I work in the 3D graphics industry and never expected to be in the same business as Kanye West. But Kanye is now at the cutting edge of a 3D revolution after launching a new feature for his online retail project Yeezy Supply, which gives us a glimpse of the game-changing technology I have spent many years working with. People who play video games are already very familiar with 3D imagery. Yet everyday internet users may not yet have encountered this sort of content out there on the web. This is about to change.
In the coming months and years, 3D models are going to alter the experience of online shopping and e-commerce forever. Just like the arrival of the jpeg, an easy-to-share type of image, facilitated the birth of the visual culture which is now familiar to every internet user, 3D content will radically change online life.
The arrival of relatively affordable 3D scanners and improvements in consumer hardware means that the conditions are ripe for a new kind of e-commerce in which shoppers inspect and interact with products by looking at 3D images which can be rotated in real-time – which is where Yeezy Supply comes in.
Kanye’s e-commerce venture will let shoppers dress a three-dimensional model in virtual clothes, offering a new way of interacting with the products. This seems novel now, but similar tech will soon become commonplace as the next revolution in e-commerce begins to unfold. Instead of merely looking at pictures of items they’re interested in buying, consumers will be able to zoom in on complex 3D models, turn them around to see every angle and interact with products in ways that were previously only possible in High Street shops.
Until recently, even though 3D models are not new, it simply wasn’t feasible to give shoppers the ability to interact with them, simply because they didn’t own the right hardware. Now, our smartphones have the ability to scan surroundings and overlay augmented reality (AR) content on the real world as we view it through a camera lens. This tech could, for instance, allow you to see what a shoe looks like by showing AR footwear on your real feet, which you then interact with through a smartphone camera. Retailers are already offering you the ability to see what furniture looks like in a room by overlaying 3D models on the real world. And these use-cases are only the beginning.
In the past, 3D files were often too large for people to download onto their devices, whilst scanners which produce the content were also big and unwieldy. This has also changed. As well as AR-enabled smartphones, we’ve recently seen the arrival of smaller scanners which can produce high-quality 3D scans of products very quickly. Currently, scanners have to be manually operated, but soon production line-style scanners will be able to scan vast numbers of products at speed, filling online retailers with 3D models. On top of that, retailers and tech companies are creating standardized workflows for 3D modeling, making it an industrial process at scale.
Big brands are already joining forces to exploit this new tech. The Khronos Group has launched a 3D commerce working group to explore the emerging technology, which it believes will become “pervasive” in the coming years. The group’s proposed new 3D file format, glTF, is already supported in mainstream applications such as Facebook and MS Office. They refer to it as the “jpeg of 3D”. Other supporters include Amazon, Samsung and dozens of companies all dedicated to ushering in the future of e-commerce. Once this“jpeg of 3D” is established, this standard will shape the future of the sector and power the disruptive revolution, and radically alter e-commerce. Kanye West’s Yeezy Supply is just the beginning of a new era in online shopping in which 3D will become commonplace.