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In this episode, we check out Tim Cook’s comments on Augmented Reality from his recent appearance on HBO’s new Axios show. We’re then joined by Scott Perry, Vice President and Executive Director of Digital and Omni-Channel Experience at Bob’s Discount Furniture, to discuss the retailer’s killer new Augmented Reality app.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF SEASON 2: EPISODE 6
00:00 Joe Johnson: Welcome to the In Reality Podcast. Now starting: Three, two, one.
00:08 JJ: Welcome to the In Reality Podcast where we cover all things augmented and virtual reality. The In Reality 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 Labs.
00:24 Joe Bardi: And I’m Joe Bardi, Communications Director here at Marxent.
00:26 JJ: And in this episode, we’re going to check out Tim Cook’s recent appearance HBO’s new Axios show where he talks about a variety of issues including accepting money from Google, data privacy and controls on their devices, gender issues in the Valley, Silicon not the other one, and notably for us augmented reality. We will then be joined by Scott Perry, Vice President and Executive Director of Digital and Omni-Channel Experience at Bob’s Discount Furniture, which recently launched its own augmented reality app. We’re excited to talk shop with someone way over our pay grade about the future, specifically retail’s future, but let’s get started with the vocal stylings of Mr. Tim Cook.
01:03 JJ: Okay, so I think the way this is gonna go is I’m gonna… I have all the audio from that interview.
01:08 JB: Right.
01:09 JJ: I think I’m just going to start playing it.
01:11 JB: Okay.
01:12 Tim Cook: Hey guys.
01:13 S?: Morning.
01:16 TC: How are you? [01:16] ____.
01:16 S?: Great to see you.
01:17 TC: So great to see you again. [01:19] ____ great to see you.
01:19 S?: [01:19] ____ to the spaceship. This is my first time.
01:21 TC: Yeah, it’s pretty cool, isn’t it?
01:23 S?: If you’re not sure, that’s Tim Cook.
01:24 S?: So these stools, I feel like we’re in the Genius Bar.
01:29 S?: Something we share is that we’re both early risers. You rise when and you do what?
01:34 TC: Well, I rise a bit before 4:00, I like to take the first hour and go through user comments, and things like this, that sort of focus on the external people that are so important to us. And then I go to the gym and work out for an hour because it keeps my stress at bay.
01:57 S?: I’ve heard you say this is a lonely job. Do you worry that some of these products caused loneliness and detachment?
02:06 TC: I don’t think the products themselves do, but I think that our customers and users are at least some of them are worried about the amount of time they’re spending on their device or the distraction level of it. And so what we decided our role was is providing people the information and the controls that help them change their behavior.
02:32 S?: And we have a five-year-old and that’s a great technology and we like it although he’s already… He wants me to give him the phone that doesn’t have the time on it.
02:39 TC: Yeah.
02:39 S?: But the other issue is there’s a lot of parents saying “we don’t want our kids having any screen time.”
02:45 S?: A lot of them here in the Valley specifically.
02:46 S?: Yeah.
02:47 S?: If we were to look at your controls, what would we find as far as your own personal screen time?
02:51 TC: You would find that I have a high screen time as you would expect because I communicate with a lot of users…
02:58 S?: Like how much [02:58] ____ in a net?
03:00 TC: Several hours, right. But you would also find that if you looked at my trends over time that my notifications are declining, the number of times I pick up a device are declining and the only reason they are is because we built this functionality into our operating system. And I now know what I was doing.
03:18 S?: How much do you worry about tech being used for evil?
03:23 TC: Technology is good or evil as you put it depending upon the creator. And many times it’s not that the creator set out to do evil, it’s that there wasn’t an anticipation of these negative things it could be used for.
03:39 S?: We have… We’ve been having a national discussion on tech and privacy. You guys have been a very loud proponent of privacy. It fits in well with what you guys do. How concerning is it to you that even if it’s other people’s technology, Facebook, Google, whomever, it’s happening still on your devices?
03:58 S?: You are the delivery device.
04:00 TC: It’s not that it fits in with what we do, this is a core value of ours. If you look back over time, we were talking about privacy well before iPhone. And so, we’ve always believed that privacy was at the core of our civil liberties. This is not a matter of privacy versus profits or privacy versus technical innovation, that’s a false choice. What we’ve done is your device has incredible intelligence about you. But I don’t have to have all of that as a company.
04:35 S?: You don’t directly have a big advertising business or make a lot of money off the data but Google pays you on the order of billions of dollars a year to be the default search engine and they do have that business. If you really want the user to be totally free, why take that money?
04:50 TC: Well, one, I think their search engine is the best and that’s very important, but two, look at what we’ve done with the controls that we built in and so we have private web browsing, right, we have an intelligent tracker prevention, and so what we’ve tried to do is come up with ways to help our users through their course of the day. It is not a perfect thing. I’d be the very first person to say that. But it goes a long way to helping.
