Always-on AR

In the latest in our series of predictions pieces running between Christmas and the New Year, Max Dawes, marketing and partnerships director at Zappar, looks at what’s in store in the world of augmented reality in 2019. 

2018 has been a big year for the world of AR. Here are the key trends we expect to see playing out in 2019.

The advancement of mobile-web AR
We expect to hear a lot about this in the coming year. We’re entering an interesting phase where native apps generally will become the preserve of services and utilities that genuinely add value to a user’s life (your banking app, retailer loyalty app, music subscription service etc.) as well as games. For everyone else, there’s the mobile web.

For Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands who are interested in what AR has to offer, but can’t command an app of their own, they have often been left to make a choice between social media apps that can support AR to reach their audiences through an app users already have on their devices. These social apps offer scale, but don’t necessarily meet the strategic needs of brands or indeed deliver the content and contextual relevance to their end users when it comes to AR. The choice of a social media platform also ties the brand to one specific tribe which may well age much younger than their core target consumer.

Enabling rich mobile AR experiences to be delivered directly on a mobile web page will give businesses much more control over the distribution and marketing of their content, whilst still being instantly available for users to experience without the requirement for an app download. 

FMCG brands needing to tell their stories better and more memorably
Getting creative with connected packaging is just the first step. FMCG brands are now needing to tell their stories and add value. This comes in the face of the “un-branding” of the consumer world through (for example) Amazon Prime customers, and other data-and-voice-integrated retail giants, encouraging consumers to ‘buy the product’, not the brand. This doesn’t provide the same value as creating a memorable experience that leaves an impression on the potential customer, and goes the extra mile to share the brand, which ultimately sets it apart.

The Development of Consumer MR
The hype around consumer Mixed Reality has come up against a hard dose of reality now that Magic Leap has released its first developer-focussed hardware to somewhat mixed reviews. For me, this demonstrates the gap between lofty ambition, which is to be admired, and the current limitations of available technology, which is where the rubber hits the road. Now you have to start somewhere and it’s great to see both Microsoft and Magic Leap helping develop this new market, which is fantastic for everyone (us included).

We believe immersive Mixed Reality experiences offer enormous potential for both education and business alike, but the consumer proposition is just not there yet, given the price-point of dedicated hardware devices. Of course, we think ZapBox is a perfect solution to bridge this gap and manage expectations given its $30 price point (“Magic Leap, Magic Cheap” as we affectionately refer to it internally!). We have some exciting announcements in the year ahead in this space and look forward to the next generation of hardware in the sector.

AR becoming an always-on communication channel
The widespread embrace of AR could very well lead us to a shift from single-instance marketing campaigns, and more toward a consistent communication channel that drives a direct dialogue with end users that are contextually relevant. As AR specialists and enthusiasts in the growing “experience economy,” we have a serious opportunity to create lasting experiences that go beyond one-off AR campaigns. Before we know it, we could be part a world of permanent digital discovery driven by daily information and utility – not just transient moments of surprise and delight. 

All of this being said, I don’t really see myself as a futurologist. I leave that to the guys on the conference circuit and sci-fi writers. I’m also a great exponent of trying to help businesses live in the present and take advantage of technological advancements that are here today and ready to deploy at scale. The reality is that most businesses can only adopt technology at scale that are already 3-5 years old as it propagates through their tanker-like structures.

What does seem inevitable is that the era of spatial computing and story-telling is here to stay. In an increasing age of information and experience, we expect more of the services, products and packaging around us, driven by our growing distrust of government and corporations in general. When I interact with a product, I expect it to give me more information on its inherent makeup, provenance, social and environmental impact, and instructions for use than would ever fit on its physical footprint. So the question is: ‘What is the cost as a brand owner of not enabling your products, packaging and print to connect seamlessly to your users on the devices they care most about in their lives?’

The areas of computer science devoted to AR, ML and AI will help deliver this new age of assistance and it will happen in the next five years. The great news is business can get a head-start on the competition by exploring what is possible in AR right now, and set themselves up to be well-placed for the future. Bring on 2019…