Adam Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of Edgybees, considers what the rise, fall and resurrection of Blippar means for the future of AR.
Blippar’s collapse in December 2018 marked the capstone to a year replete with shifts and shutdowns in the AR space. Buyers acquired 31 AR-focused startups last year, according to Crunchbase. But in light of Blippar’s rapid resurrection, it’s not so much the past as the future that’s sparking the most buzz.
Among the biggest questions to emerge from Blippar’s eyebrow-raising revival in January: Is the consumer play enough for an AR company to succeed in 2019? As recently as December, the very question seemed unnecessary. Blippar’s burnout underscored that a consumer-driven AR company, created for the sole purpose of mobile entertainment, might well be dubbed a unicorn, but would struggle for longevity, in the absence of real solutions that serve a larger social or economic purpose, whether that be rectifying basic inefficiencies or alleviating human suffering.
This hardly counts as breaking news. Other consumer-focused AR companies, including Dreambit, have encountered the same headwinds that seemed to have swept Blippar away. Facebook’s acquisition of Dreambit illustrated the shift from pure consumer plays to commercial applications. Tech giants like Facebook know that AR’s true value lies in the commercial space – whether it’s applied to advertising, defence, manufacturing, or any of the countless other industries looking to capitalize on the technology.
This trend is perhaps most salient in healthcare, where AR’s literally lifesaving benefits are being brought to bear. A growing number of AR-driven healthtech companies have burst onto the scene in recent years, enabling doctors and patients to simulate organ functions, aiding the cognitive development and training of children with autism, and modelling tumours. Notably, some of the most prevalent AR solutions were initially purely consumer-oriented, including Google Glass, which largely flopped as a consumer product but has gained popularity among doctors as a means of generating real-time, accurate medical records, allowing for higher-quality doctor-patient interactions.
Given more and more companies’ pivot to enterprise solutions – and coming on the heels of Blippar’s widely-publicized collapse – many observers were some combination of surprised, impressed, and confused when Candy Venture breathed new life into the company in January, acquiring its IP assets and announcing plans for a new and improved Blippar. The big new idea? An AR platform targeting, in Candy Ventures’ words, “everybody.” Unfazed by its very recent history, Blippar seems set to go all in on B2C.
Sticking to a consumer-focused strategy is a dubious gamble in the current climate, with much more money being funnelled into commercial use. According to a research report from Markets and Markets, the global AR market is slated to reach $61.4bn (£47.4bn) by 2023. If recent deals and strategic pivots are any indication, the vast bulk of that money will be directed to solutions geared toward improving organizations’ operations, generating new efficiencies, and promoting public welfare.
Take the $480m contract which the US Army recently awarded to Microsoft for the use of the company’s HoloLens AR headsets. The big money is going toward use cases designed to equip entities with what Microsoft calls “more and better information to make decisions.”
Across industries, end users are sending clear signals that they crave AR solutions. But for AR companies, staying within the comfort zone of gaming consoles and B2C models will ultimately only create problems. To unlock the technology’s transformative potential, AR companies should realize that doing well for themselves begins with doing well for others, be they clinician, military generals or marketing chiefs.