It’s hard to remember which year was supposed to be the year of virtual reality. Seriously, forget 2014 or 2015, I tend to recall promises 20 years ago that 1995 was going to be the year we got all Tron in our living rooms.
Meanwhile, this whole other platform was slowly bubbling away and kinda blew VR out of the water last year.
The release of Pokémon Go! (I promise, that’s the last time you’ll read those two words in this piece) last year announced to the world that augmented reality was perhaps the platform that we really needed to be paying attention to.
While I’m not for a second suggesting that AR will win the ‘war’ against VR – in fact, I’d be shocked if any kind of conflict eventuates, they seem like perfect bedfellows – the former came slamming into the mainstream last year, while top-of-the-line VR continues to be largely the plaything of either hardcore, dedicated gamers and tech heads.
It’ll get there eventually, but AR is here now!
OH SNAP, FACEBOOK!
If you needed any more evidence that AR is the platform of the immediate future, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed it on April 18.
Facebook fired a serious shot over the bow of their competitors at F8 2017, when it announced its Camera Effects Platform, “a suite of creative tools to give our community of artists and developers the power to create a full spectrum of effects for the new Facebook camera”.
Sure, Zuck also announced improvements to the company’s VR offerings by way of launching Facebook Spaces in beta for Oculus Rift, but the big story Facebook was pushing was its new AR offering.
And guess who decided that April 18 – AKA day one of FB 2017 – would be the perfect time to announce its new offering? Yeah, that’d be Snapchat, the pioneers of social AR.
Snap’s announcement was that it had added a whole new way to use Lenses – a 3D effect:
“While Snapping with the rear-facing camera, simply tap the camera screen to find new lenses that can paint the world around you with new 3D experiences!”
It’s not exactly ground-breaking technology (well, not in 2017), but live 3D wasn’t on the list of capabilities for Facebook’s Camera Effects Platform.
It was a subtle reminder to social media users the world over that Snap was here first, and are therefore somewhat ahead of Facebook (although Zuckerberg himself reminded his audience of that, admitting his company had been “a little slow” on the uptake of AR).
ARE THERE OTHER PLAYERS?
While subtle, it was important that Snapchat steal a little spotlight on Facebook’s big day, according to the vice president of research and strategy and head of VR/AR strategy at SuperData Research, Stephanie Llamas.
While hardly short of a buck, Snap does not have the financial clout of Facebook, Apple or Google (the latter two who are expected to get in on this space very soon – although Google actually had a hand in, ah, ‘the game that shall not be named’), so they are setting about defending their patch.
“That’s something Snapchat has needed to overcome and is trying to do that by building a really robust AR mechanism that surpasses what’s out there and what Facebook premiered,” Llamas told USA Today.
“It’s quite a few steps ahead of its competition and by beating Facebook to the punch… it really showed they have the most to offer right now.”
So, at this stage, Snap are leading the race, but Facebook is in hot pursuit, and the other two tech titans will burst out of the blocks when they decide to join in for real.
WHAT’S AT STAKE FOR MARKETERS?
The exciting part is that while AR may have made a bigger splash at this stage than VR, it’s still very much a technology that’s in its infancy.
Its potential is basically unlimited – the possibilities are as broad and unpredictable as any infant tech. But, if Zuckerberg wants to get his fingers in the pie, the marketing opportunities are going to be there.
Sure, people have made missteps before. Google famously stuffed up its first attempt at AR, with Google Glass taking a lonely walk into the forest to die quietly, but Facebook’s dogged attempt to get on level-pegging with Snapchat is costing it plenty of money, and that means they see the potential for this to be a big earner.
And in an interview with The New York Times, the social media mogul revealed how he sees that happening:
“Just like Apple built the iPod and iTunes ecosystem before the iPhone, you want to make sure there’s a set of content there, even if there’s not everything.”
A whole new ‘AR store’ offers as many opportunities as the App Store and Google Play have in the past decade. So, potentially a whole new platform for advertising to not just exist, but be measured on – and in a uniquely personal way for the user.
But the thing that’s absolutely worth remembering is that the thing which makes great AR is that it is in a symbiotic relationship with the real world. What’s around you and what’s in your phone should complement one another.
And that will be the grand challenge for building great creative – ensuring that any ads you put into an AR platform don’t stick out like a sore thumb, but make people want to engage given the environment in which it’s presented.