Apple AR ambitions could expand Personal Shopping and tech support sessions

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Using Apple AR hardware, future Apple Store Personal Shoppers could demonstrate devices to users, and show the products interactively within the customer's home.

Apple already uses AR to preview new devices, such as letting a prospective Mac Pro user see just how big that machine will be on their desk. Even Apple doesn't do it for every device, though, and new research about personal shopping suggests that it intends to.

A pair of newly revealed patent applications — "Guided Retail Experience," and "Guided Consumer Experience" — show Apple merging AR with its current online chat system. Instead of a text box, these two highly similar patent applications propose showing users see live video of an Apple Store Personal Shopper.

"Conventional electronic consumer experiences allow a user to browse and purchase products online with an electronic device, such as a laptop or desktop computer, tablet computer, or smartphone," say both patent applications.

"[However, online] shopping can lack the instantaneous feedback, answers to questions, suggestions, demonstrations of products, and human connection of an in-person shopping experience," they say. "Additionally, the user is unable to fully interact with the online representation of the product and, therefore, cannot truly experience a full demonstration of the product while in a remote environment."

The two patent applications approach the same issue, but with minutely different emphasis. "Guided Retail Experience" is concerned with how a Personal Shopper and products can be shown to the user, perhaps through an entire virtual Apple Store.

Detail from the patent showing an Apple Store Personal Shopper demonstrating in your home
Detail from the patent showing an Apple Store Personal Shopper demonstrating in your home

"Guided Consumer Experience" concentrates on what a user will see about a specific product in such an environment. Parts of this application are similar to the "Apple Glass" one where comparison shopping is improved by the device displaying key information next to the products.

A virtual Apple Store

One of Apple's proposals would have the company "generating a computer-generated reality environment," which would include "presenting a virtual object representing a product in the computer-generated reality environment."

Apple is a little disparaging about how today's online shopping requires users "to browse through menus or perform a search function to locate a product of interest." For the most part, it instead proposes that the AR route means users can stay at home or work, yet get all "the benefits and capabilities of an in-person shopping experience."

This patent application details different ways that a customer could indicate that they want to see, say, the ports on the side of the MacBook Pro, please. Or in patent-speak, "adjusting the presentation of the virtual object representing the product in the computer-generated reality environment using information received from the communication session."

What the user sees

The "Guided Consumer Experience" patent application features much the same information, but dwells a little more on the issue of showing the Personal Shopper in video. Drawings in the application show a familiar-looking Apple Store iOS app, with the addition of an option to "Shop with a Specialist."

"This allows a consumer to have an interactive conversation with the salesperson, who can provide relevant products and make suggestions based on the conversation," says Apple. "A salesperson can cause a product to be displayed on the user's device via the electronic communication session, and the user can manipulate the product to see various portions and features."

"The salesperson can also manipulate the product to point out features of the product without user input," it continues. "This provides a guided, remote shopping experience that allows a salesperson to lead a user through a shopping experience, from product selection to purchase, without requiring manual input by the user, but with the flexibility to allow a user to select and interact with products as desired."

Detail from the patent application showing the Apple Store app with an in-video Personal Shopper
Detail from the patent application showing the Apple Store app with an in-video Personal Shopper

Across the two related patent applications, Apple proposes a range of interactions. The salesperson could be in a chatbox-like window, just with video instead of text. Or the salesperson could even be shown, through AR, as being in the user's room.

If Apple does present this AR option in the Apple Store App, it's going to be an option. So when users know what they want, they can go straight to it and click Buy. However, for Apple's less tech-savvy users, AR could be a way to show them what its devices can actually do.

The consumer-focused patent application is credited to Jonathan S. Reiling and Alexander B. Oser. The latter is the sole inventor on the retail patent application, and his previous related work includes the use of AR to make TV sports more interactive.

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