AR industry news - June 2020
It seems like there is a major announcement on AR tech from one of the big players almost daily at the moment and they all support the Darabase cause, making our unique solutions even more critical, especially as 72% of people are not prepared to pay for an app. If that’s the case then advertising has to continue to play a vital role in apps alongside in-app purchases and location-based AR will be no different.
WWDC the Apple developer conference took place recently and there were clear signals shaping what we can expect. The big operating system announcements iOS 14 for mobile and MacOS 11 “Big Sur” are now unifying Apple user interfaces across the range of desktop, mobile and wearable devices and all are designed to suit an Apple Glass interface.
AR Kit 4 (yes 4, that’s how far along we are) had a huge announcement relatively hidden in it. There is now a fully featured AR Cloud with permanent geo-anchors for AR content available for developers in 5 US cities with many more promised over the summer. This is huge news as it’s an underlying technology which is now available to the full breadth of the developer community. An overview and more detail can be found in this video and we are in conversation with the Product Manager at Apple, Cupertino about partnership opportunities. Apple Maps was rebuilt from the ground up for just this purpose.
Spatial audio is now also available in both AR Kit 4 and AirPod Pro hardware. This means 3D sound can be added on the move to AR experiences and is just another way Apple is using its wearable strategy to condition users for the next phase and key updates to Siri are also enabling a handsfree future.
Apple Glasses rumours (dates, times prices etc.) have been deepening against this backdrop and while no new timelines are established, we do see form factor and control type indicators coming out as well as patents. Apple is also hiring the lion’s share of very skilled staff from Magic Leap to accelerate development in hardware and software. It could also be that the “killer app” for adoption is… wait for it… correcting your vision! Yes, really. However instead of using carefully made lenses they will use computer algorithms. Obviously! This fixes a potentially major stumbling block for adoption of the wearables and reverses into an actual reason to buy.
Apparently Apple has a 10 year lead in wearables according to a leading analyst. Remember Apple isn’t doing this for fun. The wearable part of the business is already a Fortune 150 size business by revenue and the fastest growing part of Apple. The “ecosystem” play including Glasses, which may eventually replace iPhone, in the meantime massively extends its shelf life as users are conditioned to new wearables, interfaces and functionality based on a popular and familiar device.
Google has had an AR Cloud called “VPS” for some time. It powers AR wayfinding in Google Maps and has huge coverage as it works based on Steetmap imagery. Genuinely world scale. It also has geolocated cloud anchors for AR content too, but it’s all still in private Beta. The Apple announcements may accelerate public release as it has with their Depth API. Apple announced this feature in AR Kit 4 and two days later Google’s was public too. When these are both live, the whole app ecosystem is served globally and who knows maybe Google will offer it in the Web too as it does for the rest of the Maps platform. This would open up WebAR for global scale outdoor AR in addition to apps.
To quote one analyst, Google is “making the world clickable”. They are building an internet of places so they can paint the world with data; physical world indexing, “the incumbent Internet organizer, needs to cover the physical world itself if it is to own the search of the future". A powerful thought indeed.
And as part of that strategy perhaps they clearly think a new version of AR glasses fits with how they will drive adoption of visual search in addition to using your mobile camera. As a result Google has also been in acquisitive mood purchasing North Focals for a rumoured $180m.
Snapchat, the world’s biggest AR platform, now has over 170m daily users of AR lenses and held their Partner Summit in June.
For Darabase, Local lenses (video) stood out as an announcement. It's a crowd sourced AR Cloud and builds on their Landmarkers functionality. Landmarkers, in their content creation tool Lens Studio, now carry a health warning saying that they are not be used for commercial purposes unless all rights and permissions have been cleared with the property owner. Typical platform behaviour but good for Darabase. This article on cnet is well worth a read as it’s full of “interesting” quotes and somewhat contradictory positions on permission and privacy from their EVP.
The second announcement of note beyond the scale of their monetisation of AR if that they are now developing their map interface tool for a wider range of location-based content. Not only that, but they are allowing businesses to participate in what is seen. Local visual search for content is clearly a big trend. Niantic has a similar approach.
Facebook has been the quietest of late but have made several announcements that show their continued investment in a global AR play. The first builds on the recent acquisition of Scape, a British, world-scale computer vision AR Cloud company. The second acquisition is their purchase of Swedish crowdsourced mapping company Mapiliary. They use street level imagery to fill in gaps of image coverage. They also allow you to take your own and process them to add to the cloud.
Perhaps the most tantalising is their new design for AR and VR glasses. These are much smaller, lighter and look like a biggish pair of sunglasses. A sign of the future and a build on a previous acquisition of a company building super-thin lens displays.
Niantic (Pokémon Go etc.)
Niantic have clearly been focussed on both their monetisation strategy and new content. A good overview can be found on ARInsider. They have announced that there are 10 new game titles in development on their “Real World Platform”. They have released new details on the first, another re-skin of a well-loved IP called CATAN, World Explorer.
They have also recently announced updates to their Wayfarer platform which crowd-sources Location POIs and rates them. This will inevitably result in fewer algorithm errors of judgement but may not help with wider permissions in semi-public spaces.
Small business options through the Sponsored location initiative are also being expanded as part of the monetisation strategy. Niantic CEO John Hanke characterized the move as additive to gameplay and supportive to local businesses. He went further, saying “It’s the anti-Amazon,” since it gets people walking about. Most game action is in urban areas with this initiative initially being focussed on re-fuelling game players with cafes and restaurants.