R-Wars: The AR Force Awakens

Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last year or so you’ll be all too aware of the cavalcade of VR headlines and announcements from Google, Facebook, Oculus, PlayStation, Microsoft, HTC Vive, Samsung, Merge, Magic Leap and more (and who knows what’s going on inside Apple).

Over the same period on the AR front there’s also been a fair bit of movement from the usual players with sales, acquisition and further investment rounds for Vuforia, Metaio and Blippar.

Goldman Sachs predicts that AR and VR software and hardware will be worth $80 billion, with a potential to reach $180 billion. Some experts believe that of the two, AR will hold the larger share of the market due to its accessibility in the long term. Whilst the analysts CCS Insight predict that the number of VR devices will grow from 2.2 million in 2015, and to as much as 20 million by 2018. And of the two, VR is certainly dominating the discourse right now and getting the investment community excited.

The real issue is that too often VR and AR are confused or put together simply because they share an ‘R’ when in most cases they deliver against very different occasions and need-states. If SXSW was a barometer of ‘R-Wars’ then VR is certainly the dominant force right now probably because it’s delivered in a tangible form factor that people can feel and touch and readily experience literally in front of their eyes.

AR remains a little more ethereal for many and frankly harder to deliver on the promise when most peoples’ expectations are based on Tom Cruise in Minority Report gesticulating madly and being served virtual ads in the mall.

Democratising AR

Yet Augmented Reality is already established in many industries to provide an extra layer of information onto the existing world and has a solid footing in enterprise within construction, manufacturing, aviation etc. The next phase is how it impacts consumer products, including retail, tourism, packaging, events, and publishing (most recently Google patented AR-based pop-up books) to name a few sectors. These consumer applications are where we’ve been focused on as a business for the last five years with great success.

Our mission at Zappar has always been about democratising AR: making it relevant and valued by business and end users. Our focus is on delivering the best bite-sized infotainment experiences: snackable short-form content that’s truly engaging. These experiences are the digital fortune cookie of the mobile age, if you will, unlocking hidden content to surprise and delight users; from products, packaging, POS, print and promotions.

These AR experiences play a vastly different role to VR in connecting the offline world to online as a gateway to other experiences – a social share, competition, promotion, or sale direct from your device, whilst also allowing for real time data analytics with content updatable on the fly. In short, our goal with Augmented Reality is to make everything into a multimedia portal to serve relevant content adding a valued layer to the world around us.

Solving problems and creating revenue

What’s really exciting is seeing how this approach can be applied to different industries and sectors to solve business problems and create new revenue streams. From app-tivating toys for Hasbro with Transformers, My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop, to turning a dumb receipt into a shopper loyalty program with Engen. Used correctly, augmented reality opens up a new way to give every individual product its own unique digital footprint and story to be told: An Internet of Everything.

Better still is how different brands and business have approached the technology and come up with their own use cases through our self-serve platform.

It’s great to see VR gaining such momentum and there were some fantastic applications on show at SXSW. But I wouldn’t overlook the power of AR today to deliver a different experience to enthral and engage users.

Let’s not forget that smartphones are already in the pockets of 35 million Brits, and by 2017 a third of the world’s population will own smartphones with over 1bn units shipped a year. Increased penetration and price wars have meant that smartphone sales are slowing and differentiation in the market between devices has become paper-thin. It would appear that the next wave of devices are gearing up for depth cameras which creates the ideal opportunity for further developments in augmented reality.

And when I look at some of the things that we’re beginning to do in the Zappar Labs, pushing Google Cardboard with our Zappar platform for AR experiences I see an even brighter future and new level of application. Watch out for more announcements on that front in the summer.

By Caspar Thykier, CEO and Co-founder of Zappar