Shopify Magnolia Home AR augmented reality

Shopify and Magnolia Home, the home and lifestyle brand created by HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines, added a new statement piece to the latter’s iPhone app: Augmented Reality. Just released, the update allows Magnolia Market users to see how virtual products would look in their real-life homes before buying.

To find the feature, users can fire up the iOS 11 app and go to a new section called “Preview in Your Home.” As simple as tapping an image to enlarge, people can tap the AR preview and point their camera to see the object placed in their actual room. A selection of the products is available for AR viewing now.

The app marks a first for Shopify, which used Apple’s ARKit software tools to develop the feature.

“For the past few years, we’ve really been diving deep into how AR/VR applies to commerce,” said Daniel Beauchamp, lead of Shopify’s mixed reality team. The company has been waiting for the technology to advance. “It was only until Apple announced they were releasing ARKit [that we said,] ‘Now is the time to jump in on this,” he said.

The e-commerce platform approached the partner with the idea, and Magnolia came onboard. Gaines, noting the evolution of online retail, saw AR as a way to “make sure the finer details of the in-store experience aren’t lost along the way,” she said, adding “the new Magnolia app will help deliver those feelings to people who may not be able to visit us in Waco.”

Augmented Reality isn’t new to the home furnishings and décor sector. Retailers like Ikea have been dabbling with similar features to let shoppers check out how a sofa or table might look in their actual living room. The challenge, however, has been one of accuracy. A minor differential in measurements could scuttle even the finest interior design scheme, no matter how “perfect” that couch looked in the app or web site.

Shopify spent years watching and waiting for the AR and VR technology to catch up to the promise. Then Apple’s kit came along this summer: “The key thing they added [was that] they got scale right,” said Beauchamp. “So when you place an object down in ARKit, it’s the exact size you specified.” An in-house team created AR-ready 3-D images of every Magnolia product by hand, including details like cracks and even dust. “It’s not just about seeing how it fits within your space,” he explained. “It’s about getting up close and seeing it in an intuitive fashion.”

AR got another turn in the spotlight this week thanks to some stage time at Google’s Pixel press event. The Android maker showed off its new AR Stickers, courtesy of its own development kit, ARCore. Though its first released effort revolved around iOS 11 and Apple’s ARKit, Shopify confirmed it’s also exploring similar features for the Android platform.

“We’re in a phase right now, we’re trying to convince people to go into VR and AR,” Beauchamp continued. He points to phone-based AR, which some in the industry consider “gimmicky” and not a serious development. But they may be the easy access point that gets people in and paves the way. “In the not-so-distant future, they’re going to be in VR and AR naturally.”

If the company is focusing its attention on the future, that may be a more comfortable place than its present. Shares of Shopify fell more than 7 percent on Wednesday, after short seller Andrew Left of Citron Research criticized the e-commerce platform’s partnerships for supposedly exaggerating their number. In light of that, a new announcement with a partner that’s beyond reproach may have been the real augmentation Shopify needed this week.

According to a spokesperson, the company is proud of its network of retailers, and it aims to explore more ways to boost entrepreneurship. This work, she said, is just the first in its effort to democratize AR for retail, making the tech more available to its entire merchant base.

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