05:27 S?: So there’s broad support for more federal regulation of tech. Do you think that’s inevitable?
05:32 TC: Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation, I’m a big believer in the free market, but we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. And I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.
05:49 S?: One of the technologies you’ve talked about is augmented reality.
05:51 TC: Yeah.
05:52 S?: What is it about AR that gets you really excited?
05:55 TC: Technology should amplify human performance and human experiences, and AR arguably does an unbelievable job at that, and I think it’s gonna change everything.
06:08 S?: Hey.
06:09 S?: Hi! Good morning.
06:12 S?: Thank you so much for having us.
06:14 S?: Yeah, of course.
06:14 S?: I heard you have something cool up your sleeve.
06:16 S?: Yes. So we are gonna create our dream backyard. [06:20] ____ it was something developed by a landscaper in South Carolina and after having to move his client’s three, five times in their backyard and [06:27] ____ get planted over and over, he said, “There must be a better way to let his clients visualize how they’re gonna actually do their landscaping.” So what I’m gonna do, so I’m gonna go ahead and I can choose from trees, shrubs, flowers, there’s hundreds of the different AR objects in here. But what’s even better about this is I can actually change the time of day.
06:48 S?: Look at this.
06:49 S?: To see what the shadows are gonna be. It also tells me how much sun I’m gonna have on the garden itself. So if it’s a bunch of flowers that really need a lot of sun, I can plan all of that out ahead of time.
07:00 S?: And this is kind of what you were talking about it. It’s not taking us out of our real world.
07:04 TC: That’s right.
07:04 S?: It’s adding something in there.
07:06 S?: You know, here, we’re planting flowers, but it’s, sometimes it’s, you know, for kids and education, it’s seeing a dinosaur come to life.
07:13 TC: Yeah, I was in Berlin a couple of weeks ago and there was an app that a young developer had done there that placed the Berlin Wall…
07:23 S?: Oh, wow.
07:23 TC: Back where it was and so, as someone studying the wall, it’s unbelievable.
07:29 S?: Yeah.
07:29 S?: And it’s a mix of something like this where you’re imagining what reality and fantasy and like, bringing things to life that weren’t previously animate.
07:38 TC: That’s right. I think in a few years, we are not going to be able to imagine our lives without it. It’s that profound a platform.
07:50 JJ: Alright, so, Joe, I really want to like Tim Cook.
07:56 JB: You’re having trouble getting over the hill?
07:58 JJ: So it’s complicated, right? Like, you know, you see somebody like that. He wheels a ton of economic power.
08:04 JB: Yes.
08:05 JJ: And, you know, he has a whole host of personal desires and goals, but how much of his own personal desires and goals are part of what Apple’s mission is. And when he’s doing an interview like that, how much of what he says can you trust?
08:18 JB: Yeah, so it’s always the question of how much do you believe in sort of the altruistic way that they frame what they are doing versus what are probably, at least, partially, the real reason. So like, for example…
08:30 JJ: The privacy conversation.
08:31 JB: The privacy conversation, right. So, Google makes the majority of their money off of search and of knowing everything about you and being able to serve you, exactly what you want, when you want it, etcetera.
08:42 JJ: Sure.
08:42 JB: So, they’re gonna, naturally, by the nature of what they do, be less inclined to grant you amazing amounts of privacy.
08:49 JJ: Sure.
08:49 JB: Apple sells hardware.
08:51 JJ: They do.
08:51 JB: Primarily. Now, I…
08:52 JJ: Is that where they make most of their money?
08:53 JB: They’re becoming a services company slowly but 90% of their money, whatever, is selling iPhones and Macs and watches.
09:00 JJ: Sure, sure.
09:01 JB: So, privacy for them, they’re not losing anything if they say, “We’re gonna protect your privacy 100%” You know, there’s no real economic downside.
09:10 JJ: Yeah, their incentive is to protect us for, in order to, in order to make us feel safe about buying their products.
09:15 JB: Right. So do you believe it’s the monetary incentive or do you believe that it’s actually the Tim Cook and the people that Apple were trying to be altruist and whatever. I think the truth is probably somewhere in the middle…
09:24 JJ: That’s probably… Yeah, that’s a little bit up to all of us.
09:26 JB: Right.
09:26 JJ: In our own heart of hearts.
09:28 JB: Yeah, and I think that the thing that makes Apple Apple is that, they understood like, both why they’re doing something and the best way to publicly present it.
09:38 JJ: Yeah. That’s a fair statement. Like, when he talks about the technology being good or evil based on the intent of the Creator, that part of the entire conversation really fell flat for me.
09:50 JB: Right. A hundred… ‘Cause I think he’s wrong.
09:52 JJ: I think he’s wrong too.
09:54 JB: I would use the example of dynamite.
