How HoloLens technology could help bring your brand to life

* 6 min read

The much-anticipated news from Microsoft about HoloLens finally arrived this month – developer preview units will start shipping to the UK and some of mainland Europe in November. We’ve been lucky enough to have two of the first four units outside North America for a few months now, so here’s a few predictions as to what it’ll change in the packaging industry.

1. Much-reduced prototyping costs

VR prototyping and store modelling isn’t new to packaging development – many companies, private label brands in particular, have used VR to model their products on virtual store shelves for a few years and there’s a number of sophisticated “virtual store” solutions on the market. Being able to see your design alongside the rest of the range and next to competitor products is a powerful tool for determining how well it’ll stand out, whether it looks like the rest of the brand and avoiding costly recalls or reprints if folding or shrink distortion don’t end up just right. It’s an expensive luxury though – the computing power needed to render the store is large, and the ability to interact with other products in that virtual store is pretty limited. Consumer-grade VR products like Samsung’s Gear VR, the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive all offer a lower-cost method of viewing and interacting with those VR stores and VR products, but they still share the need to render the store itself – which takes computer power at the time of viewing and, most significantly, requires that you design your store and the other products you’d like to see alongside it in the virtual world (and, usually, pay a 3d company to keep maintaining it as store layouts and furnishings change).

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HoloLens (and the rumoured Apple headset) work on a quite different principle – instead of drawing ‘a world’ with objects in it (in this case your store and its shelves, boxes and bottles) they render a 3d hologram which interacts with the real world. Clever physics engines in the background mean that holograms can have weight and affect the world around them, and stick to surfaces – meaning you can literally put a product on a shelf, or knock one over when picking up its neighbour. That ability to interact with the world around it means you can take the 3d files agencies like Sun Branding are already producing for our clients as part of the graphics design process and see it on a real shelf – in a mocked-up store environment or a real store, with your competitors’ products alongside them. When they release updated versions, there’s no complex and expensive scanning of them needed; just buy one and put it next to yours on the table.

For some of our graphics clients, 3d modelling as part of the graphics delivery process is already a standard part of the service we provide – they’re already well positioned to take account of this augmented reality offer, and the cost of a few HoloLens units in a product development or marketing team is tiny compared to the investment in 3d that was previously required to get the same benefits.

2. New consumer engagement channels

Online shopping, it’s probably fair to say, hasn’t quite revolutionised the grocery sector. Despite the size and scale of the players in the market, it’s still a clunky and unenjoyable experience for the consumer and doesn’t suit the depot-to-store inventory and logistics models that the retailers have fine-tuned for decades. Augmented Reality – in the form of Sun Branding’s own AR Packaging app and companies like Blippar – was an effort to bridge the gap between a digital-first consumer and the very much offline in-store experience and hasn’t really changed the world either – consumers aren’t, it seems, particularly interested in getting out their smartphones in a store and taking a picture of a tin in order to see what’s in their baked beans. Part of the challenge in that is persuading a consumer that they want to download an app, install it on their phone, get their phone out in a grocery store and spend more time in-store when they’re busy and trying to get the evening’s shopping done before they get home. It’s an uphill battle and unless the payoff for the consumer (in terms of discounts and special offers) is significant, it’s doomed to fail, and that level of promotional payoff isn’t sustainable for the retailers or private brand owners.

3d headsets are in a slightly different category here – the key is not to attract consumers to buy them because they can interact with their favourite stores and brands, but to appeal to users who buy them to play games and watch films and are seeking other novel uses for them. Apple’s app store is a great example of this phenomenon; people who have spent a few hundred pounds on a tablet will search out new opportunities to use apps on it in the comfort of their own home and in their spare time, but even the most ardent fans of an app are unlikely to buy an iPad specifically so they can use it.

Tapping into that home-user market of 3d headsets means, in the first instance, the likely audience will be gamers and early-adopters; a tempting audience for upscale brands with an adventurous approach to technology.

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3. Collaborative working across multi-region teams

Not so much tied to the packaging teams as a benefit of embedding the units into global teams, HoloLens’ integration with Skype means it’s possible to have calls with colleagues around the corner or around the world and share holograms with them on the call. Whether that’s POS material, store furniture or new ranges, brands or TV campaigns, the possibilities that combining holograms and calls bring are genuinely exciting. We’ve already trialled it in our IT teams, using it to indicate to onsite engineers where to install kit by superimposing holographic equipment on the rooms of remote site – and it makes a huge difference to the way we are able to work across locations, national boundaries and teams.

From a packaging perspective, the ability to show a supplier, local marketing team or ad agency an early mock-up of a product is hugely powerful – being able to talk through it with them and rotate it, walk around it and put it on shelf next to other objects (in a foreign country, a store mockup at the other end of the country, or in a home) is even more so. Expand that to the rest of the business and all the other collateral that’s produced as part of EPD, NPD and new range activity and suddenly you’ve got a hugely powerful tool in your company arsenal.