In AR’s early days when active users are still relatively low, is the industry creating additional adoption barriers (including us)? Everyday consumers often need a translator to understand acronyms and jargon from the XR world.
This came to mind when watching a recent Verizon ad (see below). Highlighting Google Lens in the new Pixel 3, it plays up the ability to identify and buy a rare set of shoes worn by one of the characters. But the kicker is that the term “AR” is never used. “Search what you see” is the line.
As background, Visual search is just one form of AR. As covered in our Google Lens review, it uses computer vision to identify items, then provides contextual overlays such as product info or where to buy. This is Google’s go-to “flavor” of AR, which manifests in Google Lens and VPS.
Visual search leads Google’s AR strategy because it could boost its core search business. We also believe it could be an AR killer app due to its potential frequency and utility. But Google has avoided acronyms like AR in its outward branding, such as the “Style Search,” feature of Lens.
But the question this raises is what AR should be called as it’s positioned more for mainstream adoption? After all, Pokemon Go is perhaps the most penetrated AR experience (albeit a primitive form of AR), as are Snapchat Lenses. Both rose to fame without saying the word “AR.”
Terminology is a necessary evil for functional communication about business strategy and product evolution within industry discussion. So that will continue to be an alphabet soup of acronyms and tech speak. But will that same terminology translate to outward-facing consumer branding?
Ironically, Apple uses AR explicitly in consumer-facing marketing (very un-Apple). That hasn’t gone so well, considering disappointing AR app libraries and usage so far. That isn’t necessarily due to branding, but we could see course correction in how AR is marketed to the masses.
Then there’s Microsoft. With an enterprise focus, it has more leeway for jargony product verbiage. But it’s arguably overstepped in co-opting language like Mixed Reality and downright misusing terms like holographic. Magic Leap also uses MR, along with spatial computing and Magicverse.
Back to Google, it uses the similar “immersive computing” to invoke the XR spectrum (ARCore notwithstanding). That’s still a bit jargony, but at least it’s plain language. As often, the terminology that sticks is what the market will bear. People know “mouse” and “link”… not necessarily “GUI.”
“I just hate all these terms, and I can’t wait for the moment in time where we just don’t talk about this tech, we just use it.,” Super Ventures’ Ori Inbar said at an ARiA event last year. And that’s, again, what consumers have done with Pokemon Go and Snapchat AR lenses… they just use it.
Speaking of PGo and Snapchat Lenses, they get grief for not being “true AR,” as mentioned above. But it doesn’t matter: they’ve outperformed any SLAM-based AR app out there, and have done AR a favor by validating its mass-market appeal and warming people up to it.
“I think one of the craziest debates of the past year was whether Pokemon Go was augmented reality or not,” said Intel’s Chris Croteau at a different ARiA event last year. “The [750 million] people that downloaded that app…none of them care.”
But the larger lesson, beyond acronyms and classifications, is AR’s positioning. One common thread with Pokemon Go and Snapchat Lenses is “AR as a feature.” AR isn’t the primary app function but is introduced as one component within apps that have existing traffic or high-value IP.
Like Amazon’s AR View, these are AR training wheels: native AR, but delivered in the apps that people already use. Consumers have to gain AR comfort levels. And in early days, that’s often done through AR that piggybacks on popular apps versus relying on dedicated app downloads.
A lot of these points of consumer friction will recede as Web XR and other streamlined delivery vessels make it easier to access AR. But AR could also begin to develop consumer affinity through visual search and other flavors that aren’t delivered in overly tech-sounding packages.
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Header image credit: Verizon