09:56 JJ: Lay that one on me buddy.
09:57 JB: You know, Alfred Nobel created dynamite, right?
10:01 JJ: Sure.
10:01 JB: And it was, you know, if you use it to remove rocks or to lay some railroad track or to do some mountain mining or whatever…
10:08 JJ: Or you [10:09] ____ to make a loud noise.
10:10 JB: That’s great, yeah, we’ll, you know, but if you use it as a bomb, that’s bad. And neither of those, even though Nobel might disagree because he created an entire prize out of the guilty felt. The fact of the matter is, it’s the user who actually decides whether or not a product is evil or good. The product itself has no real intrinsic nature.
10:30 JJ: Yeah.
10:30 JB: Even if you like, you can extend it out to guns or whatever. A gun is really just in an inanimate object.
10:35 JJ: Do you wanna weigh it into this right now?
10:36 JB: No, I don’t. This is not about, like, whether guns should be legal or not but that’s a… It’s sort of the same argument.
10:43 JJ: Hang on, hang on.
10:43 JB: The user or the thing.
10:45 JJ: Yeah, so, I think Cook actually touches on this when he says that the free market did not decide correctly. Okay.
10:52 JB: Yes.
10:53 JJ: Their… To my mind, there definitely needs to be a delineation between the technology that people create and our legislation of the technology that people create.
11:02 JB: Sure.
11:02 JJ: Right. Because in the end, it’s people that decide whether or not what we have made is something we want to keep around.
11:07 JB: Yes.
11:08 JJ: Yeah.
11:10 JB: But I mean, like, so, if you look at laws against texting while driving, right?
11:12 JJ: Prudent. Totally prudent.
11:14 JB: Regulation of cell phone, of smartphones, but…
11:17 JJ: For the benefit of everyone.
11:18 JB: And although, we may privately grouse, because I suddenly wanna check that text message while I’m in the car, the fact of the matter is it’s far safer if nobody is texting while driving.
11:25 JJ: I mean, real talk. We all still text in the car.
11:29 JB: Yes.
11:29 JJ: Okay, we all still do it even though it’s probably a bad idea.
11:32 JB: How dare you Joe?
11:33 JJ: Even though it’s definitely a bad idea. Right? And every time I do it, I know that I’m doing something wrong, right?
11:38 JB: Yes.
11:38 JJ: And it’s not because the law told me necessarily, but I’m glad that it isn’t trying [11:41] ____…
11:42 JB: No, because you inherently know it’s dangerous.
11:43 JJ: Yeah, everybody know or I guess not all of us know that our own behavior affects other people, but everybody should know that our own behavior affects other people…
11:51 JB: Yes.
11:51 JJ: And we need to be conscientious about what we do…
11:53 JB: Especially when you drive a two-ton automobile into their picnic.
11:56 JJ: My car is not two tons.
11:57 JB: Okay, well that’s good. That’s very responsible of you.
12:00 JJ: To own a light-weight car.
12:01 JB: Yes.
12:02 JJ: Jesus. This is amazing by the way. So, you listen to this conversation about… So in the interview they talk about Google being delivered via the iPhone to everybody and why they are doing that. Then, Tim Cook talks about our device controls and blah blah blah. The fact of the matter is Google is offering them obscene amounts of money to be on that platform.
12:24 JB: And again, Cook says in his answer, he’s like “Well, first of all, it’s the best.” And then he gives another reason, but again, it’s this exact same thing. It’s “We have a large monetary incentive to do this. Also, it’s the best. So, both of these things agree, and while you may choose to highlight how many billions of dollars Google is paying us, we will choose to highlight that Google search engine is the one our users wanna use.” They’re very good at splitting that difference.
12:48 JB: I thought the most interesting thing in the entire segment is, after they go outside and they do the little demo of that Gardening App, and Cook says, with a very Tim Cook thing, which he said this multiple times, which is he sort of points to the transformational nature of the platform, augmented reality will be a platform and it’s going to change things and it…
13:07 JJ: Yeah, I think his exact quote was, “In a few years we’re not going to be able to imagine our lives without this technology.”
13:14 JB: Yeah, and so this is obviously… This is the pre-hype for whatever smart glass, whatever smartphone tethered smart AR glass option Apple is gonna be coming out with. We did a… I was thinking about this the other day… We did a podcast over a year ago, I think, in which we discussed the HoloLens. And we talked about how the HoloLens was not planning to release a second version in 2018.
13:37 JJ: They were gonna jump ahead.
13:38 JB: They were gonna wait till 2019 and I remember taking the position distinctly, that was insane.
13:42 JJ: Yeah, I don’t think it was.
13:43 JB: Because they were gonna get passed and everything else. As we sit here, 2019 is one month away…
13:48 JJ: Yes, and it’s right on time. It’s right on time.
