VR | AR / 02.19.2018

Eden Chen

The Future of Augmented Reality

It’s our view that augmented reality is going to be the next big platform. It’s no exaggeration to say that AR will one day replace the mobile phone.

Over the last 4 years, we’ve become experts in the augmented reality development field. It started with a development project for the then Qualcomm Vuforia in 2013. Vuforia was one of the first AR platforms and has gone on to power over 50,000 apps through it’s massive library that allows it to recognize objects. Qualcomm later spun out Vuforia. Because of this and our increasing involvement in the AR ecosystem, most recently with our selection to be a Snapchat Lens Studio Partner, we’ve sat down and come up with where we think AR is going in the next few years and beyond.

Here are some of our major AR theses. It’s our view augmented reality (AR) is going to be the next big platform. We don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that AR will one day replace the mobile phone. We think this will be a 5-10 year categorical shift. We believe that the next few years will be focused on industrial augmented reality. By “industrial” we meet headsets that support factory workers, manufacturing companies, and the like. These companies are already using AR headsets like the DaqriHolo LensODG, and Meta Vision to increase productivity and for training/education purposes. We think Snap and Facebook are uniquely positioned in the near term to take advantage of advancements in AR and that long term Apple has a major advantage in mass scale AR.

The most immediate question that I’m asked is, are we afraid of an augmented reality inundated world? Doesn’t this just create an even larger problem where technology is more and more ubiquitous? Our view is that AR actually gives the user the opportunity to engage more with the real world and that mobile actually lives in the middle of AR and VR in a lot of ways. VR is a fully immersive experience. Mobile is in a lot of ways more “immersive” than AR. We’ve all been out at dinner and seen people that are sitting across from each other, completely lost in their phones, with 0 engagement with the person next to them. In the future with an AR device this actually gives the user a more lightweight interface to interact with technology that doesn’t block the field of view.

In our view it’ll take 5-10 years before augmented reality becomes the next big platform. We believe this for several reasons. First, there is still a major gap between where computer vision is today and where it needs to be for mass scale augmented reality to be helpful. Computer vision is a much longer conversation, but the developments in computer vision open up the potential for so many new businesses. As computer vision advances, data science and computational speed will need to in parallel advance in order to take in the mass amounts of data. Computer vision opens up a completely new layer of data for the computer. Historically, computers relied on the user to input data. In the future, computer vision will allow inputs to be made automatically through camera lenses and microphones.

Secondly, AR relies primarily now on native applications and the conversion rate on getting users to download apps is low. It’s been well documented that the majority of users are now downloading 0 apps per month. There are new developments in web AR. Check out AR.JS a javascript based repo that is pushing forward web AR technologies. One annoying barrier here is still the need for the user to allow camera use every time the camera is accessed on a browser. We believe because Snap and Facebook are uniquely positioned with both the amount of native app downloads they have on devices and their own advancements in AR. Snap specifically has shown some really good use cases for mass scale AR on mobile.

Finally, devices that are being launched today still look way too futuristic and don’t blend into today’s fashion standards. Until AR devices look similar to the glasses that we wear today, it’s going to be difficult for there to be mass scale AR. We believe because of this Apple, has a huge advantage. They have hardware expertise, mass retail distribution across all their physical stores, and the cool factor with their brand and if they can leverage all of these and launch a good looking device, it’ll be very difficult for another company to compete with this kind of distribution. Apple is reportedly working on a standalone device that will be launched in 2019.

Near term, we are seeing a massive influx of demand for industrial AR and VR. This is the desire for companies to use VR for employee training, AR on the factory floor and out on the field. Industrial applications get around a lot of the current AR barriers. They have a very specific use case that doesn’t yet require advanced computer vision, they don’t need to worry about “conversion” because they have a built in audience, and they aren’t trying to make a fashion statement. HBR has a good article on how AR is improving worker performance, and GE put out a piece on how AR is helping factory workers with productivity.

These are all quick views on the future of AR and there could probably be articles written about each of these paragraphs. Overall, we’re extremely bullish on AR and we feel that if companies had known about the smart phone as early as we know about AR becoming the next big platform, they would have taken more steps to invest in the smart phone ecosystem (imagine if Microsoft didn’t miss on this). This point in time gives us the opportunity to invest in both near term and long term AR applications.