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All Things Augmented Reality

Why AR Didn't Take Off In 2018 But Will Break Barriers In 2019

Jon Cheney | March 19, 2019

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There is a time in every new industry when technology crosses a threshold. This threshold is the difference between experimental and mainstream budgets. It's the time when dozens of startups break out and start becoming major players. Once a technology passes this threshold, things begin to accelerate and exciting things happen.

For augmented reality, this has been a long time coming. Augmented reality is quite a large industry, and in reality, AR has been around for decades. The last few years, however, things have been progressing at light speed. Many companies can be thanked for this, but two have stood out--Apple and Google. These two tech leaders control the most ubiquitous visualization devices in the world through their operating systems--iOS and Android.

Before we dive in, let's talk about virtual reality for a moment. Many people thought that VR was a world-changing technology 5 years ago and billions of dollars of investment were poured into it. However, there were two extremely large barriers to overcome--cost of content production and hardware penetration. VR content vr picturecreation is still very expensive, and for that reason, there is relatively little content available today. It is certainly doing better than it was 5 years ago, but there is still a long, steep path to getting VR in the hands of your average consumer. How many people do you know (that isn't in the XR industry) that have a VR headset in their home? If they do have it, how many times have you used it with them? If you have a headset, how often do you use it? Magic Leap, Oculus, Hololens, and many other companies are working hard to create a device that more people will use, that is inexpensive enough to be purchased by everyone, and to ensure that there is enough content to keep people entertained longterm.

Back to AR. We are in a whole new world now due to a variety of factors. Let's take the two issues above--first, hardware penetration. Virtually everybody in the world has a smartphone (I know there are plenty of developing countries where this may not be the case, but the majority of the world is there). With the advancements from Apple and Google in AR technology and toolkits, these phones are now capable of pretty amazing AR experiences. Hardware penetration--check.

Seek has been building these experiences for years, and so we very intimately know what companies/brands have been willing to pay for AR content. Until recently, this has ranged from $1M+ for very intricate content to $50k for relatively basic but still powerful AR projects. These costs are still fairly significant for most companies, so there had to be something else to enter the equation.

This graph below illustrates some of what has happened. The orange line represents cost of creating or launching AR content. The blue line represents hardware penetration in the market. From well before the beginning of this graph through the release of ARKit, there was a fairly slow, but steady reduction in cost and increase in hardware availability. But then in Q2 of 2017, Apple announced ARKit. This was a toolkit that solved MANY of the major problems developers faced when creating high quality AR experiences. Apple's finely tuned solution that worked incredibly for newer iOS devices opened up an entire new generation of developers that could learn to code with the new toolkit. This did two things--it immediately increased the number of devices that could deliver high quality AR and it significantly dropped the price for content creation because the number of people that could deliver it sky-rocketed. The free market did its job and prices for creating AR apps dropped.

Cost vs Hardware Availability for AR

Google followed shortly with their release of ARCore, enabling Android devices to do the same thing. Their rollout was a bit slower, but they did some things better than Apple. Today, ARKit and ARCore are continually releasing updates that improve the overall ecosystem.

The next dramatic change on this graph is related to Apple's release of AR Quick Look last summer (2018). One of the biggest barriers that we have experienced in the AR industry has been the need to have consumers download an app to access AR content. Think about every AR experience you have seen to date. Where has it been? In the IKEA app, in Snapchat, in AR games, inside the Seek XR app, and dozens more. Apple stood up on stage in their developers conference and casually announced they web-based AR was now possible on iOS devices running iOS 12 or greater. Most people probably glossed over this, but as an AR company, we were cheering! This eliminated one of the final barriers to helping AR go mainstream.

One problem, though. Android wasn't supported. So the Seek team huddled up and developed a web-based AR solution for Android that matched the quality Apple was able to produce on iOS. We launched SeekView. Now, with a true, cross-platform, and web-based AR system, brands could feasibly launch this technology on their website. The full expanse of benefits AR brings to eCommerce can be explored in other blogs here, but increased conversion, reduced returns, higher Ballard Designs Web-Based ARconsumer confidence, more trust in products, etc. were all improvements now available directly in the customer's already-existing journey--right on the website. No more need to download an app to see if the couch you want fits in your living room. Just "tap here to view in your room," and the product is right in front of you.

The app was a major barrier to cost for most brands as well. Apps can range anywhere from $50K-1M depending on how intricate the functionality and integration was. Eliminating that cost from the equation has brought the cost of getting started with AR on your website to under $1,000. This is game-changing.

The elimination of this barrier has opened up the doors for virtually any brand to get started with augmented reality. AR for eCommerce, AR for entertainment, AR for education, and so much more is now available to anybody. With AR-enabled devices in everyone's pocket and tools available like SeekView to quickly bring this to life on a website, AR is ready to take off. 2019 is the year AR begins to go mainstream.

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