13:49 JB: And they seem very smart in what they did and it definitely feels like the industry, as a whole, has decided that 2020 is pretty much when… Is the beginning of the go-time for that.
14:00 JJ: Yeah, I don’t wanna get into a show that we’re trying to do later, but screw it, I’ll just mention it right now. Huawei is gonna be releasing AR smart glasses probably next year or if not next year, the year after that.
14:11 JB: Trying to get in front of what’s coming. And I think that the key to this, and this is really my point in relation to Apple, when Cook says that, Cook knows the iPhone roadmap and he knows all of his product roadmap.
14:22 JJ: Yeah, he knows a lot more about it than we do.
14:23 JB: And, he knows the chip road map. And the fact of the matter is to actually produce a device that anybody wants to use, requires certain silicon…
14:31 JJ: So they might be feeling very confident about what they have available.
14:34 JB: They know what they are going to have in the iPhone two years from now. The rumor is, next year’s iPhone is the same as this year’s iPhone because whatever comes in 2020…
14:43 JJ: Is something different.
14:44 JB: Will be something different, that’s more equipped to handle this new thing. And they won’t be the only company by any stretch of the imagination. So, he’s previewing something that is to come…
14:55 JJ: Is that why he started buzzing about it personally?
14:57 JB: I think so, I also think…
15:00 JJ: Do you think that Tim Cook really believes that AR is a transformational software, or a transformational platform?
15:04 JB: Yeah, yeah, I think that in his office, he’s got things we don’t see and he has at least seen some demos that he’s been like, “Yeah, I get it.”
15:12 JJ: Okay, so you and I have been in the industry for a little while now, and I’ve seen things that obviously other people haven’t seen. Probably the vast majority of people, considering the fact that only 5% of Americans will put on a VR headset this year. Again, a lead into a story from a later episode.
15:29 JB: True.
15:31 JJ: I can’t believe they’re so far ahead of you and me in terms of what they know is coming, that it’s gonna transform our opinion of the AR augmented reality industry.
15:39 JB: No, I don’t think that’s true. I think they know the hardware side and they know… So if we talked about, well what is this experience really? What would be an AR glass experience that we would think is transformational?
15:52 JJ: Why don’t we just dig into that? What is a transformational AR-glass experience to you, ’cause I know what it is for me. I’ll just tell you right now. You read a lot of fiction and the idea that your world basically becomes mundane and dull if you’re not wearing the AR smart glasses, like you’re not constantly bombarded with information that is relevant to you or you’re not receiving, or you’re not experiencing entertainments that are impossible without augmented reality. I don’t see that happening in two years. I just don’t.
16:19 JB: Right, yeah. If you go back and look, we just did the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. If you go back and look at the original iPhone, the idea is all there and yet that thing is primitive compared to what we have today… I remember driving around my friend. He had gotten one right after it came out and we were driving around Washington DC, and he was trying to do navigation.
16:37 JJ: In DC? That’s not easy.
16:39 JB: On the 2g EDGE network that AT&T launched the phone on, right?
16:43 JJ: You know, my dad actually built that network.
16:44 JB: Did he really?
16:45 JJ: Yeah, well he was a part of that network. Yes.
16:47 JB: So, that phone did not work, like in DC at rush hour, with the volume of traffic.
16:51 JJ: It might have had a bandwidth problem.
16:53 JB: It did not work, it just didn’t work, but it was there. And I suspect that that’s what we’re gonna see in 2020 is the real idea. To me, it’s the glasses as I’m looking at you in your face right now. But with digital information…
17:06 JJ: We’ve talked about this several times, the idea that there’s an intermediary between us and people all the time, right? So that part’s not disturbing to me, but when Tim Cook says that we’re not going to be able to imagine our lives without it, that seems a little grand to me.
17:20 JB: It seems like hyperbole, but could you imagine your life without a smartphone.
17:23 JJ: Yes, I fucking can. I absolutely can imagine my life without smartphone. I existed before one and so did you.
17:30 JB: Yeah, and it was horrible and I wanna go back…
17:31 JJ: It was not horrible. It was fine.
17:33 JB: It was terrible Joe. Joe it was terrible.
17:35 JJ: Look, this is not like a…
17:36 JB: I had whole minutes of boredom.
17:39 JJ: This is not a rose-tinted glasses moment for me, trust me. I think the smartphone has absolutely brought more anxiety into my life than it has allayed.
17:47 JB: Really?
17:47 JJ: Absolutely. This is a topic for a personal podcast another time.
17:52 JB: Yes.
17:53 JJ: But believe me, having this computer in my pocket is beneficial to me, but it also creates… Tim Cook says that, “I don’t think the device creates anxiety,” and that’s bullshit. I’ll say it right here, I’ll say it on the podcast right now. That is bullshit.
18:06 JB: Alright.
