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App-less AR with Anne Flynn Wear of Furniture Today

This week, we’ve got a special guest: Anne Flynn Wear is Associate Editor at Furniture Today, the leading furniture industry publication. Anne has spent the last year documenting the furniture industry’s growing pains as retailers look to implement new e-commerce and in-store technology solutions. For this episode, Anne joins the Joe’s to talk app-less AR, why the future is in 3D, and what furniture retailers are doing to get ahead of the sales curve. 

SHOW NOTES

App-less AR offers a tipping point for technology to become mainstream, by Anne Flynn Wear, Published May 6, 2019 at FurnitureToday.com
Anne Flynn Wear on LinkedIN
Google I/O overview from The Verge
VAARA Webinar Info

TRANSCRIPT

00:00 Joe Johnson: Welcome to the InReality Podcast. Now starting in three, two, one. Welcome to the InReality Podcast where we cover all things augmented and virtual reality. The InReality Podcast is hosted by Joe Bardi and Joe Johnson and features news, commentary and perspective from industry veterans and experts. First up, introductions. I’m Joe Johnson, creative director at Marxent.

00:19 Joe Bardi: And I’m Joe Bardi, Communications Director here at Marxent.

00:22 JJ: Today, we’ve got a special guest on the pod. Anne Flynn Wear is an associate editor at Furniture Today, the leading publication covering the furniture industry. Anne has spent the last year documenting the furniture industry’s growing pains as retailers look to implement new e-commerce and in-store technology solutions to better move merchandise, manage their supply chain, and improve the customer experience. On May 6th, Anne published a piece on furnituretoday.com titled, “App-less AR Offers a Tipping Point for Technology to Become Mainstream”, which takes an in-depth look at how augmented reality and to a lesser extent, virtual reality, have matured enough to become viable enterprise technologies for furniture retailers and manufacturers.

00:56 JJ: “The recent debut of app-less or web-native augmented reality could prove to be a tipping point for the technology’s adoption in home furnishings retail,” Anne writes. “Just as the transition from flip phones to smartphones opened up the world of e-commerce to mobile phone users, app-less options may have a similar impact when compared with AR apps.” That’s a juicy starting point, so let’s get to it. Up next: Our chat with Anne Flynn Wear of Furniture Today.

[music]

01:24 JB: Hi Anne, how’s it going today and can you give us a little bit of background about yourself, before we begin peppering you with highly technical questions?

01:31 Anne Flynn Wear: Well, hi. Thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I’m excited to share my knowledge of technology and e-commerce. My background, I actually have a degree in broadcast journalism so I started my career as a TV news producer in several markets and did that for awhile, and then I went into marketing and public relations. One of the previous jobs that has helped me with this job is, I worked for an engineering firm that did automated integration, so I did that for a couple of years and talked to engineers about the internet of things. And so I started here at Furniture Today about 10 months ago as the e-commerce and technology editor and have learned quite a bit during that time. Lots of change in the category.

02:10 JB: Yes, we, internally at Marxent, we love reading your stories. And God knows…

02:15 JJ: Lord knows I do.

02:16 JB: And God knows there’s enough of them, since I swear, you publish like one a day. [chuckle] And the reason we wanted to have you on was your piece, “App-less AR offers a tipping point for technology to become mainstream”, features interviews with several CEOs of companies that create and manage AR and VR visualization platforms. Marxent CEO, Beck Besecker, among them. Did you notice any recurring theme sort of across your conversations with these different business leaders?

02:42 AW: Yes, just the fact that it is a… Having AR be standard on mobile devices, both from Apple and Android will be a change, offer consumers a change in the way they view items. And so also that it’s important that companies have their 3D library up-to-date and ready to go at the point when that technology becomes more mainstream.

03:05 JB: Yeah, you say early in the piece. And I’m quoting, “Although AR technology has been available for seven or eight years, its cumbersome and disjointed interface has limited widespread adoption.” That’s obviously changing now, but how do you think sort of that history of AR affects how businesses view the tech today and their eagerness to adopt it? In other words, have years of janky UX poisoned the well for current innovation teams?

