Apple Goes Glass

(Originally posted on 12/3/2017)

Executive Summary:

  • Apple acquires Vrvana as part of plan to launch AR headset by 2020
  • AR finding utility in mobile but real value is through mass headset adoption
  • Apple product design track record signals mass adoption of AR headset (& underlying value) more likely

What it Means:

Mass AR adoption impact on media:

  1. Engaging content available everywhere (3D hologram content standalone or triggered by QR code)
  2. New frontiers for ads (3D hologram ads, real-life ad blockers)
  3. AR as video content user interface (OS owner becomes gatekeeper)

Apple Buys into Glass

Apple acquires augmented reality headset startup Vrvana for $30M (TechCrunch). The acquisition positions Apple one step closer to its goal of shipping AR headsets by 2020 (Bloomberg).

It’s not the first time we’ve been promised AR headsets and prospect of mass AR adoption seemed doomed once Google gave up on Glass (NewDaily).

However, the success of Pokemon Go proved the potential of AR on mobile devices and just this year, both Apple and Google have launched AR developer kits (TechCrunch). Even Amazon has released software tools to help developers more easily build virtual reality and augmented reality apps (Fortune).

The first round of mobile AR apps start to explore the possibilities of AR-enabled software, outside of gaming:

  • WallaMe: Leave an Augmented Reality message on the wall, or somewhere in a real place, that can be seen only by those you want
  • INKHUNTER: Try on virtual tattoos with AR before it’s inked forever (for your next one AV 😉
  • Amikasa: Use augmented reality to see how furniture really looks in your room before you buy
  • Yelp Monocle: Display AR markers for nearby restaurants, bars, and other businesses in real time, each bundled with the service’s user-generated ratings and reviews

These apps are cool but AR’s potential to become an important future technology depends on the availability of a headset that people actually want to wear. Apple is the master of creating software integrated hardware products that we can’t live without (Quartz). Their commitment to bring their craftsmanship to a headset signals the potential for AR becoming a big deal.

What This Means for Media Companies:

If Apple, or someone else, is successful in making AR headsets cool, the impact on media consumption could be huge:

1. More engaging content that can be even more present, and frictionlessly accessible, than on mobile

Use cases:

  • Video content displayed as a 3D holograph regardless of location
    • The video below shows an AR children’s story but imagine the possibilities of the types of content that could fit the format:
  • A QR code displayed on a television screen, while watching a show, could trigger your AR headset to display 3D hologramed content in your living room (a viewer can feel like they’re on set of their favorite talk show)
    • Similarly, front row seats to live events (concerts, sports games, et al.) become virtually available to all
  • Print media becomes interactive – a QR code in a magazine can display a dynamic 3D hologram…

One clear result is less viewer attention left available for traditional, non-AR content.

2. New frontiers (and challenges) for advertising

Use cases:

  • Snapchat has shown the potential for turning a selfie into branded content

Image result for snapchat branded content filter

  • A QR code in a commercial triggering a life-size 3D hologram display of the product being advertised (an actual size Lexus in your living room)
    • One step further, an advertisement for a retailer could trigger the holographic display of a complete virtual store in which viewers can purchase items directly
  • Say you’re walking around a city with an AR headset on…contextually relevant, personalized ads could be displayed on virtually boundless city scenery inventory
    • Or, a premium AR service could block the view of real-world billboard advertisements and replace them with pleasant landscape images
    • The ethical implications of these use cases are explored by NewCo here

3. AR could become a primary user interface to access video content

This video shows the utilization of AR to control machines. Imagine using this type of interface to control your television.

The implications of this potential are significant because it would place AR as the gatekeeper between viewers content. Meaning the AR interface could:

  • Influence viewer content decisions
  • Collect vast data on viewer behavior and preferences

This HBR quote sums up what we can expect, and only begin to imagine, from AR’s future role in communication:

AR complements existing print and 2-D digital communication approaches and in some cases can replace them altogether. Yet we see AR as much more than just another communication channel. It is a fundamentally new means of engaging with people. Just consider the novel way it helps people absorb and act on information and instructions.
The web, which began as a way to share technical reports, ultimately transformed business, education, and social interaction. We expect that AR will do the same thing for communication—changing it in ways far beyond what we can envision today. Companies will need to think creatively about how they can use this nascent channel.

In my opinion, Big Tech’s focus on AR and specifically Apple’s headset acquisition lays the groundwork for a technology that could have a huge impact on the media industry. If media companies want to be first movers in exploring an innovative technology, AR could offer a generationally favorable risk/reward opportunity.

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