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Wilson Tang

Adding a New Digital Dimension to Your Next Special Event

How Apple’s big augmented reality announcement could change your event tech strategy.

Advances in technology move at a breakneck pace, creating exciting new possibilities every day for the way people interact digitally. But one of the most exciting developments in the tech world bridges the gap between digital and analog: augmented reality (AR). Augmented reality is the integration of digital elements with a user’s environment--think a mix of virtual reality elements superimposed on real life. And it’s becoming a reality quicker than you may think.

At its recent 2017 WWDC keynote, Apple announced ARKit, a new developer framework in iOS 11 that will allow compatible iPhones and iPads to be AR-capable. Google’s right there with its own augmented reality platform, Tango, which is gaining steam as more Tango-based devices make their way into consumer hands.

We’ve already seen more primitive applications of AR in our daily lives; if you’ve spent time taking selfies with Snapchat’s fun photo filters or caught a few monsters in Pokémon GO, then you’ve experienced the kind of AR that current generations of mobile devices can handle.

But true augmented reality has the potential to offer so much more. It will eventually be a part of everything, from walking the show floor to shopping at your local mall. In the event space, AR will allow marketers to bring digital enhancements to attendees in new ways without taking away from the impact of an event’s face-to-face connection. With these tech giants leading the way to mobile-friendly augmented reality capabilities, there are some exciting possibilities for our industry, opening doors to new kinds of interactions and experiences in the event space.

Extending the experience
Part of the challenge in special events planning is finding the right elements to surprise and delight your attendees, creating those one-of-a-kind moments that they’ll never forget. There is huge potential in AR as a value-add to any kind of special event experience, from a lavish dinner party to a private concert to a wine tasting.

Integrating augmented reality could truly change the way attendees see special events. AR acts as an overlay of what attendees are actually experiencing, a sort of heads-up display that can add additional dimension to what they’re looking at, deliver additional relevant content in real time, and integrate social media or other networking. It can act as an extension of branding, highlight sponsors, and could help create longevity for an event long after it is over. If you want to allow virtual attendees to experience your special event no matter where they are, then you could even use augmented reality to bring the fun straight to them.

A seamless enhancement
The beauty of next-gen augmented reality is that it harnesses something attendees already have on hand --their mobile devices. Mobile devices have become an almost universal tool at any event, serving as a key research, content creation, and communications tool for attendees. Why fight the device wars when we could take advantage of their presence? Through ARKit and Tango, mobile phones will be AR-ready, available to be utilized as part of your event tech plan in a way that feels to attendees like a natural extension of their use.

That’s the key to really making something like augmented reality work in the event space. We can’t create cool new tech applications just for cool new tech’s sake — it must not just feel seamless, but also clearly display its added value to attendees. It has to drive attendee interest to participate, captivate them in the moment, and be a part of providing them a better overall experience.

The power of live experiences and special events is the unique opportunity it provides for us to connect deeply with people who are passionate about a company, a product, a service, an interest--the list goes on. Integrating technology with authenticity and integrity of the event in mind is what helps ensure that it feels “right” in the flow of the event and foster engagement and amplification.

Making special events more personal
We know that attendees are looking for a unique, personalized experience at each and every event they attend--and augmented reality has the potential to help you create a more individualized experience within a larger setting, providing attendees the wow-worthy, shareable, personal moments they’re craving.

Think of delivering content on an individual level through an interactive channel that allows you to merge your online world with the physical world in real time to boost engagement, enrich the experience, and even extend the action once the event is over. Augmented reality could become an integral part of follow-on content delivery, as well as metrics analysis and the overall strategy to help personalize future touch points.

The flexibility of AR, as well as the overarching bigger picture of event technology, opens the door to a lot of exciting, innovative applications for special events that could add much to their impact and engagement.

Innovations are happening at a rapid rate, and augmented reality in practice is still in its infancy, full of untapped potential and just waiting for the right application. With that fast pace of change comes big opportunities for event professionals to harness innovations like AR to deepen their connections with attendees and take special events to the next level.

Wilson Tang is the vice president of digital experience at FreemanXP, the San Francisco-based global brand experience agency that supports brands through personalized experiences. Tang is a creative, technology and media professional with extensive experience designing and producing innovative content and experiential marketing solutions for major media, technology and Fortune 100 brands.

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