Looking at AR Through Rose-Coloured Google Glasses
Ever since Google Glass was deemed a misfit tech by the media and the masses in 2013, augmented reality, or AR, has been seen as the ugly stepchild of VR. Google Glass was one of the first 'wearable' technologies that demonstrated how graphics and information could be overlaid onto the real world, enhancing how we see and navigate the environment around us. The hype and fanfare surrounding 'Glass' was so intense for a product that was still in beta, it’s no surprise that the reality didn’t quite match the promise. As a result, AR itself was anchored to the failure of Glass and relegated to the dustbin of so many other tech flops.
For the past few years, VR has stolen the spotlight from AR and has dominated the conversation around new technologies for entertainment, education and marketing. In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion. In 2015 Samsung launched Gear VR and the NY Times gave away over a million Google Cardboards to their subscribers. In 2016 HTC released the Vive and VR dominated conversations at NAB, AICP, and Cannes Lions. We began to see innovative projects for journalism, entertainment, and education emerge around the platform. VR was the hot new tech that was going to define the future of media and technology. And then came Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go is a simple, freemium game app played on any common smartphone that somehow caught fire in the early summer of 2016 and hit over 100 million downloads within the first 2 weeks. With this almost overnight mass adoption, many saw Pokemon Go as achieving a tipping point for AR that VR has yet to even come close. AR was suddenly thrust back into the spotlight with marketers wondering if AR is in fact the future and VR the nascent, confounding tech still years away from tipping point adoption.
A tipping point, according to Malcolm Gladwell in his famous book of the same name, is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” It’s the point when something reaches such mass adoption or awareness that it becomes mainstream. Pokemon Go may have in fact pushed AR to that point, but we know for sure VR has yet to reach that point. So what does this mean for marketers looking for the next big thing? AR technology can be simpler than VR and requires only a smartphone and an AR app. The installed base of smartphones is universal and the limitless applications of augmenting the real world are, well limitless.
So as brand marketers continue to struggle with how they can harness VR as an advertising and marketing medium, Pokemon Go has opened up a door for marketers into AR. Small businesses, especially retailers, immediately saw the opportunity with Pokemon Go to sponsor Pokestops to lure game players to their locations. Marriott sponsored one player’s quest to travel the world, stay at Marriotts along the way, and catch all the Pokemon around the globe. Other big brands such as McDonald’s, ZipCar, and Stonyfield yogurt have all found creative ways to harness the AR game to promote their brands in fun, innovative ways.
So in some ways we’ve come full circle. Google developed 'Glass' and was lambasted for its missed opportunity. But it also spawned Niantic, the developer behind Pokemon Go. And even though Google has been promoting VR via Cardboard, its investment in AR tech may in fact be the catalyst that puts the power of AR in marketer’s hands and leads the way towards this exciting new future.
Sean Grace is director of sales at Nice Shoes and host of The Storyboard podcast