On September 12, 2017, when Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple launched iOS 11 (the newest operating system for iPhones and iPads), he declared that it would allow “hundreds of millions” of people to use Augmented Reality (AR) for the first time. Apple, he said, were “bringing it to mainstream”.
Cook was not exaggerating. Apart from the 30m or so people who walked around towns and parks last year with their eyes fixed on their iPhones in search of Pokémon characters with names like Pikachu, Arbok and Beedrill, few normal human beings have had any contact with AR.
Much of the appeal of Pokémon Go for its players lay in characters that were originally created for a two dimensional video game appearing to exist in three dimensions in the real world. And it is that seamless combination of the user’s own environment - quite possibly their home, a street or a vineyard - and a wide range of elements ranging from cartoonish sprites to words and numbers, is what is going to make AR part of all of our lives over the next few years.
Like the Pokémon creatures, Augmented Reality is far from new. I briefly played with an app called Blippar six years ago, using it to upload one of my own wine labels, along with some information about the liquid in the bottle. Anyone who scanned the label with their phone would instantly be able to read all about the wine on a page that floated alongside the bottle on their screen.
And that was the problem: for this to happen, a) the potential user had to know that the label might be worth scanning and b) they’d have to have already installed the Blippar app on their phone. Both these hurdles seemed far too high for the marketing budget I had at my disposal.
Curiouser and curiouser
A few months later, however, Pernod Ricard’s Brancott Estate in New Zealand launched an ambitious campaign called The World’s Most Curious Bottle. The initiative allowed consumers to explore 14 interactive experiences, ranging from food-and-wine matches to games and puzzles and encounters with New Zealand falcons.
Quite deservedly, it attracted a lot of media coverage and recognition by judges looking for innovative use of mobile phones but, despite the growing number of wine drinkers began to access apps like Vivino and Delicious by scanning wine labels, AR did not take off.
Like its tech giant rivals, Microsoft and Google, Apple has, however, been quietly encouraging Augmented Reality for a while, promoting partnerships, such as an IKEA app that allows users to virtually place furniture from the Swedish maker in the room around them and a Major League Baseball app that hovers information and stats above players on the field in real time.
Now, since the launch of iOS 11, anyone with recent iPhone will have instant access to the world of AR as soon as they obey the prompt to update their software. September has already seen a torrent of launches and announcements. As well as playing with everything in the Ikea catalogue, iPhone users can point their phone at a banana and all kinds of other foods in order to check its calorie content and allergy issues.
Wondering about getting a tattoo? The Ink Hunter app allows you to try it out before going under the needle. Want to measure your living room prior to buying a carpet? With the help of AR Measurekit your phone can help with that – and calculate whether your new Ikea sofa will fit through the door.
Portals to other worlds
Blending Virtual with Augmented Reality, Eyesphere has come up with an extraordinary portal you can step through to enter a museum, while the portal a Canadian developer called Ricardo Poupada has created would give you access to a football match. Obviously, the same technology could be used to transport users to a vineyard or winery.
A Washington State brewery has animated its labels, while Treasury Wine Estates has already introduced the talking wine bottle, in the shape of AR-powered labels that allow the faces of convicts featured on its 19 Crimes wines to move and speak. Again, it is easy to imagine another brand bringing its winemaker - or a celebrity - to life in a similar way.
Another unsuspected use of augmented reality would be to do something at which the wine industry has historically not been very successful: cross-selling. Why not introduce the buyer of your standard Cabernet Sauvignon to your Reserve bottling, or your Merlot, or - why not? - your Chardonnay?
Finally, and most prosaically, even if wineries choose not to use AR to offer the kind of background information that does not fit onto their back labels, regulators could easily insist that they provide a link to their website on which they provide ingredient listing and health warnings.
This is just the start. You have been warned.