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Investors tend to have a good vantage point of emerging markets. Through requisite diligence, they see a lot. And there’s probably no one better at detecting trends and success factors for early-stage AR innovation than Super Ventures partner and “man from the future” Tom Emrich.
In a recent fireside chat during Cambridge House International’s Extraordinary Future event (video below), Emrich asserted that an underlying investment thesis is AR’s fundamental ability to unlock computing’s erstwhile-limited potential. And it will do that by giving computers senses.
“Previous waves are akin to a blindfolded super brain in a jar,” said Emrich. “Augmented reality is going to break that jar and allow us to take the blindfold off that super brain, so now that computer has its own senses. It can see, hear, feel. It can understand the world around it.”
Drilling down, there are success factors Emrich uses to evaluate AR companies — the same factors that define Super Ventures’ investment thesis. One example is the AR cloud principle of indexing the world a la 6D.ai, aligned with our favorite analogy of Google’s search index.
“It’s allowing computers to scan, track, and recognize objects, environments and people,” he said. “The same way Google indexes the Web, the initiative to index the real world is for it to become the fabric which developers and creators used to create AR experiences.”
This of course leads to spatial mapping and meshes that enable key AR features like object persistence and occlusion. These get us closer to compelling and realistic AR that attracts mainstream interest. Building on that, a key factor for Emrich is world building, like MMOs.
“Once you have this index and the fabric, then you need to be able to create platforms, tools and applications that enable developers and creators to create experiences and optimize them and monetize them,” he said. “So that’s another lucrative opportunity right now.”
Another key principle that underlies Emrich’s view of AR opportunities is enabling-tech and building-block technologies. Developers, enterprises and brands will all find unique applications for AR, but first we need to fill in all the holes in terms of the underlying functionality.
“AR, like AI and blockchain, are all fundamental layers organizations need to build upon to create consumer experiences and further productivity and efficiency in the enterprise,” he said. “There [are] specific blocks and bricks that need to be laid down in order for us to all get there.”
3D asset creation is one example of enabling technologies, as it unlocks areas like AR product visualization. Shopify’s recent Quick Look integration has that “democratizing” effect. IKEA and BMW have also developed their own 3D product libraries, but what about everyone else?
“The larger players like Wayfair and IKEA have their own means and methods that they’ve created in-house, because there’s nothing out there that’s scalable and affordable and easy,” said Emrich. “These are the types of startup opportunities that, as an investor, I’m looking at.”
Beyond areas of applicability, success factors also involve execution. That means development chops and native thinking. The latter boils down to thinking “AR first,” to build things that are truly additive with AR, instead of a novelty. And form-factor realities persist, like session lengths.
“It’s about looking at developers and startups that are really thinking outside the box on how to leverage augmented reality as a main feature within an application,” Emrich said, “Understanding the nuances of a smartphone, meaning that it’s much more of a snackable device.”
Lastly, what will AR’s eagerly-awaited killer app be (some argue it’s already arrived)? Emrich believes it will be somewhere at the intersection of the above “democratization” principle, and communications/social. We agree, given the network effect and viral growth that can result.
“Most likely it will be the furthering of communication and social, and right now on mobile it’s the democratization of special effects,” he said. “It’s happened already with Snapchat and Facebook. If you’ve ever turned yourself into a dog, you know what I’m talking about.”
See the full interview below, including a range of topics from Emrich such as enterprise opportunities, gaps in the value chain and other building blocks.
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Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.