Glasses-Free 3D for Mobile and Laptops, Still Waiting for E-Commerce

In 2009, I excitedly sounded the trumpet for the uses of 3D technology in e-commerce. Specifically, I talked about the use of 3D photography and how it could impact sales. The problem with 3D in 2009 was that unless you were in a movie theater, 3D at home required anaglyph glasses, which severely ruins how colors are perceived. So while showing products in 3D was interesting then, there were some obvious flaws with the technology as it existed. I revisited the topic in 2010, as the advent of in-home 3D televisions (that didn’t use anaglyph glasses) meant that we could begin to envision a true 3D experience in full color for our users.

It’s 2011, and there has been another advent in the 3D space worthy of an annual article on the subject: glasses-free 3D screens. This is a big deal because there is absolutely no barrier to entry at this point. As of this writing, both HTC (with the EVO 3D) and LG have entered the glasses-free 3D mobile market. Nintendo has come out with the (significantly lower resolution) 3DS, which also sports a glasses-free 3D screen. Yesterday, Toshiba released a laptop computer with a glasses-free display. There are also companies releasing glasses-free screen overlays for the iPhone.

Obviously, these new devices are interesting to video and photo enthusiasts, but 3D has been too bleeding edge (and possibly only a fad) for any e-commerce player to jump on board. Plus, e-commerce players tend to have a misplaced viewpoint when it comes to new technologies like this. Once they hear “3D,” they will want to retread late-90’s paths of creating 3D shopping experiences. I can’t tell you how many of these were demoed for me back in the late 90’s when I was at Barnes& It wasn’t interesting then, and isn’t interesting now (3D or not).

What remains interesting for me, however, is the idea that users can view products, how-to videos, and possibly runway shows (or other “on the model” assets) in 3D. Since the dawn of e-commerce, countless articles have been written about how the web lacks a tactile feel to it. While 3D images won’t give a tactile feel, it will make the user feel as if she can reach out and touch the product. As I said in 2009, a picture is worth a thousand words, but I believe a 3D picture is worth a million of them.

The great thing about 3D mobile devices is that a browser can detect them and adjust accordingly. So, if you were to create 3D images in the format needed for glasses-free displays, you could display them automatically when an appropriate device is viewing your web page or mobile app.

But is it really ready for prime-time yet? No, of course not. 3D is still gaining acceptance, and glasses-free 3D is limited at the moment to two phones and one laptop. I’ll have to wait another year to see if other manufacturers have taken up the cause. HTC and LG are certainly trying to get us all to believe that 3D in our phones is the next level of home video making. If they succeed, it could also be the next level of e-commerce.

Every year, 3D makes greater strides to pervade our lives. Glasses-free 3D is a huge leap in that effort, as there is absolutely no barrier to entry for consumers. The devices cost the same, the screens look as good as their 2D counterparts in 2D mode, and really shine in 3D. And, the current dearth of 3D content (and no content on the e-commerce side) will make early adopters in our industry both buzzworthy and well-trafficked (if these devices gain more penetration in the marketplace).

Thoughts, comments? Leave them below!

Until next time…

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