As we recently examined, and as many AR enthusiasts know, Google recently released its long-awaited VPS for testing among a subset of users. The question that remains is if this relatively understated move could portend the future of AR.

Sort of a cousin of AR, VPS could have the makings for eventual killer apps. Though we’ve seen the most AR success so far in gaming (Pokemon Go) and social (Snapchat lenses), it could be more mundane utilities like navigation and search that engender high-frequency use cases.

There’s also a business case. VPS aligns with the online-to-offline (O2O) consumer journey that represents $2 trillion in U.S. consumer spending. That’s because the technology inherently does just that… it melds online interactions to offline objects like restaurants and store shelves.

Last Mile

As examined in WIRED’s much-vaunted “Mirrorworld” article, AR offers a more intuitive connection between the digital and physical than other forms of digital interaction (like search). It’s camera-centric designation also makes it align with the proclivities of buying-empowered millennials.

Demographics aside, AR and iterations like VPS happen in proximity to the search subject, which means greater user intent and thus conversions to buy items in view. We see this in mobile search where buying intent is higher than desktop. AR takes that to the next level of proximity.

That’s one reason why Google is investing heavily in AR. Another reason is that VPS positions Google in the last mile to the cash register. Beyond urban walking directions, VPS’ true endgame could be indoor retail assistance—everything from in-aisle navigation to product info.

This in-aisle domain is currently underserved for immersive shopper engagement, as Walmart is also well aware. And it’s a holy grail for Google, given that it positions the search giant in the last mile to the cash register where it can better track and attribute that O2O conversion path.

Search What you See

Panning back, Google’s broader AR plans include visual search, which brings AR beyond store aisles. For example, Google Lens lets users “search what they see.” Point your phone at dogs and flowers to contextualize them. Point it at a pair of shoes on the street to buy them.

Like VPS, this works towards user utility and Google revenue. For users, it’s more intuitive in some cases to point your phone at something rather than type. And for Google, it means more search volume. And again, that comes with higher intent which boosts search performance metrics.

This places visual search alongside voice search in Google’s emerging priorities. It’s another user touch point to counterbalance mobile search deficiencies. In other words, because we increasingly spend time in apps, Google continues to fight to remain the front door for connected experiences.

It’s this level of motivation that gives us confidence in AR. And it goes beyond Google. Tech giants are investing heavily in AR for reasons that all trace back to growing their core businesses. This is done for self-serving reasons of course but in the process, they pave the roads for the rest of us.

Internet of Places

But there’s still a ways to go. As we’ve examined, the AR cloud (a.k.a. “internet of places”) is a necessary data layer that will ensure graphics are anchored in the right places. You don’t want the overlaid AR reviews for your favorite restaurant to show up on the nail salon next door.

Google is creating its own AR cloud using its knowledge graph and other assets. Visual search taps into its image database, while VPS utilizes Street View imagery. The AR cloud in a broader sense is analogous to Google’s search index, but for spatial relevance rather than page relevance.

Carrying that analogy further, optimizing presence in AR could create a new flavor of SEO. It could extend from the current art of SEO, but with new rules and tactics for visual searches. Making sure business locations are indexed right could be even more critical when mistakes are “visual.”

This makes current local SEO players positioned well for the Internet of Places. But it also requires more acute knowledge of AR and 3D interactions. Like past tech revolutions, opportunity gaps could open at these cross-disciplinary intersections. Search could end up being a big part of AR.

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Disclosure: AR Insider 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.

Header image credit: Wall Street Journal