When Marxent Labs was commissioned to make an augmented reality app everyone would talk about, models in their underwear was an obvious choice.
Their client was Moosejaw, an outdoor equipment store with a catalogue in need of some spicing up. So Marxent created an x-ray app that, when held over the magazine, lets you see beneath the parkas and sweatshirts to the models’ unmentionables.
“It was a little bit of fulfilling a fantasy of a 14-year-old boy,” says cofounder Beck Besecker, who worked on the app for 10 weeks.
The result? Over half a million downloads, mainstream media mentions, increased sales for Moosejaw, and phones ringing off the hook.
Besecker and his team have been building augmented reality apps for retail ever since, but he says the technology is still in its early stages – viewed as something fun or quirky.
“It has an impression of being gimmicky – it’s a gimmick, it’s a marketing campaign,” says Besecker. He started Detroit-based Marxent Labs with his brother, who dreams of building a real-life Star Trek holodeck in his basement.
As augmented reality becomes more mainstream, Besecker predicts, it will go from gimmicky to everyday-life useful. Google and Apple phones will come with augmented reality apps pre-installed, and we’ll stop using the term “augmented reality” altogether.
Appeasing the outcries of technology skeptics, augmented reality could help phones become tools for interacting with the world, not the screen itself. We’re moving in that direction with apps like Shazam (which recognizes recorded music) and Nike+, as well as the futuristic Google Glass project for augmented reality vision. Eventually, we might be able to take a photo of someone on the street wearing a chic dress and click to buy it online – although real-life x-rays are probably out of the question.