AR and VR in packaging: Beyond the buzz

By Rick Lingle in Packaging Design on July 26, 2017

A look at real-world opportunities using augmented and virtually reality technology for packaging, consumer engagement and more.


It was in Toronto in May where I moderated a well-attended panel discussion on augmented and virtual reality at UBM’s Advanced Design & Manufacturing event, a duty that took me a step or two outside my comfort zone in packaging editorial.

I learned that the technology is even more remarkable than I’d imagined, with the panelists pointing to applications real and possible across a wide swath of industries. I also found very quickly there’s no way to take notes while moderating, so nearly all of what the panelists said evaporated.

However, I felt this fascinating subject—is there anyone unaware of the Pokémon GO phenomenon that uses an augmented reality smartphone app?—deserved a wider audience. I reconnected with research firm IDC Canada senior analyst, Emily Taylor, whose insights anchored the broad-based panel discussion of experts. Taylor conducts strategic research and analysis on mobility technology markets, focusing on mature and emerging technologies including augmented reality and virtual reality.  She sets the stage for further drilling down into the packaging side of the equation by the president of Shikatani Lacroix Design, “designers of immersive experiences,” on the next page.

As a backdrop to the market itself, a report from research firm SuperData projects that mobile augmented reality will become the primary driver of a global $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021, with AR taking the lion’s share of $83 billion and VR at $25 billion. Another report projects the global  market at nearly $120 billion by 2022 at a 75% CAGR from 2016 to 2022.


Let’s start with defining these two terms.

Taylor: Augmented reality (AR) is technology used to complement a persons’ environment through the addition of digital content or objects into their field of view, while virtual reality (VR) is technology used to remove a person from their existing reality and provide a “virtual” reality, immersing them completely within a digital environment.


What’s the state of the AR/VR market?

Taylor: Over the past year or so we’ve seen some big players in the tech industry bring AR/VR solutions to market in the form of software, services and hardware. This industry push and the promise of AR/VR technologies to be the next key computing platform has encouraged experimentation and innovation in this burgeoning market. Initial waves of AR have been seen on smartphones and tablets where the device’s camera is held up to a key landmark and additional information is augmented into the scene on the screen, and it is expected that this will be the way many are first exposed to AR.

With AR, the blending of the real and the virtual can be difficult to create, but the possibilities with both mobile devices and head-mounted displays like Microsoft’s HoloLens are expected to be more limitless than VR. Initial VR headsets and solutions have been heavily focused on gaming and hyped launches for products like HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but as both AR and VR solutions evolve the technologies have potential to revolutionize business as we know it.


What are the biggest growth markets for the tech?

Taylor: We’re seeing spending and lots of interest in AR technologies in manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare. For VR, retail, construction, and healthcare are areas where we see great potential. Overall, for enterprise users AR and VR ultimately raises productivity and allows workers to interact with data rather than view it statically. Those interactions have the capacity to facilitate experiential learning, virtual collaboration spaces, and training simulations. For consumers, these technologies will provide “as if you were there” and augmented experiences as new ways to consume and share content.


What benefits does virtual-enabled packaging offer?

Taylor: AR/VR-enabled packaging—and AR/VR-enabled content overall—facilitates heightened interactions for the user by supplementing the real world with digital content and provides a new, unique experience that wasn’t previously possible.

There is currently a lot of hype surrounding AR/VR solutions, and utilizing these technologies in advertising or marketing can provide benefits that are two-fold:

  • It allows organizations to investigate the applicability of the medium to their business before making broad decisions or investments; and
  • It also can provide some PR and marketing hype for a brand.
  • Still, some AR/VR executions may be seen as a gimmick to some consumers, particularly if there is no obvious benefit or utility for the technology’s usage. Product visualization is an area where this technology fits well, where consumers can view items virtually before purchase. This may help facilitate the purchase if the consumer isn’t sure, as it allows them to visualize the item(s) in a new way.


    A test subject, outfitted with electroencephalography (EEG) sensors and Samsung Gear VR headset, uses a controller to navigate through a VR environment. Image: Shikatani Lacroix Design.


    What newer technology comes into play?

    Taylor: Head-mounted displays (HMDs) enabling AR/VR content are poised for growth over the next few years. These devices are also expected to evolve as both AR and VR HMD experiences require a lot of processing and battery power to make the experience robust, which can be a trade-off between power and mobility. Devices are also expected to become lighter and thinner, easier for longer term wear.


    What’s a piece of advice for brands considering using AR/VR on their packaging?

    Taylor: It is important to lead with good quality AR/VR experiences, as bad experiences can both be damaging to both the evolution of AR/VR in the market as well as the brand. One of the key advantages of these technologies is the level of immersion in the user experience, and the quality of this user experience will help drive adoption and interest overall. Further, adoption and usage of these technologies requires a certain level of digital operation, so assessing the current state of readiness within the brand or organization will be important when pursuing next steps.


    Next: Packaging design & development and the 3 hot spots for AR and VR


    Immerse yourself in a real-world packaging experience at MinnPack in Minneapolis November 8-9 that’s part of a comprehensive 6-event megashow that also includes PLASTEC. For more information, visit


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