Ikea just removed my dog. Well, I think I got my dog off with the help of Ikea.
My 75-pound Golden Retriever lies in shame near my front door. My kids play Switch on our leather sofa. A shoe cabinet—a piece of furniture I don’t really like, but has proven indispensable to my family’s clutter—sits in the background, quietly judging the scene.
And then, with a single tap, they all disappear, leaving me with the same empty room I had when I first bought the house. I just scanned my living room with Ikea’s updated app, which relaunched today (with a similar experience on the web). The removal of my family is of course an unsettling sensation, but it leaves plenty of room for my imagination. As I drag new Ikea furniture into the space – positioned via augmented reality – I must admit, it’s a really useful way to redecorate a room without all the weight of previous decisions!
Most app updates are forgettable. But Ikea is powered by a new AI feature called IKEA Creative, which promises to free up any room in your home, making boxes, planters, and furniture disappear so you can create one without relying on your imagination. Create a picture-perfect room.
The process of getting here was not instant. First, I had to take multiple photos of the space, aligning the edges of the different sides, as if stitching together a panoramic image. The app then asked me to wave my camera into a weird figure eight—and a bigger figure eight—and then move a few steps to my right to do it again. With every request Ikea made, I definitely lost a little bit of faith that this would even work. And once I was done, I still had to wait another 10 minutes for processing.
But when that trouble is over, I’ll admit that Ikea did a great job on its promise. Within the editor of the app, I saw all the items mentioned in my room. I could tap any individual piece of furniture (or intelligent dog) to remove it. Then, a few more taps led me to the introduction of Ikea’s digital catalog of sofas, dressers, end tables, and more. All of these objects are rendered in 3D, allowing you to drag thousands of Ikea products directly into your room where they are automatically resized with the proper perspective.
The scenes are not perfect. Clothes in particular appear with a digital glow to understand how colors will look individually. My existing rug melted into my wood floor instead of disappearing. But as soon as I dragged several new sections into place, I was immediately struck by their scale. Then a few minutes later, I successfully proved that a desk could fit in a kitchen nook—no tape measure required.
“People often buy” [furniture] without context and rely on their imagination,” Thomas Fenrich, VP, Digital Products, Ikea Group US, said via email. “In fact, 87% of our customers say they want to feel good about their home, but only half of them know how to do that.”
As Fenrik explains, Ikea wants to provide consumers with a visual experience similar to shopping in an Ikea store, but without leaving home. To accomplish this, Ikea has been pursuing such AR technology for some time – since 2017 when it launched its Ikea Place app. The location was impressive for its time, but it was still more of a tech demo than anything, testing how a person could place digital objects in their place. You can’t really buy any Ikea furniture on it.
As the company began consolidating its digital products a few years ago, Place’s technology was incorporated into the main Ikea app. In 2020, Ikea parent company, Ingka Investments, acquired Silicon Valley AI startup Geomagical Labs to improve its core AR technologies. As a direct result of this acquisition, you can now erase a dresser in your Ikea app, but still have a clean wall instead of a black hole when it’s gone. (The AI is clever enough not only to look at walls, floors and lighting, but to actually use that information to create new floors and walls where furniture would otherwise stand, creating the illusion of empty space. ) In the future, Ikea says the app will be able to help us update wall colors, mount things on walls and ceilings, and even collaborate with others on designs.
When I ask Fenrik how the new app might affect Ikea’s bottom line—will it eliminate some of the returns if people have a better idea of what a couch looks like at their place before buying it? ? — He brushed off the question, insisting it would make Ikea “more affordable, accessible, and truly sustainable.”
In any case, Ikea’s new app is an impressive system, especially since when you put in all the new furniture and accessories, you can add these items to the app itself at checkout. In the past, Ikea’s visualization tools were stripped of its shopping carts. Now, the company is blurring the lines between inspiring a purchase and creating one.