Ask a colleague what the next trends in user experience (UX) at SAP are, and you are likely to hear artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) or conversational user experience (CUX). While these trends have surely arrived – and will clearly play an even bigger role in the future – how about adding virtual, augmented or mixed reality (VR, AR and MR) to the acronym list as the next frontier?
As consumer experience continues to drive expectations for enterprise software, this development is most certainly not far off. A picture may say a thousand words, but a virtual world says more than a thousand pictures. But which types of scenarios can be enhanced by VR, AR and MR, and how will we interact digitally with them?
A day to explore, share and learn
To address this topic and prepare for the future of user experience, SAP Design received 480 SAP employees and invited external guests at its annual SAP UX Day, held on February 20th at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany.
This year’s SAP UX Day was the biggest ever, and the focus was clearly on “immersive experience” or IX, the term which bundles augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Anyone who has experienced either three will tell you they are very visceral and often emotional. Being transported visually and acoustically in time and space gets under your skin and goes directly to primitive centers of the brain, surpassing anything we might experience today with a traditional GUI or even with video. But what makes IX so appealing, and will it catapult us into a whole new way of working?
A keynote that struck a cord
“UX design must play a key role in creating the symbiosis between human and machines,” she asserted. “This event exists so we can equip ourselves for this interesting journey into the future. AI, NLP, AR and VR are all great technologies only if they deliver benefits to humans.”
Applying AR and VR technology to human “touchpoints”
Almost everyone is familiar with the video games for virtual race cars, so it’s not a major jump from there to business-related scenarios involving virtual automobiles. Take, Mercedes, for example. The world’s largest luxury car maker is delivering a VR platform for potential buyers to experience the features of their future vehicles. The platform was created by Mackevision, a global company specializing in 3D-visualization, animation, and visual effects.
Virtual experiences are available for Mercedes’ customers at various touchpoints across the customer journey: home, showroom (Mercedes me Store) and everywhere else (mobile). Each touchpoint can involve a multiple of scenarios, but it’s critical not to force a technology on a touchpoint, says Kian Saemian, Senior Business Development Manager, Mackevision. “There is no holy grail with regards to the technology – it should integrate with the touchpoint,” he emphasizes.
Automotive OEMs are also applying VR to support specialists in designing and engineering new car models. “We are blurring the lines between reality and the virtual,” says Saemian. There’s strong motivation to adapt the design process to the virtual world because each physical car model can cost up to €1 million. Through their own avatars, designers can meet virtually in a VR solution called “Shared Studio VR” in the cloud, walking together around the virtual car to discuss and decide on design and engineering details. The VR platform also frees engineers to collaborate across geographies.
SAP already has begun immersive experience (IX) use cases for business, such as this PoC with a major electricity provider: a robot equipped with sensors constantly builds 3D models and patrols dangerous tunnels hazardous to humans.
An operator can virtually explore the tunnel and identify any defects, such as a leaking gas pipe. In another industry scenario, IT service provider Bechtle AG is using data glasses in its daily operations, automating its logistics processes and increasing efficiency.
Design your own “micro AR service”
At his startup, Layar, Raimo van der Klein learned much about the challenges of delivering benefits to AR users. The Dutch entrepreneur led a team of 70 and had over 70,000 people developing AR services for smartphones on the Layar platform. The challenge according to van der Klein was showing users what they want to see based on their personal profiles and their context. “AR must be able to step into contextual domains, delivering a relevant service to users at that very moment,” explained van der Klein. The trick, is to “minimize the friction between intention and action,” he said. Holding up a smartphone to view context-based services and delivering the right layer proved too complex for most users. The company is hoping that a number of new inconspicuous AR glasses now available on the market may be the answer.
At the SAP UX Day, van der Klein challenged workshop participants to design their own “micro AR service” that is triggered based on the context. Perhaps a sports apparel company that triggers a service at the gym, a food company that triggers a service at the dinner table, or a dating service that helps select “the right partner” at a bar. Van der Klein believes these so-called “brand opportunities” will eventually bring to life the brands we trust most.
So, there are exciting times ahead for designers and developers. As the technology becomes more compelling and sophisticated, and people become more comfortable with AR and VR, the technology will shed its geek factor layer by layer, and will enter the mainstream.
Many thanks to Paul Baur for co-authoring this article, Denis Timur and Jens Koster for the UX Day video, and Kathrin Fischer for the feature image.