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Houzz has a new AR mode that lets you try furniture before you buy

Houzz has a new AR mode that lets you try furniture before you buy


No Google Tango required

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Lauren Goode/The Verge

Houzz, the home decor company that combines professional renovation services, design ideas, and furniture shopping into one app, just rolled out an update to its iOS app that includes 3D imaging features. That means that users can now place a virtual furniture item or accessory in a room and get a sense of how well it will fit or look in the space before buying.

The company previously offered a “View in My Room” option in the mobile app that let users affix a digital object to a space, but it was a flat image, without any depth. The new 3D augmented reality option, which will apply to around 300,000 items in Houzz’s marketplace of eight million products, is supposed to offer a more realistic view.

Houzz, Inc.

The app update rolls out today, and is only available on iPhones and iPads. The update is supposed to come to Android as well at some point, but Houzz didn’t say when. Sally Huang, Houzz’s Visual Techologies lead who has been working on AR at Houzz for several months, says the more advanced feature could be key to engagement and, ultimately, purchases within the app: 50 percent of shoppers who have purchased things on Houzz have used the 2D version of View in My Room in the past.

Houzz, which launched in 2009 and is still privately owned, is catching up with a bunch of retailers who have already utilized some form of augmented reality or 3D imaging to place furniture overlays over real-life spaces. But most of the previous 3D examples we’ve seen, including apps from Wayfair and Lowe’s Home Improvement, have run on phones built to Google Tango specifications. The Houzz app uses the existing sensors and camera in the iPhone to produce its AR images. (Wayfair also has a “View in Room” feature in its iPhone app, not to be confused with “View in My Room,” but it uses 2D imaging.)

Other home renovation AR apps, like Wayfair and Lowe’s, run on Google Tango phones. Houzz AR works on iPhone.

The results, based on my brief experience using the new Houzz app, aren’t quite as immersive or intuitive as you might think; you still can’t walk completely around the virtual object, and I found myself inadvertently “shrinking” the furniture items when I tried to just move them around the phone screen. And of course, you can’t get a real sense of materials or quality from a digital rendering of an item.

But the app was still pre-launch when I used it, and while it wasn’t perfect, I was still able to at least get some idea of how bookshelves would look against one wall versus another. Which I guess is the point: to nudge customers towards purchases by offering just a little bit more assurance that something “works.” Next stop: home decorating in VR?

When I asked Huang this, she declined to say whether Houzz was working on a VR app. She also said rumors that Apple is pushing further into AR didn’t spur Houzz’s development of the app, insisting that the company’s first target is “solving what everyone needs right now.”