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IKEA’s fancy new AR app lets you design entire rooms

It was in September 2017 when Apple made IKEA a launch partner for its ARKit in the iOS 11 keynote, and all of a sudden the staunchly analogue furniture brand was at the vanguard of retail tech. The IKEA Place app let you put digital furniture anywhere.

Just a few months earlier, Tim Cook said in an interview that he was so excited about augmented reality that he wanted “to yell out and scream”. He name-checked IKEA and cited buying furniture as a prime example of something that can be completely changed by AR.

We know what happened next. People started putting virtual Ektorp sofas on real railway platforms and digital Billy bookcases in elevators for the sheer hell of it. Part of the reason for this was the genuine novelty of a consumer AR shopping app, but also that you could not shop using it. If you liked something you had to close the app, then open up the IKEA app or website to buy it.

Now AR apps are less of a curiosity and, while not exactly commonplace, are at least familiar. From gaming to tattoo selection to selling watches or lipstick, there are a bunch doing things very similar to what IKEA started with four years ago.

This is likely the reason for the furniture company to commission its Copenhagen-based future-living lab, SPACE10, to revamp its AR offering. The result is IKEA Studio.

Moving on from just adding virtual chairs and lamps to a room, SPACE10 says the goal here for IKEA is to help people design entire rooms using the LiDAR sensors in an iPhone. That’s right, this is still an Apple-only project for IKEA.

Starting in open beta, SPACE10 ideally wants users to help hone the final offering of Studio, but for now it lets you capture complete 3D room plans with measurements, including windows and doorways, and it detects your existing furniture and places white boxes on the plan where your current chairs, tables, sofa reside.

From there you can place furniture, shelving systems, decorations and change wall colours, then export your design in both 3D and 2D and send it to others for approval or ridicule. The models can also include ceilings so you can add in virtual suspended light fittings. Other new features include being able to interact with items, such as turn AR lamps on and off, and place items on top of each other, say a lamp on a sideboard for example.

AR fans can sign up for the beta here, and those eligible will get an email from TestFlight as slots become available.

Tommy Campbell, digital design lead at SPACE10, says this is all prep for the arrival of Apple Glass. “While we have developed what is right now a mobile application, we’ve also been interested in what devices like glasses might be able to do for this technology,” he says. “So we’ve made very deliberate decisions to paint the vision of Studio as one that can exist on both the smartphone or in a glasses-like setting. We’ve also used a new renderer reality kit from Apple that lets us achieve a level of detail on these models that hasn’t been seen before in IKEA’s AR portfolio.”

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Frustratingly, however, the app is once again not connected to the IKEA website or retail app. So if you are buying a rug, say, in the IKEA app, and want to check how it will look in your room, you can’t do this easily. You have to open up Studio and start from scratch.

Similarly, if you are looking at a sofa, IKEA knows the measurements of that sofa, but if you open up the measuring tool within Studio you have to manually input those same measurements to see if it will fit in your space.

This functionality could be added during the beta phase, of course. “It’s definitely a part of the roadmap,” says Fredrik Axén, digital manager core business franchise at Inter IKEA Systems. “Is it is a continuation of what you see now that will be transactional, or is it components of it? That could be the case, for instance, for the room planner.”

SPACE10 and IKEA are also considering integrating the 3D measuring tool into the IKEA website and taking other AR elements online. “Chrome and Safari and Mozilla are all playing around with web AR experiences,” says Campbell. “Could that be the next platform? Instead of developing an iOS or Android app, can we have a web experience for Studio that would work for everyone?”

Adding in that shopping ability will be crucial, however. UK ecommerce excluding groceries at the start of 2020 was already at 30 per cent. It reached a high during the pandemic of 60 per cent and then levelled off around 45 per cent. That’s ten percentage points in one summer – or three to five years’ growth in just two quarters.

For now though IKEA wants to hear how Studio is working for people in their homes. “What’s broken? What would they like to see that we haven’t considered yet?” says Campbell “A few things already in the pipeline is the wall-painting feature and a wall-storage feature, which uses a machine learning algorithm to look at the space recommend the best combination of storage items that would fit.”

Jeremy White is WIRED's executive editor. He tweets from @jeremywired

This article was originally published by WIRED UK

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