18:07 JJ: Smartphones and the presence of social media married to you absolutely creates anxiety.
18:12 JB: I feel like you… There was mission creep there though because you’ve included social media with smartphones.
18:16 JJ: No, it’s not mission creep.
18:17 JB: They’re totally separate things.
18:18 JJ: Look, you can argue that a gun doesn’t kill people, okay?
18:22 JB: Right.
18:22 JJ: But that is its purpose, okay?
18:22 JB: Yes. That’s what it’s made for.
18:23 JJ: The purpose of the smartphone is communication, right?
18:26 JB: True.
18:26 JJ: And not all communications are soothing, pleasant…
18:30 JB: That is true.
18:30 JJ: Or even necessary, alright? Socrates says, “Think about three things before you say something, is it true, is it good and is it useful?” Okay? And so much of social media is none of those three things, but the volume of it is constantly amplified because it’s an advertising tool and all of these companies are making money by purchasing your data and advertising to you. They have an agenda to get information in front of you regardless of whether or not you want it.
18:54 JB: So [chuckle] in your ideal world, the screen time feature that he has introduced really what you’d be doing is reducing your time by just getting rid of all the unwanted communication.
19:05 JJ: Well, I mean I’ve done that. I’ve liquidated Facebook, I don’t use Instagram, I have a Twitter that I never check and basically I am absolutely happier for not having those things in my life. So, to a certain extent, he is correct, but in a totally different way, he’s just dead wrong. Like Apple may not be interested in advertising to us but everybody else that’s dying to get onto their platform and that they enable, they enable them. They’re giving Google the time to mine my data and to advertise to me.
19:35 JB: Yes, I use a ton of Google apps on my phone, which means when I try to download my Google data on me, it was 17 gigs.
19:42 JJ: I won’t, oh man. [chuckle] I will not deny that Google’s offerings, as far as software go, are far superior for certain things. I don’t know if it’s worth the price.
19:51 JB: Yeah, I don’t either.
19:52 JJ: For me, I don’t know if it’s worth the price.
19:54 JB: I think that that will be an open question for a long time.
20:00 JJ: And the idea that all of these augmented reality platforms are also attached to all these other information gathering systems is troubling to me sometimes. Other times it’s fine. I never knew that I was gonna be the technophobe on the show.
20:13 JB: Yes. I know right?
20:15 JJ: I’m absolutely an idealist when it comes to the future technology, etcetera, I do believe that humanity gets better and better as we go, but there are all of these troubling things that come along with it and I think that they require vigilance, but that’s true of everything in humanity.
20:28 JB: It’s true. I tend to… My natural disposition is to think things will turn out okay.
20:33 JJ: Yeah? Alright Pollyanna.
20:35 JB: It’s true.
20:36 JJ: They turn out okay because people give a crap.
20:39 JB: So, Cook thinks augmented reality will be a transformational technology in the future that we won’t believe we had it.
20:48 JJ: I won’t say that he’s wrong.
20:49 JB: Right. And what I would say is, we got a segment coming up right after this in which we’re gonna talk to a person who, a major company, is using augmented reality right now to offer a change in the way they do things.
21:02 JJ: Sure and I think that [chuckle] I’ll jump ahead again because… Oh god damn it.
21:07 JB: [chuckle] Because the heartburn.
21:08 JJ: Yeah. I’ll jump ahead again and you know Bob’s app will add value to customers. It absolutely will.
21:16 JB: Yes.
21:16 JJ: There are always tools that are going to add value. My concern is [chuckle] as always, that these tools can be subverted.
21:22 JB: Sure. It will all depend on the user, not the creator.
21:29 JJ: Okay. Then you and I are basically in agreement.
21:31 JB: We are. We are and we’re disagreeing with Tim. Sorry.
21:34 JJ: Sorry Tim Cook, I know you’re really upset…
21:37 JB: We apologize.
21:38 JJ: With two schmoes disagree with you.
21:39 JB: Yeah. Yeah, you know. Hey.
21:41 JJ: Did we cover everything we wanted to cover here?
21:43 JB: I think so. I was trying to provide a segue into the next…
21:45 JJ: Yeah, I know. I can cut into it later. I don’t know, I was enjoying the conversation.
21:49 JB: Yeah. No, no, no…
21:50 JJ: I went on a small rant and I rarely do that.
21:52 JB: No, that was good. I just didn’t know, did we have any… It felt like we had mined all of this.
21:56 JJ: Let me hit some show notes real quick.
22:00 JB: Was there anything you wanted to talk about, that we missed?
