Japan K.K., the Japanese arm of the Swedish furnishing giant, launched a service in August that gives customers a virtual preview of how a piece of furniture will look in their home, with the help of a printed catalog, a smartphone or tablet and a mobile app.

Customers first open the catalog at the selected product page and point the smartphone or tablet camera at a cross at the bottom of the page. This gives them access to augmented reality mode. Next, they close the catalog and place it on the spot where they intend to place the new piece of furniture.

A virtual image of the selected sofa, bed or other furniture item will then be shown on the device’s screen with the room in the background. Customers can reposition the virtual furniture simply by touching the screen.

About 90 kinds of furniture items can be viewed via augmented reality, which helps customers avoid buying the wrong size, shape or color by enabling them to picture the product in place first.

“We want customers to know that purchasing furniture is easy and enjoyable too,” said Yuki Murata of Ikea Japan.

A 30-year-old man who was visiting the Ikea outlet in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, along with his wife, said, “It is always a challenge to go and buy furniture, but by using this app we can see how it looks at home before actually coming to the store.”

In another example, this winter, Sanrio Co. is selling two kinds of greeting cards, at ¥483 each, using augmented reality technology. It is the first time for the Tokyo-based character goods maker to sell the cards.

One of the cards features four Santa Clauses that pop up when the card is opened. When the recipient holds a smartphone or tablet over the card, 11 Santa Clauses appear on screen, playing musical instruments.

In the other card, Sanrio’s popular character Hello Kitty dances on the device screen and the recipient can even be in a photograph with Kitty.

“We believe the cards combine the warmth of handwritten letters and the latest information technology,” said Shingo Yasutomo, a Sanrio official who developed them.

Publishing firms also seem interested in products using the technology.

Tokyo Shoseki Co. in August published a picture book for ¥1,995 about 33 species of animals at Asahiyama Zoo, a popular tourist draw located in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.

By overlaying a smartphone on the book, a reader can view a virtual image of a bear swimming on the screen or a magnified image of the rarely seen cheek teeth of the Yezo deer.

An official at Tokyo Shoseki said sales of the book are on the increase and the company has received favorable comments from readers, one of whom said, “It’s like being at the zoo.”

Augmented reality technology is also used by many tourist spots and museums to offer visitors digital guidance, as well as in product ads on vending machines.

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