March 10, 2011, 12:20 PM

New app lets mobile users take a Mini for a virtual joyride

The app lets users superimpose images of the vehicle on any photo on their smartphone.

Lead Photo

Mini mobile app users can select the look of the car before superimposing it on an image.

Ever wish you had a Mini in your garage? Well, now there’s an app for that.

Mini, an independent brand of the BMW Group, has launched an augmented reality app to promote its Mini Countryman, a larger version of the sporty compact car.

The Virtual Mini app can be downloaded via a QR, or Quick Response, two-dimensional bar code included in a print ad in the March issue of Wired magazine. Consumers scan the ad’s QR code with an iPhone camera and are automatically sent to Apple Inc.’s App Store to download the app. The app can be downloaded directly, without bar code scanning, at the App Store, Mini’s Facebook page and

Once downloaded, mobile users can select one of four colors and configurations of the Mini Countryman and then resize and rotate the customized 3-D model into place in any photo they wish that’s on their iPhone—from their own garage to the end of a toothbrush to the top of the Empire State Building. Users can share the images through the app via Facebook or e-mail.

The vehicle maker worked with augmented reality and 3-D technology firm Helios Interactive Technologies and marketing agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners to develop the app. Augmented reality uses the capabilities of a mobile phone to enhance a presentation, such as using the smartphone’s GPS to identify a consumer’s location and then displaying through the device’s camera view a coupon to a nearby store. The Virtual Mini augmented reality app requires that users have the iPhone 4.2 software update.

“The Virtual Mini app is designed to engage consumers in a fun, unique way,” says Mike Schaiman, managing partner and co-founder of Helios Interactive Technologies. “We expect people to take some interesting shots and have fun with the new Mini Countryman. In addition to being among the first automotive apps to integrate an augmented reality campaign for mobile, the Virtual Mini app offers a quirky experience that fits the brand perfectly. This is exactly the kind of interactive, innovative experience that promotes the brand loyalty Mini is famous for.”

A handful of retailers are using augmented reality to exploit the capabilities of smartphones and develop what they hope will be captivating and engaging marketing campaigns. Mobile consumers who download the free augmented reality app from junaio for the iPhone or phones using Google Inc.’s Android operating system are now able to see eBay classifieds listings near their location at any given moment. A consumer downloads the junaio app, opens it on her smartphone, and types “eBay Classifieds” in the search bar. As she walks down a street, the app will use her smartphone’s camera and GPS technology to determine her location and show her brief eBay classifieds listings of items or services available in the area. EBay also employs augmented reality in its fashion app that uses the camera on a smartphone to enable shoppers to visualize themselves in articles of clothing or sunglasses.

And fashion retailer H&M launched this fall an augmented reality app that lets window shoppers try clothes on, virtually speaking, and receive a special offer. Shoppers who had downloaded an app from technology provider GoldRun that combines augmented reality and GPS technologies could snap a picture of virtual articles of clothing—computer-displayed imagery—in the window displays of one of H&M’s stores and instantly receive a 10% discount on any H&M purchase. A shopper also could see how she would look in an article of clothing by integrating it with a picture of herself, then post her photos to her Facebook page to share a look with friends.

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