Unlike virtual reality, which transports wearers of VR headsets into other worlds, augmented reality brings digital ideas into the physical realm. Interior designers use the technology to visualize how a room would look filled with furniture before they buy it. Graphic designers use it to make silly filters on social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Game developers use it to spawn 3D avatars in the user's own home. App developers are using it to make digital tools to measure and map real structures.
Up until now, augmented reality has projected things into open spaces, or stuck masks or animal ears onto moving faces. But now artists and Amazon are working to change that. They want augmented reality designs to be something people wear in the worlds between physical and virtual: while shopping online and on social media.
Zack Kroll, aka Bald Boy, through a series he calls SatARday, which runs every Saturday (hence the name), creates AR sneakers he gives out for free via Snapchat. There, users can use the filter to "wear" his designs. They stick to your feet as you walk, adapt to shadows and light changes and reflect whatever's nearby.
"Right now, the AR filters are a way of building community and having people understand the connection between the physical and digital world," he says. "There's no 'buying' attached to it right now, but in the very near future, once I get enough people accustomed to the technology and excited about the digital world, then I'll be selling wearables on OpenSea and other NFT marketplaces."
"Wearables," a term used in the NFT (non-fungible token) context to describe something only digital avatars can wear, don't come with real-world benefits. You can't walk around flexing your new NFT sneakers. Sure, you can implement them in some apps for posting on your social media profiles, but Kroll's existing project is a better look, in my opinion, at the future of digital fashion.
And Amazon knows it. This week, the retailer unveiled its own virtual try-on feature for footwear sold in its Amazon Fashion hub. By simply tapping the Virtual Try-On button, you can see what sneakers would look like on your feet. Plus, you can toggle between colors, tap a few buttons to change the style itself and even move your feet around to see all angles. The experience is not unlike Warby Parker's at-home try-on technology, which lets wearers "wear" glasses virtually before ordering a few for IRL experimenting. There is, however, an emphasis on cross-platform sharing, though. You can take a photo during your Virtual Try-On session, which can instantly be shared to social media through any of your connected accounts (or downloaded to do it independently of the Amazon app).
For Kroll, his project is about art and the intertwining of digital and physical. Sure, it's small, and he has ambitions of scaling it into a profitable endeavor, but it's connecting sneakerheads to ultra rare pairs and technologists to a new frontier. And, when you think about it, the technology isn't all that different. It's clearly independent designers like Kroll that've pushed this medium into the mainstream.
"The AR shoes are completely interactive with your real environment," he says, just like Amazon's. He encourages everyone who downloads his AR filters to film themselves walking, kicking their feet up in a faraway place or simply standing still. Putting them on is as easy as hovering the camera over your feet. He complies the submitted clips into a weekly recap. Watching Kroll's compilation videos feel like a glimpse into the future, where fit pics could combine digital and physical designs.
Clearly, though, the future is now. Soon, every listing in the footwear, jewelry and shirting categories will be eligible for Virtual Try-On. Amazon is about as big as it gets, and surely others will soon follow its lead — if the technology presents itself.
To try Amazon's Virtual Try-On feature, scan the QR code pictured above.