03:29 AW: Right. I think it’s getting consumers to understand that they don’t have to go through all the bells and whistles to have that AR experience. I know as a consumer, if I’m on a website and then I have to leave and open a separate app and find that item again, a lot of times… I have three kids and I work full-time, I don’t have time to go back and do all those things. But if I’m on someone’s website, and there’s a little button that says, “Do you wanna view this in 3D?” That makes the process so much easier. I think that consumers, once they understand the value of this technology, will really look forward to using it.

04:04 JJ: We’ve talked a few times in the past about the immediacy of the experience being super important. I remember when… I don’t know, was it like a year ago Joe, that AR Corp announced that it had Chrome support and we talked with… I think it was Patrice about…

04:19 JB: I think it was like last summer.

04:19 JJ: Yeah, it was last summer, we were talking about how big a step that was. And it’s good to see it’s finally realized.

04:24 AW: Correct.

04:25 JJ: Nice, correct.

04:27 JB: Yeah. [chuckle]

04:27 JJ: That’s what is an amazing answer.

[chuckle]

04:28 JB: It was…

04:29 JJ: I was both insightful and correct.

04:30 JB: You were, you… [chuckle]

04:33 JJ: Just gonna score one for me real quick.

04:35 AW: Sorry about that.

[laughter]

04:36 JB: No, no, that’s great, please. Your story was amazingly well-timed, ’cause it landed right before Google’s IO conference got underway and Google unveiled a cadre of new augmented reality tools, including web-based AR available directly from a Google search window. I know we talked earlier and you’ve seen the Google IO stuff. How did that idea of AR in search dovetail with the piece you wrote and what you were hearing about what’s going on in the industry?

05:06 AW: It is interesting, ’cause like you said, it’s almost like they read the article and said, “Here are the answers that you’re looking for.” Having that ability to put AR in their search function so that it’s available to everyone. I think the other challenge was then downloading the app has limited AR availability, but if everyone has that on their phones, just think of how many people will have access to the ability to use AR and I think that Google is tapping into that. Something else I think is interesting is instead of doing it… They talked about Google’s been using it for high showy things like they mentioned something with Marvel and Childish Gambino, but just having it for regular everyday things, like being able to read a menu and find out which items are most ordered or being able to read something in a different language, and using AR to change the language. There’s so many utilitarian functions for AR in addition to shopping, that it’ll be exciting to see where that goes.

06:04 JJ: You had some relation to mine are actually are using Google’s AR translation features overseas. They’re in China right now, and they’re currently using it. It’s apparently very good for pictograms versus letter forms and stuff like that.

06:15 JB: Oh, ’cause you can hold it up and just show it something and it will tell you what it says?

06:17 JJ: Basically yes, it’ll tell you what it says. Yeah, it’s extremely helpful. Have you… In your working over the last year, have you, in doing interviews and such, have you heard a lot about 3D visualization? Or how different furniture companies are looking at it, or maybe how their views about it are changing or evolving, now that it seems to be becoming… Going from sort of this more friction-filled process as something that’s gonna become very easy in front of you?

06:45 AW: Yeah, I think the importance at this point is to educate furniture companies just about the importance of having quality 3D images. I think in the past, because there was such a small number of people that were actually using the AR apps that they didn’t spend much time creating the quality 3D imagery that really needs to be there, especially for consumers who can’t come and touch your products and see your products in person. To have that the 3D, 360 degrees surround and be able to see the texture and the colors, and how they’ll really appear, I think is something that’s gonna be necessary as we move into the future.

07:22 JB: I wanna jump to VR for a second.

07:25 JJ: Much less sexy.

07:26 JB: Yeah. [chuckle] It’s weird. It was much more sexy like two years ago. And now it feels… It does feel less sexy. You say, “The road for mainstream acceptance of virtual reality has been much slower than AR.” Can you talk about that a little? What are industry folks saying to you about VR versus AR?

07:45 AW: Well, just the barriers of the high price, just put everything together and also you’re still tethered with a headset. With AR, you can be anywhere. You have your mobile device and you’re mobile, but with VR, generally, you’re connected via goggles, to a computer and it just changes the whole experience. It seems like… And plus the high cost, the Oculus Rift headset runs about $400 and a lot of… That’s not a typical buy for many people.