22:00 JJ: I will say one thing about, I will say one thing about the presentation in the interview of their application. You said while we were watching it that, “Why isn’t this their keynote?” I totally agree with you, right? I think that augmented reality is best when done outside of the home or outside of a controlled environment and I think it is in those places that it becomes truly transformative. You see the guy, for everybody who hasn’t seen the interview, we’ve got links to the videos in the show notes. You can go check them out, but there’s one of the, one I’m assuming an Apple executive reaches into the shot playfully, like a kid, like he’s enjoying himself for once on the Apple campus, I know they enjoy themselves on the Apple campus but it’s still work.
22:41 JB: Can I just pause for one second?
22:42 JJ: Yeah.
22:42 JB: My God, that thing looks amazing.
22:45 JJ: You mean the campus or the iPad?
22:46 JB: The building.
22:48 JJ: The building?
22:48 JB: The building and the campus just like the setting for their interview with that lush greenery out the window, and then when they go outside and you’re like, “Are they in a park? Oh no, they’re just still at the Apple building.” It looks amazing.
23:00 JJ: When I was working on the Microsoft campus, their campus is also beautiful. I think it’s just the nature of large tech companies to have really nice…
23:08 JB: The Northwest in general.
23:09 JJ: Definitely the Pacific Northwest and I guess by extension, Central California? Northern? Northern California. It’s NoCal.
23:17 JB: I always think when you get to Northern, and this is my own, I’ve never lived there, so forgive me for being ignorant…
23:22 JJ: I loved all those places.
23:22 JB: When you get to San Francisco, you’re sort of now becoming the Northern…
23:26 JJ: Yeah, I think that’s… I think it’s the southern tip of NoCal.
23:28 JB: Yeah, exactly. Oh yeah, but so one more point on that. Yes, when the keynotes now, every keynote is the same. It’s a dude in jeans and a button-down, standing on a black stage, who’s gonna show you the latest products and you’re supposed to be impressed.
23:42 JJ: Sure, yeah.
23:43 JB: And that worked for years but now everybody is doing it. And so what is the next thing? Could you picture a one-shot hand-held hour presentation that takes place in that courtyard where they show off five different applications of augmented reality…
23:56 JJ: Sure, in a park basically.
23:56 JB: Where they just walk between them and whatever, it would be…
24:00 JJ: Like an exercise run?
24:00 JB: It would be completely different, it would be eye-catching, it would get a lot of attention ’cause they scrap this iconic thing and so don’t be surprised if something like that actually happens.
24:10 JJ: Yeah, I mean it would be nice. [chuckle] Since I harp so much about VR and people being isolated in little pods, basically their homes, the idea of a technology that enables people to engage in digital collaboration in open spaces is very attractive to me.
24:27 JB: Yeah.
24:27 JJ: Yeah, so that’s great.
24:34 JB: Today’s guest is Scott Perry who is the Vice President, Executive Director of Digital and Omni-Channel Experience at Bob’s Discount Furniture. Bob’s operates 99 stores in the 16 states and is ranked 12th in sales among United States furniture stores according to Furniture Today. Scott has been involved in the internet and e-commerce since the infancy of the internet back in 1995 when he launched several furniture websites including officefurniture.com and furnitureonline.com. He specializes in e-commerce, Omni-Channel, responsive websites, augmented reality, virtual reality, public speaking. The list goes on and on. So welcome, Scott, thank you for being on the In Reality Podcast.
25:07 Scott Perry: Hey, no problem. Glad to be here.
25:09 JB: So, we wanna talk about, Bob’s has launched a new shopping app that features augmented reality. Why don’t you just give us the rundown on what that app is like and how it works?
25:20 SP: Well, the app is a consumer facing app. Currently it’s in the Apple iOS store, and in the coming months, it will be also available on Android. And what it does is it allows the customers to, not only just shop all of our furniture products, but it also allows customers to see our furniture in their house using augmented reality, using Marxent technologies, technology to kinda drive the AR experience. So a customer can touch a button that says “View it in my room” and magically, the piece of furniture appears in the room to scale. And from that point, they can move the piece of furniture around in their room, they can see, does it match my wall color, my carpet, my existing pieces of furniture, or decor, or window treatments. How does it look in my home lighting environment? It’s kind of like a try before you buy situation. And also because it’s to scale, customers can see, is it gonna fit that spot on the wall that I want it to fit? Or does it look too big or too small, or just right in my home?
26:40 JJ: Hey Scott, how long have you guys been interested in augmented reality?
26:46 SP: I started at Bob’s in October of last year, so I’ve been here for a little over a year now, and it was one of the very first things I wanted to do here. This is the second time I’ve deployed augmented reality with a furniture retailer. I did it for…
27:01 JJ: Oh, hang on, hang on. When was the first time you did that?
27:05 SP: The first time I did this was… I wanna say it was about three-and-a-half years ago. At a retailer in Southern California, we launched an augmented reality program, and it was great. Saw amazing results with it. So when I came over to Bob’s, it was one of the first things that I wanted to do.
27:26 JJ: What was the technology that you guys launched with three years ago? How has it jumped?
