Imagine that you’re out to lunch, and in walks a woman wearing a terrific-looking coat. Who designed it? Did she buy it last season, or is it still on sale? Covertly, you give her coat a quick scan on your smartphone, find out it’s available on Farfetch, and moments later it's on its way out for delivery.
According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, that future may not be far off. In a sit-down interview with Vogue, the leader of the world’s most valuable technology company said he is betting big on augmented reality (AR), which he believes will transform everything from runway shows to shopping. “I don’t think there is any sector or industry that will be untouched by AR,” he said.
Fashion shows are particularly ripe for AR intervention, he said: “If you think about a runway show in the fashion world, that's a great application of AR because some of these, you want to see the dress all the way around, you do not want to just see the front.” That kind of experience is all the more important now that runway shows are catering to a wider consumer audience watching online, and not just those seated in the front rows, he added.
At the end of September, Burberry — always one to take advantage of new technologies — introduced a new AR feature to its flagship iPhone app. It allows users to overlay Burberry-inspired digital illustrations by the artist Danny Sangra onto their camera view, which they can then share with their friends on social media. The feature was built using ARKit, a new toolset from Apple that enables software developers to more easily build AR experiences on iPhones and iPads. Unveiled at its annual developers’ conference in June, it officially hit the market with the launch of the iPhone and iPad’s latest software update, iOS 11, in September.
Since Apple rolled out ARKit, a number of retailers have begun integrating the technology into their iPhone and iPad apps, giving us a glimpse of online shopping’s future. Last month, Ikea and Anthropologie released new versions on their apps that allow customers to see how a new chair or lamp might look in their living rooms – and in the latter’s case, even sample different fabrics and colours. “Over time, I think [these features] will be as key as having a website,” Cook said.
But these are examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact AR will have on fashion and shopping in the long-term, Cook indicated.
Over the past few years, technology startups and brands including Rimmeland Gap have launched apps that invite shoppers to “try on” make-up and clothes virtually. But none have been advanced enough to compare to the experience of trying on a beautiful matte foundation or tricky pair of trousers in store. Could that be about to change? Cook said he doesn’t think the technology will get there “this year,” but he does see a significant role for AR in the online shopping experience – and potential for offline applications, too.
It will also take some time before we’ll be able to scan and identify other women’s coats on our phones. Cook says the company has no plans to build the giant database of clothes, shoes and other goods that would make it possible. But Apple does plan to support companies who might embark on such an endeavour, he said. “We don't have a plan to collect all of these objects, but I know companies who are working on that for their products,” Cook said. “If you think about companies that offer a fair number of shoes, and [if a customer] sees a shoe and goes I want that one, you just want to point and [buy]. That will be a part of the shopping experience of the future, it absolutely will.”
One other area where Apple, AR and fashion might intersect? Glasses. For years, tech bloggers have salivated over the promise of AR glasses designed by Apple – ones that would offer greater capabilities than Google’s ill-fated Google Glass, and look slicker, too. But the bloggers will have to wait a little longer. “There are rumours and gossip about companies working on that, and we obviously don't talk about what we work on. But today I can tell you that the technology itself doesn't exist to do that in a quality way,” Cook said. “We don't give a rats about being first, we want to be best in creating people's experiences. Something that you would see out in the market any time soon would not be something that any of us would be satisfied with.”