augmented reality AR

Caspar Thykier, CEO and co-founder of AR/VR/MR specialists Zappar, talks about the birth of mainstream augmented reality and the affect the changing landscape will have on both industry and consumers.

When AR started being used on mobile some seven or so years ago there were a few players making some relatively interesting content that tended to be a little self-serving for the brands that commissioned them more as a novelty or marketing innovation. Fast forward to the present day and interest has grown and the use case more considered. Brands are learning what makes compelling content (given the right context and call to action) and consumers are learning and being given more compelling reasons to naturally interact with this new spatial interface as part of their every day through genuine added-value experiences.

Pokemon Go certainly provided a PR tipping point of sorts for AR as it woke a lot of brands and businesses up to the potential appeal of this technology at a mass market level and gave consumers the right content to get excited about. But AR’s potential goes well beyond gaming.

Augmented reality technology has been technically feasible for over 50 years and commercially available on smartphones for seven, but over the next 12 months we’re going to see it catapulted into the public consciousness. A heady mix of smartphone manufacturers anxious to deliver new features in a slowing market and platforms seeing an opportunity to kick start immersive computing given the increased performance, camera quality, sensors and battery life from the hardware, and the stage is set for another disruptive wave in digital discovery.

Tech giants stepping up to the challenge

Over the past year we’ve seen some major AR unveilings from huge household names – including the Snapchat takeover, followed by Facebook’s AR Studio and ‘Camera Effects’ platform back in April and Instagram stories. Here at Zappar, we partnered with Shazam, launching the first scaled mass-market augmented reality solution for brand partners and global users.

Google’s ARCore launch last week, hot on the heels of Apple’s ARKit announcement, is more evidence of how commonplace AR is set to become as a ubiquitous feature on devices of the future.

Apple joins the AR party

A few of the concept videos of ARKit look fantastic and we can expect a big fanfare and explosion of apps come the full launch of iOS 11 later in the month. We’re excited to play with its visual odometry capabilities and see how it will sit alongside our other tracking algorithms to support and further enhance content made through our content authoring and publishing platform ZapWorks.

However, there are still some important considerations for brands and developers. ARKit offers full tracking on iPhone 6S and up, which needs consideration for certain sectors, audiences and geographies in terms of device penetration, and the SDK would need to be built into separate apps for each piece of content.

The good news is that content-wise, ARKit links up with Apple’s existing APIs for 3D scenes, along with Unity/Unreal integrations, which helps with existing workflows for many game developers. And while it’s speculation at this point, offering a simple API around inside-out tracking opens the possibility for Apple to add additional hardware to improve the quality of the visual odometry on iPhone 8.

Platform specific content

Based on the last seven years of our work, we know that in the entirety of Zappar Powered campaigns, 55% of zaps are on Android, with 45% on iOS. In Brazil for example, its 85% Android and 15% iOS, while the US is 38% Android and 62% iOS. This spans across the world in over 200 countries, and follows the pattern of average install base for devices per region.

For that reason the ARCore announcement is also welcomed to give brand owners the opportunity to create content cross-platform. But again, right now some caution is required given that ARCore only runs on Google Pixel and Samsung S8. Google intend to widen support, but it’s unlikely to be universal across Android devices, so other fallbacks (like gyroscope-only experiences) will be used in that case for other devices.

So it’s encouraging that cross-platform solutions for better, more robust, real-world tracking are on the near horizon. But it will be interesting to see how developers handle this cross-platform conundrum for content and deal with different devices. And that’s the important thing to understand about the arrival of ARKit and ARCore: they make the implementation of AR easier for developers. But it does not solve the issue of authoring and publishing compelling AR content made for the mobile occasion that tends to be short form and on-the-go. Nor does it on its own open up the opportunity for all AR applications – for instance the ability to attach contextually relevant AR content to individual product packaging at scale.

The role of AR will be more than the arbitrary placement of 3D models in the camera view or face filters for social sharing. Its ability to deliver relevant information across owned media for brands to connect with their end users provides a fundamental shift in the way a business approaches its real estate across products, packaging, POS, print, promotions and places.

The changing landscape

With the momentum gained from a host of tech giant involvement, AR as a revolutionary software interface for smartphones (and wearables of the future) just got more mainstream and will now be easier to functionally implement than ever. That’s great news for the industry.

It is certainly an exciting time, so we won’t get lost in detail – instead, we can focus on the fact that AR has come of age. In the past year, it’s been the central pillar of all the recent announcements from major platforms, operating systems and hardware manufacturers’ keynote addresses. It will undoubtedly open up a whole new category off applications, disrupt sectors once more and allow a new golden age of creativity as the world of IoT and AR collide.

Like exploration of the solar system or deep oceans, AR opens up a new and untapped landscape (between the physical world and device, in this case); a new lens or canvas overlaid on the world around us to tell new stories and deliver new information as an always-on digital discovery channel. It heralds a new and exciting era for the creative industry, developers and designers as they build the AR content, tools and experiences of tomorrow, today.