27:30 SP: Well, you know, it was interesting. I actually wanted to do it five years ago. I wanted to do it when I first started working for that other company, but the technology wasn’t quite there yet, as far as the hardware and the phones, and also on the software side. And even creating 3D models wasn’t quite, it just wasn’t… All the pieces weren’t ready to go. And so, I finally, after researching and looking, I found a small company in Israel called Cimagine. And they had an augmented reality application that was mainly used so the Coca-Cola sales people could show gas stations or convenience stores, what a machine would look like in their store. And I thought that was pretty cool. If they can adapt this to furniture, then they could be someone that I could work with.
28:33 SP: So I had a couple of conversations with these guys. One guy, his name is Yoni, and the other guy’s name is Nir, and they started Cimagine. So we had some conversations and we were able to kinda figure it out and make it work. So I worked with them to help morph the technology to where it was really geared towards furniture. There was no real “integration guide” or a way to get it on the website, or how do we connect the “view in your room” button to activate the app? So we had to kinda work through some of those details in the beginning and I knew it would be a little bit of a learning for both of us [29:19] ____ to get there.
29:19 JB: Was it still marker? Was it still marker based at that point?
29:25 JJ: I think Cimagine had a markerless technology at that point.
29:25 SP: No it was not. Yeah, it was markerless technology and they had a room scanning, and a service detection that was pretty good for its time, this pre ARKit and ARCore. It was pretty good for it’s day. It did have a room scanning and it got it probably a 90% accurate to scale, good enough to kinda see what something’s gonna look like.
29:58 JJ: Yeah, I’m actually, I’m pretty sure that technology is actually why Snap picked up Cimagine, ’cause I know that Snap was using markerless tech in their augmented reality lenses or whatever.
30:06 JB: Yeah.
30:07 SP: That’s exactly, yeah and so after working with them for a little while Snap bought them. Snapchat bought Cimagine and the rest is history, and then all the little cool things you see in Snapchat now where you’ve got the little dancing guy or you’ve got the dancing piece of bacon whatever you wanna see in augmented reality inside that app is driven by the original Cimagine technology.
30:37 JB: So jumping off of that answer. Why was now the right time for Bob’s to jump in and do an AR app?
30:44 SP: Well the technology is as good as it’s ever been, it really is, and I think there’s multiple reasons. Number one, it’s a conversion driver, it’s a great customer experience. It just shouts omni-channel, you know the opportunity to have your furniture product inside of a customer’s home. That’s kind of an intimate engagement when you’re doing that. It’s a… And it’s also an experience that we can give customers that not all of our competitors can. So, it’s really, it’s not only kind of a “Wow, this is a really cool crazy thing that I can do,” it’s highly highly useful. It’s probably one of the most useful adaptations for augmented reality in retail right now. It’s furniture. I predict it will be… Everyone will have it. It’ll be an expectation of customers in a few years, and the people that don’t have it, it will be, “Well, why don’t you have it? Everyone else does.”
31:51 JB: So it sounds like sort of the main draw for Bob’s was a combination of customer experience along with sort of the actual utility mixed with this idea of you feel the markets going this way, so you wanted to get their first kind of thing.
32:05 SP: So, we wanna provide the customer with all the tools, any kind of tech that will help them make a decision, and make a good decision. Make a decision they are gonna be happy with. We want them to be happy when they get that sofa home. I’ve got a great story about this. I have a friend who came up to me at a mutual friend’s house when we were playing poker. He was gonna buy a particular sofa. He’d been in the store, he sat on it, him and his wife loved it like, “This is the sofa that they’re gonna buy,” and they went back home before they made the purchase, and they kind of measured and they’re like, “Hey let’s look at it with the augmented reality app.” So, they put the perfect sofa that they had picked out in their environment and they didn’t like it. He said it just didn’t look right in there.
33:01 SP: It didn’t quite match, and the scale is a little bit different than we thought, and so they picked a different sofa. Using the app they found a better sofa that kind of matched what they needed. Then they went back to the store and they kinda sat on it, and they chose that one. Had they not had that experience they probably still would have been reasonably happy, get the sofa home, but then maybe weeks or months down the road they’re like “Well, it just doesn’t quite fit and it doesn’t look perfect,” or whatever. We made the experience as good as it can be. And this guy, he was sold on that sofa and then when he saw in his home and he was like, “Ah not so much,” and then he ended up finding something, and had a very satisfying experience.
33:52 JB: One of the big advantages of AR is decreased returns or just better increased satisfaction on the back-end because the customer feels like they’ve already seen the piece in their house and so when it shows up…
34:04 SP: That’s true, exactly right, and I think when a customer is engaging with your brand in that kind of way there’s almost like a subconscious commitment to your brand.