08:13 JJ: I think there’s some help coming on that front. We literally just did an episode about the Quest, Oculus’s new mobile headset. I think they might see a price reduction by December, probably, ’cause they’ve just released it and I anticipate they’re probably gonna try to get units underneath Christmas trees this year, so there may be an opportunity for Oculus to make a play for some of that VR business, that’s currently going to Vive.

08:39 JB: It feels like what you’re saying, Anne, cost, you mentioned cost a couple of times, so it… Would you say cost is the number one impediment?

08:48 JJ: Well, Joe, let me jump in real quick. We all know what a phone costs, a smartphone actually costs, it’s something like a $1,000, depending on the model, $500 to $1,000, but people make that… That expense is just part of everybody’s everyday life. I think that’s probably why AR is the easier player right now.

09:03 JB: Yeah, well, I also have this through-the-looking-glass view of it, in the sense that enterprise companies probably won’t consider the Quest, they will consider the more expensive headsets instead.

09:14 JJ: Oh, like Daydreams and stuff?

09:17 JB: No. No, like Indexes.

09:19 JJ: Oh, okay.

09:19 JB: They’ll go the other way.

09:20 JJ: Tandem stuff, got it.

09:21 JB: Yeah, because they’re trying to deliver a higher quality experience than you’re gonna get at home. Conveniently, we have an infographic for this tension between, say, clients and…

[chuckle]

09:31 JJ: No, seriously, clients, consumers, and then the tech companies themselves. There’s these four axes. And you’ve got realism, cost, speed, and… This is probably gonna have to go in the show notes or something, but I think that businesses are looking for that realism aspect and the reality of the situation is in order to get the realism that they’re looking for, I just think they’re not ready for the expense, probably.

09:52 JB: Yeah, realism is expensive.

09:53 JJ: It is.

09:55 AW: Some of the people I spoke with on the story talked about having different retailers, brick and mortar stores that offer that, like Macy’s, I know you guys worked with Macy’s, that offer that VR experience in-store, which is something you can’t get at home and it makes the shopping experience kind of exciting when you put the headset on.

10:09 JJ: Yeah, so if they’re willing to spend some money on it, they can get a really nice experience. Yeah.

10:13 AW: Yeah, exactly. It changes the in-store experience, but that’s different than everyone having one at home.

10:20 JB: Do you hear from companies that are looking into this stuff? Do they view it… How much does marketing come into it, versus the actual usability of the technology? Our experience at Marxent is that people that we’re partnering with, it’s not marketing. It may be marketing a little bit, but it’s really not marketing at all. It’s much…

10:38 JJ: It’s not so much marketing anymore, for sure.

10:40 JB: It’s much more about, we have a specific problem with our sales process and this thing solves that problem. In the case of furniture, and I’m sure you’ve heard this story many times, people come in, they can’t quite picture the piece in their house. It gets to their house, it’s too big or too small for the room that they wanted it for, they send it back, it gets returned. The reason VR was so appealing and we’ve been able to get it into all those Macy’s stores and everything like that, is because it solved that very specific problem. When people see the furniture in VR, they have a real sense of what it’s gonna look like in their room. And Joe and I have actually talked to people who have used this stuff, just…

11:19 JJ: Countless people at this point.

11:21 JB: Individual like, “ordinary citizens”, not people associated with anything. And they all say, almost… I’m trying to think of anybody who didn’t say this…

11:28 JJ: No, it’s to a person.

11:30 JB: They all said it. They all say… You say, “So what did it look like when it showed up?” And they say, “It looked like exactly like what it looked like in VR.”

11:35 JJ: Which, of course, is not actually true, it’s not a physical object.

11:37 JB: That is correct. [chuckle]

11:40 JJ: Well no, and I make the point because close enough is often good enough, especially in terms of fit and finish.

11:45 JB: And then you make the point in your story, Anne, that these companies, it feels like they’re waiting for VR to just mature a little bit more, technology-wise, as far as stand-alone headsets versus tethered and just development of the technology itself.

