Now that the holiday season has officially kicked off, Office Depot has updated its popular Elf Yourself app with a few new augmented reality options.
But you'd be excused if you weren't overly thrilled with the implementation.
For those who are unfamiliar with the app, Elf Yourself takes photos of you, your friends, your family, or your pets and superimposes them on animations of dancing elves. You get a couple of scenes for free, but additional animations are available via in-app purchases of $0.99 each, or $5.99 to unlock them all. There are also Hanukkah options for seekers of Jewish holiday merriment.
This season, two of the premium dance animations come with an AR mode, which basically cuts the background out of the animation and replaces it with the camera view of your surroundings. Using built-in screen recording features, you can record the dance, then download the video or share it via Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, though the app inserts a bit of brand messaging into it. Aside from the AR features, you can also snap a photo of the creation and print it on a holiday card at Office Depot.
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"Our passion has always been rooted in finding new ways for people to unleash their inner elf, and this year we are able to kick this up to a whole new level due to our new AR capabilities," said Natalie Malaszenko, vice president of digital and B2B marketing for Office Depot, in a statement.
"You can really get creative—now that you can use any background you capture on your phone, the possibilities are endless. We can't wait to see what #ElfYourself creations people will come up with this holiday season."
However, compared to all of the AR apps we've seen over recent months since ARKit hit the streets, plus the camera effects offered by Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram, the Office Depot AR experience is considerably second-rate and, frankly, pretty cheesy. When you can pan around the content and see it for its two-dimensional fakeness... it kind of defeats the purpose of AR.
For the iOS version, the app utilizes ARKit on compatible devices to place the animation in your physical environment. With the Android version of the app, devices running Nougat (version 7.0) and above also have AR capabilities in the app, but instead of detecting the surface, the app asks users to manually mark where the surface lies. (The gif below comes from the Android version, whereas the previous images come from the preview feature in the iOS edition.)
Office Depot gets credit for recognizing a technology trend and trying to capitalize on it. And at $0.99 a piece, it's not a huge investment if you want to use AR to send holiday video greetings to others. But when Snapchat and Facebook are already offering more robust options without need of any in-app purchases, I'm not sure this kind of slapdash AR implementation is enough to justify the cost.