34:16 JB: Talk a little bit about the process you guys went through in adopting AR for ecom App, sort of how long does that take? You can be as specific or none as you want but I’m just sort of looking for what’s that process like as the company goes from “We’ve heard of this thing AR. Oh, maybe we should use that too now, it’s actually in an offering.”
34:35 SP: I think it was important to me to get the best tech that was possibly available. There’s other companies that kinda offer it, but we chose to go with Marxent because of the tech itself, the tracking mechanism, the realism of the models themselves are all high poly count. And also, we could adapt these same 3D models into a 3D room planner, and also like a 3D spin on a desktop computer, so we could… The models had legs to ’em. It wasn’t just a single use case application. We were able to leverage these things for synthetic photography, or do whatever else we wanna do with them. So that was an important thing to me in going through the process.
35:29 SP: And I had a prior relationship with these guys, and once we started talking, we had multiple meetings, and looked at the investment level, we made a business case which is something you have to do is, what’s the expectation around a lift in conversion rate, and what’s a realistic expectation for a decrease in return rate and customer satisfaction? Then you put all of this… Down on a spreadsheet and compare it to what’s the expense of a program like this is, and the time and energy internally that it takes, and then you make a decision.
36:10 SP: Some of the things that you can’t put in a spreadsheet is that brand perception. When somebody sees a TV commercial that talks about Bob’s Discount Furniture, augmented reality app and they see it in action, you can’t measure that, that’s a high value thing you just can’t put on a spreadsheet. But we measured and analyzed what we could and then made a decision that we’re gonna go for it.
36:40 JJ: So is the case in your estimation that the tech is ready for mass adoption?
36:45 SP: Yeah, it is. It’s amazing how far it’s come in a short amount of time, and I can only imagine where it’s gonna go. It’s gonna only get better and better, models will be faster and even more realistic as time goes on. I think the cost will continue to go down as 3D models become more commoditized.
37:05 JB: You mentioned one of the things that really attracted you to the Marxent solution, was that the 3D models had legs, that you could use them in lots of different ways…
37:14 SP: That was a big factor for me.
37:16 JB: I’m not asking for your whole product road map. But so do you already have other visualization plans in the future? Is VR on the horizon, what are you thinking?
37:24 SP: Well, we do have a 3D room planner that we’re going to soft launch in a couple of weeks, leveraging those same 3D models. And that’ll be on our website, that anyone can get to on a desktop computer. They’ll be able to use those same models and change the color of their floor. A big thing that causes people to buy furniture is either remodeling, or you wanna freshen up your home that you’ve lived in for a little while. But another big driving factor is people moving. And sometimes when you’re planning out your space, you’re not in your space, so it’s kind of hard to use an augmented reality solution in that case. So having a 3D room planner where you can sit there and draw out your room and place furniture in it, and get a good look at what that room is gonna look like, plan for when you move into that apartment, or you move into that new condo or a house. That’s where a 3D room planner really comes in handy.
38:38 JB: Alright, so this will be the last question and it’s gonna go back to, you mentioned branding a couple of times and attracting customers to your brand and keeping them loyal. I know Little Bob is a huge part of your branding, and you guys manage to get Little Bob into the app, which is cool.
38:56 SP: Oh yeah. [chuckle]
38:57 JB: So this is gonna sound maybe like a joke, but I’m 100% serious. How long until Little Bob is like an AI-enabled avatar that guide shoppers through your e-com experience?
39:07 SP: I’m not sure that I’ll go that far. We do integrate it…
39:09 JB: Okay. That’s my dream, Scott. I want Little Bob to guide me.
39:15 SP: You know what I would like to do, I’d like to have a little mini game inside of the app, like a Temple Run with Little Bob jumping around. That’d be kinda fun.
39:26 JJ: You mean sort of like an Easter egg?
39:28 SP: Yeah, but like a game inside the app.
39:30 JB: My seven-year-old plays a lot of those free-run games, Ninja Run, and there’s a Spider Man one etcetera. I could see how Little Bob would easily be adapted to that. [chuckle]
39:38 JJ: Sure.
39:39 SP: Yeah, exactly. It’d be hilarious to have something like that.
39:42 JJ: Do you have any other great game ideas for Little Bob? Do you wanna do like Little Bob Grand Theft Auto, or Little Bob Spider-Man 2?
39:49 JB: We do not want Little Bob in Fortnite.
39:51 JJ: Why not?
39:51 JB: Keep him away from the Battle Royale, that’s not right. I just wanna say thank you, Scott, this was great. We really appreciate the insight, and just like what goes into launching an AR app.
40:01 JJ: Yeah, it’s always nice to have people who know a lot more about our industry about us than us on… I appreciate it.
40:05 JB: Yes. So thank you, thank you for coming on, we really appreciate it.
40:08 SP: Alright, thanks guys. Have a good weekend.
40:10 JJ: You too.
40:10 JB: You too. Thank you.
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