12:01 AW: I agree. Yes, I think that in the past, as you said, VR was… We thought that was gonna make more progress more quickly. But at this point, AR has kind of resurfaced because of the advances in technology and the upcoming ability for more people to have access to AR without the high cost, if it’s on their mobile devices. It’s just things like that, a no-brainer, that people can make use of that technology, whereas VR, as you said, needs some additional assistance before it’s more mainstream.

12:31 JJ: Yeah, penetration is the big problem with VR. It’s really tough to get a unit into everybody’s house. If you don’t have a great use case for it, people aren’t gonna go pick it up for no reason.

12:39 JB: Yeah, the best use case right now is games for the PlayStation VR, which has the highest selling headset.

12:45 JJ: Yeah.

12:46 JB: Let’s move on a little bit, but still sort of staying with this, regardless of whether a business is checking out AR or VR, there’s a ton of hardware out there, there’s a ton of software, and the whole thing gets a little bit confusing. You even went into mixed reality, which I’m leaving out completely for the purposes of this conversation.

13:01 JJ: Also, because we don’t wanna involve Ken.

13:03 JB: [chuckle] Yes and also, ’cause we don’t wanna bring in our Marxent PhD. Guy, who will explain exactly what mixed reality is. But, so you wrote in the piece, “Experts say the most important thing for manufacturers and retailers to do in order to take advantage of any emerging new technology is to become future-proof by creating channel agnostic, 360-degree, 3D product images.” We wholeheartedly agree, and we already sort of touched on this a little bit, but we also sense maybe a little bit of resistance in the marketplace towards that idea. What’s your sense of how furniture retailers or manufacturers view 3D content specifically, spins, product images, whatever?

13:38 AW: I think that they see… They realize there’s a need for it. But if… You’ve talked before about marketing dollars and setting aside the funds that would be necessary. The thing is, once they do it, once they have their initial library created, that’s the huge expense and then after that as they add new products, they won’t have that big expense again. But planning for that and justifying the initial cost has been challenging, I think, for a lot of manufacturers, but especially as the AR apps become… Or the web-native AR becomes more common place, the companies that jumped on the 3D bandwagon in the beginning will have more success, I believe.

14:17 JJ: So, we’ve actually encountered clients… Furniture clients whose lines are definitely not steady from year to year, they often introduce things in seasons and stuff like that. And has anybody talked to you about the cost of 3-D modeling when you have a high turnover in their catalog?

14:35 AW: Yes, I think that’s another [14:36] ____ deterrent to having the 3-D images available. We have the High Point and Las Vegas market… The High Point is twice a year and Vegas is twice a year and a lot of the manufacturers aim to have new products each market. And so that’s a lot of 3-D images that are needed.

14:51 JJ: Conveniently, we can answer some of those concerns these days. We’ve got a CMS actually called Workflow that we just developed… Well, not just developed, we’ve been developing over the last few years. But we have a very, very rigorous content ingestion process, and we’ve really got the cost of modeling down a ton recently. I know that we’ve got a bunch of tools that are really useful that way.

15:10 AW: You can use me then to help educate the manufacturers on how the costs have come down and how it’s something they really should take advantage of doing.

15:17 JB: Alright, you and the… I’m gonna screw up all the names in this next question.

15:22 JJ: Oh, I’m so excited about this.

15:23 JB: So, get ready. Okay?

15:23 JJ: Let’s do it.

15:24 JB: You end the piece with a quote from Artur Artynyov, how badly did I just say that man’s name?

15:30 AW: No, you were right, you were dead on.

15:32 JB: Wow.

15:33 JJ: Say it again for us.

15:34 JB: I don’t want to.

15:34 JJ: No, no. I want her to do it, I wanna compare.

15:36 AW: Artur Arutyunov.

15:38 JB: Arutyunov.

15:38 JJ: You nailed it buddy, well done.

15:41 JB: That was great, okay. And so he’s the marketing director with a tech company called Augmentis.

15:45 AW: Correct.

