Apple’s New Animojis Are the Latest Sign That Brands Need to Embrace Augmented Reality

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Apple today officially unveiled its latest versions of the iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV while also providing a glimpse into its next retail endeavors. The revelations occurred at the company’s annual, pre-fall, iPhone-launch-focused event that this year took place at the Steve Jobs Theater, a namesake venue for its late co-founder that is located at its new Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Park complex.

Deep into the two-hour program, Apple revealed its anticipated $999 iPhone X. The pricey, next-generation smartphone comes with many fancy features, including Face ID (yes, you can unlock the phone by looking at it), multitasking between app windows and a side button that makes Siri more easily accessible than ever.

But what appeared to steal the show was Apple’s new twist on augmented reality called Animoji, which lets users create animated emoji messages that reflect their actual facial expressions and voices. The Animoji program employs the iPhone X’s True Depth camera to track 50-plus facial motions and process them in real time. There are a dozen emojis to customize, including characterizations such as a panda, robot, unicorn and the popular poop emoji. After an Animoji is selected, the user records his or her voice and then plays it back along with the emoji. The AR-bolstered messages can be sent and opened as text messages, allowing for all kinds of opportunities for ridiculous banter and marketing fun.

Animoji appears to be Apple’s answer to Snapchat Lens, Instagram Face Filter and Facebook Camera. It’s unclear how shareable Animojis will be across other social platforms, but it seems likely that developers and consumers will find ways to transport the emojis from one online place to another.

And brands will be able to use the Apple feature, notably making text message opt-in lists that include younger consumers potentially more valuable. In recent years, after all, companies have shown to be eager to test out all kinds of AR that comes with the scale of a Snapchat or an Instagram. Animoji should be no different. Although, at the same time, marketers will have to be careful that whatever they throw out there emoji-wise—panda or poop—is somehow on brand, which will probably be tricky.

Apple also showed off its ARKit, which was first announced at its WWDC event on June 5. The kit bakes augmented reality tools into the iPhone 8—which was also unveiled today—and the iPhone X. Expect various AR-powered games from developers like That Game Company to emerge across the Apple program of devices.

“This is a huge step forward for the iPhone,” said Tim Cook, Apple CEO, during his speech while referencing his company’s AR enhancements.

Tech-minded marketers feel similarly toward the future of advertising, now that Apple has fully embraced AR.

“Augmented reality mobile content will go beyond gaming, as we have seen before and offers new ways to visualize content and personalize mobile experiences, expanding to industries such as retail, sports and entertainment,” predicted Roman Taranov, CEO of RGK Mobile. “Advertising will follow suit, taking on new formats and offering an immersive user experience.”

Such a scenario is getting easier and easier to imagine. The International Data Corporation predicted in February that total spending on AR and virtual reality will reach nearly $14 billion by the end of 2017.

“The possibilities are endless and range from Minority Report-style programmatic outdoor advertising to superimposing sporting events and concerts on top of consumers’ living rooms,” added Sean Cullen, evp, product and technology at Fluent.

David Goldman, marketing vp at AR-focused company Lumus, concurred with Cullen about AR’s potential impact on out-of-home ads. “Two people can be driving together and both will see different ads projected on the same billboard that are uniquely tailored for each of them,” he said. “Marketers will no longer be tied to a demographic-specific ad real estate—the world will be a billboard.”

Here are a few other Apple news items from today:

  • An Apple TV set-top box now comes with 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) content that will make television pictures crisper. The box will cost $179 and be available in the U.S. and Canada by the end of the month. Content from Apple iTunes will be immediately upgradable to 4K and HDR, while Netflix and Amazon Prime shows will soon come via the tech.
  • Apple Watch Series 3 was unveiled, while, interestingly, Cook also said earlier versions of the watch experienced 50 percent year-over-year growth in the last quarter. (He did not mention unit sales, though.) The Series 3 is priced at $399 with cellular connectivity and $329 without it. The processor is supposed to be faster than ever, letting Siri now talk via the watch.
  • It also announced that it’s opening a new Chicago superstore on Michigan Avenue in October.