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Qualcomm alters in-store shopping at American Apparel

Qualcomm Inc.’s image recognition technology will redesign shoppers' in-store experience at retail giant American Apparel Inc.

Using Qualcomm's Vuforia augmented reality (AR) platform, which transforms real-world objects into interactive experiences, consumers can stroll into an American Apparel store and point their phone at a T-shirt to instantly see product information and what other colors and sizes it’s available in. User reviews and comments from shoppers who tried on the same shirt will also pop up.

“If the size or color is not available at the store itself, I can buy it online,” said Brigitte Alexander, who works in ecosystem business development at Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and who discussed the new partnership with American Apparel (NYSE Amex: APP) last week at the Uplinq developers conference in San Diego.

The new shopping experience is made possible because the year-old Vuforia platform can now support image recognition in the cloud.

That means recognition can be achieved against databases containing more than 1 million images, opening up various mobile commerce experiences to benefit consumers, developers, brand marketers and retailers.

Vuforia-powered applications previously performed image recognition against a local database of up to just 80 images.

“By incorporating the cloud, we are enabling new mobile shopping experiences for consumers that are intuitive and easy to use. We are also opening doors to new monetization opportunities for developers,” said Jay Wright, senior director of business development at Qualcomm.

Cloud-based recognition for the Vuforia platform is now available in private beta. Commercial availability and pricing are expected to be announced in fall 2012.

Alexander also revealed an upcoming release that relies on the Vuforia platform: an interactive graphic novel called "Anomaly." With 370 pages, it will be the longest original color graphic novel ever, with DVD excerpts built into the pages.

"Over 100 of the pages are animated with augmented reality,” she said. “Harrison Ford has called this one of the most incredible epic adventures he’s ever seen.”

It will be available in October at Barnes & Noble stores.

With support for iOS, Android, and Unity 3D, Vuforia can let developers write a single native app that can reach more than 400 models of smartphones and tablets.

Today, there are more than 1,000 Vuforia-powered apps in the market, she said.

One augmented reality (AR) app is tied to the July 3 release of "The Amazing Spider-Man." Sony Pictures created a viral marketing campaign that lets consumers unlock exclusive AR-enabled images from the movie at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, with redeemable online coupons.

Other apps create retail campaigns and help with sales. Clothing company Moosejaw put the AR wand on its online store and catalogues, and its wildly popular X-Ray vision app let shoppers peek at what undergarments the models were wearing. It's been downloaded 500,000 times, and the company credits the app to a 30-pecent increase in catalogue sales.

The Denver Museum of Science & Nature used an AR app to deliver a $12 coupon to museum attendees.

“It’s a deeper level of consumer value provided to the consumers using AR,” she said.

Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm Internet Services division and senior vice president of software strategy, doesn’t think the rise of augmented reality will kill QR codes.

“I think QR codes still have a niche. QR codes are interesting if you have real uniqueness you want to label,” he said, during a press panel June 27.

QR codes also have staying power when it comes down to specifity.

“I think there’s always going to be really nitty gritty things, just like why we have barcodes and numbers on books in the library,” he said.

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