Toy maker Mattel is bringing characters like Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine to life in the pages of children's books in a collaboration with Bookful, the augmented reality (AR) book app for children, per an announcement. Bookful's users can see 3D animated versions of the popular toy characters on a smartphone after scanning printed books with its camera.
Barbie fans can see the fashion doll in aspirational books like "You Can Be a Doctor," "You Can Be a Designer" and "You Can Be a Gymnast," consistent with the toy's theme of inspiring girls to realize their potential. Thomas & Friends is featured in books with titles like "Busy Busy Thomas," "A Visit to London" and "Search and Rescue," per the announcement.
AR adoption, which continues to grow, could get a boost this holiday season as consumers look for more immersive digital experience while remaining housebound during the coronavirus pandemic. Bookful, which was developed by software maker Inception VR, has a growing library of AR and 3D animated books through collaborations with publishers such as Penguin Random House, Charlesbridge and DK.
Mattel's collaboration with Bookful aims to engage children with its popular characters as part of their effort to encourage them to enjoy reading books. More than half (53%) of children in the U.S. own a smartphone by age 11, a study by children's advocacy group Common Sense Media found last year. The popularity of mobile devices challenges parents to manage their children's screen time or at least make it more educational, especially as the pandemic makes distance learning more commonplace. Technology has become a key part of children's education, and Mattel and Bookful can support those efforts with AR content that makes books more interactive and immersive on mobile devices.
Mattel and Bookful's AR-enabled books are another sign of how the immersive technology has been integrated with other media in the past few years. Mobile game "Pokémon Go" became a sensation in 2016 with its innovative gameplay that combined the geolocation features of wireless devices and animated AR content. The game showed the potential demand for AR technology in popular entertainment, making consumer acceptance of Mattel and Bookful's AR-activated books more likely.
A growing number of brands are adopting AR technology to provide more immersive customer experiences and to prolong the exposure with their brands. Among recent examples, e-commerce giant Amazon this month released AR apps to unlock interactive content by scanning specially marked boxes with a smartphone camera. The AR content is intended to entertain consumers, though it's conceivable that Amazon could expand its AR experiences to promote other products, or to offer special deals and discounts.
Bookful's latest partnerships show how AR is also working its way into books, an approach more publishers could adopt as they adapt to the growth in digital content consumption. In kind, Condé Nast's Allure magazine this month partnered with Perfect Corp., the developer of AR content for beauty products, to integrate virtual try-ons of cosmetics into its November issue.