Although getting catalogs in the mail tends to veer more toward hated than celebrated in this era of household waste hyper-vigilantism (just don’t tell my mother and the Oriental Trading Company), receiving the IKEA catalog is still a relatively big to-do; a once-a-year event that a Facebook friend of mine recently likened to being like “Christmas Day, rainbows, and cotton candy all wrapped in one.”

But seriously, judging by the way some folks react to the arrival of the IKEA catalog, you’d think that the ghost of Ed McMahon was standing on their front porch with an oversized check or something.

Printed on chlorine-free paper sourced from 10 to 15 percent post-consumer waste and believed to be more widely distributed than the Bible, the 2014 version of the IKEA catalog — theme: "All Moments Count" — contains a new app-based function that allows slavishly devoted adherents of the Swedish flat-pack furniture pioneer to try out chairs, sofas, and book-killing shelving units for size (and shape and color) without making the grueling 40-mile trek to the nearest IKEA store, subjecting themselves to the abject horror that is IKEA on a weekend afternoon and actually purchasing anything.

That’s right, thanks to augmented reality — digital technology that blends the virtual with the real a la Google Glass — you can plan ahead and view what specific IKEA items look like in your very own home while (hopefully) avoiding any rash and regrettable purchases.

Although the garden gnome-hating retailer first introduced augmented reality in its 2013 catalog, this year’s catalog is the first to enable shoppers to preview furniture in their own home from their own home using a smartphone or tablet. All that’s missing is $1 froyo, the smell of fear, and the tormented shrieks of children trapped within the primary-colored confines of Småland.

Wired does a succinct and non-confusing job at explaining how augmented reality plays into perusing KARLSTADs from a print catalog:

The way it works is this: Customers flip through the print catalog, and when they come across a plus symbol on a page, they hover their phone or tablet over it until a screen pops up asking them to scan the images on the page. At that point users will see the bonus features, which could be a 360-degree view of a room, videos, additional product information, or the option to place a piece of furniture in their room. There are only around 100 products available for the 3-D augmented reality option, which in the grand scheme of a 300-plus page catalog doesn’t amount to much. But the furniture that was chosen — generally larger centerpieces like sofas and chairs — make a lot of sense as the primary options. When customers find the piece they’d like to test out, they place the physical catalog in the spot where they envision their new love seat, and the device’s camera uses the book as both an anchor and a way to gauge the correct scale for the products shown on screen.

In a nutshell, the free app for iOS or Android superimposes the virtual (3-D images of furniture) onto the real (a room in your home) all in the name of preventing misguided purchases. According to research carried out by the retailer, a whopping 70 percent of shoppers, many suffering from "Square peg, round hole syndrome," are oblivious to the actual dimensions of rooms in their homes while 14 percent of shoppers have purchased ill-sized furniture as a result.

Elaborates Peter Wright, marketing manager for IKEA UK and Ireland, in a recent press release:

When our designers and interiors experts started to think about how we could use augmented reality to help our customers, we felt that we could solve some of the very real problems they face. Our customers want to be able to test out whether the products they've been inspired by in our catalogue will work in their own homes — particularly when it comes to larger pieces of furniture. Offering a way of using mobile technology to enable to test products means the technology has a practical purpose and really helps customers visualise the way their homes could look. It means they can bring the Ikea catalogue into their own homes from the comfort of the very sofa they’re planning to replace.

In addition to convenience, the app also presents some environmental perks as it would ideally eliminate the wasted resources associated with the returning and reselling of unwanted furniture.

Do you think you'll give the 2014 IKEA catalog's AR function a spin when it's officially rolled out on Aug. 25? Or do you trust your interior design instincts enough to forgo a virtual preview of what a $350 chaise might look like in the corner of your living room?

Via [Wired]

More IKEA goodness on MNN:

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

IKEA aims to eliminate buyer's remorse with nifty augmented reality app
For its 2014 catalog, IKEA introduces an augmented reality function that enables shoppers to outfit their homes with digital imagery of furniture.