15:46 JB: And so this was his quote. “A new visualization technology, such as 3D holographic projections will allow for a truly seamless integration between the physical and the digital worlds. Five to 10 years from now, AR will become as commonplace as the Internet and WiFi is today.” Do you think furniture retailers are taking that kind of sentiment to heart? And if so, what are they doing to try to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology advances in retail and e-commerce?

16:11 AW: Actually, I think that they are not taking it to heart. I think that they’re… Especially at this point, brick and mortar stores are living in the short term. We have issues like tarrifs are going up, I think tomorrow.

16:22 JJ: They are indeed.

16:23 AW: They’re not able… Yes, they are. So they’re not able to look five to 10 years in the future and see what they’ll need to do. But I think that as long as we keep reinforcing the importance of having these 3-D images and educating them about what’s coming up, then at some point, the most forward pro-active manufacturers will get in front of that and get those 3-D images and have them made and find assistance to make sure that they are able to replicate that and keep their new merchandise in front of consumers.

16:54 JJ: Did you just say that Macy’s is one of the most forward-looking furniture retailers in the industry right now?

[laughter]

17:01 JB: I think that’s what she just said.

17:03 AW: Yes, I believe that they are, yes.

17:05 JJ: Okay, well, got that on record.

17:08 JB: We believe that as well, so we’re smiling is what’s happening on this end. One last question, before we let you go back to writing a thousand stories about furniture. Did you actually go to High Point Market? ‘Cause I know you posted a bunch of stories about stuff that was going on there but I didn’t know if you actually went or not.

17:22 AW: Yes, I did. I actually live in High Point, so I’m here.

17:27 JB: Oh, so you… Fantastic.

17:29 JJ: Convenient, very convenient, yeah.

17:30 JB: Just for us and our listeners, give us the 60-second, how was this High Point? And did you see anything, especially technology wise, as far as what retailers are planning or shopping experience or stuff that sort of caught your eye?

17:43 AW: The market was great. It seemed pretty well attended. It’s interesting to me that a lot of the technology companies don’t set up certain booths, but just kinda go from showroom to showroom sharing what they have to offer to the retailers. And so, I think it’s whet their interest, made them… A lot of the manufacturers and retailers are interested in what’s coming down as we work with a company called NTRO as they’ve been working with lessons and home brands. And so this is the first market that they have an AR-app that they debuted. And I think a lot of the other companies, Bob’s Discount Furniture and American Furniture Warehouse also have new AR-apps that they just debuted right before the High Point Market. It’ll be interesting to see, as the market in the fall comes up, are they making use of these 3-D images and projecting. It’d be great for them to be using that to project virtual furniture on their showroom floor in addition to the new products that they have. It’ll be fun to see how the technology’s being used at these different markets.

18:45 JB: If they are, will you come back on in the fall and tell us all about it?

18:49 AW: Yes, definitely I would be sure to do that.

18:50 JB: Fantastic, I’m gonna hold you to that. Thank you, so much for doing this, Anne.

18:54 JJ: Yeah, thanks so much, we really enjoyed it.

18:55 JB: Yeah, we did, we really appreciate it, great conversation. And everybody, listeners, read… I’ll put in the show notes a link to your story and to Furniture Today’s page and everything but if you’re interested in this kind of thing, especially from a furniture vent and you’re not reading Furniture Today, you have lost your mind. Go read Furniture Today. [chuckle] Thank you Anne, I appreciate it a lot. Thank you.

19:17 AW: No problem, I enjoyed it, thank you.

19:18 JJ: Have a good one.

[music]

19:24 JJ: One more thing before we go. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Virtual Reality Augmented Reality Association. Also known as VRARA.

19:30 JB: VRARA.

19:30 JJ: Yeah, we’ve heard of VRARA. The group is hosting a webinar covering 3-D content strategy that will feature Scott Perry of Bob’s Discount Furniture.

19:37 JB: Friend of the show.

19:38 JJ: And Marxent’s own Gabe Karp, with a Macy’s VR case study. The webinar takes place Tuesday, May 14th 2019, at 2:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. And you can register at www.vrara.com/webinars, we’ll also put a link in the show notes. So register and check out the show on May 14th. That’s it. We’ll be back next time with more AR, VR news and opinion and until then, the balcony is closed.

[music]

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