This post is adapted from ARtillery Intelligence’s latest report, Social AR: Spatial Computing’s Network Effect. It includes some of its data and takeaways. More can be previewed here and subscribe for the full report.

One of the most valuable areas of AR today is enabling technologies or “building blocks.” By democratizing AR creation, they include things like 3D graphics tools, a la Adobe Aero. And they importantly include companies building the AR cloud. This will be a key puzzle piece for Social AR.

For those unfamiliar, The AR cloud (a.k.a. Mirorworld) is a data resource that enables AR devices. That can include 3D spatial maps or object recognition blueprints that let AR devices geometrically and semantically understand surroundings. This lets them infuse graphics accordingly.

Indeed, many social use cases require synchronous multi-player functionality. This is a key tenet of the AR cloud that enables devices to localize in space and to each other, using common anchor points. Image persistence between players and over time is also a key AR cloud outcome.

These are the underpinnings of the AR world we envision, or that you may have seen in concept videos of AR interactions with the real world. The expectation was that AR “just works” that way. But in reality, it needs AR cloud support for all of these social (and non-social) interactions.

The Plurality

One misnomer is the singularity of the term AR Cloud. Sort of like “the internet” is singular tense, the AR cloud will comprise a web-like collection of entities that coexist and compete with each other. There will be proprietary networks and open ones, just like the web. Social AR needs both.

Without getting into a philosophical discussion about how the AR cloud should be gated and governed, there will be consortiums for standards and interoperability across AR clouds. For example, Magic Leap envisions thematic layers that are open and interoperable across platforms.

There’s also the Open AR Cloud Initiative, started and managed by’s Ori Inbar among others. It’s establishing standards for interoperability, including the construct of a “Spatial Wikipedia.” Like wikis operate, the AR cloud could have open standards and authorship.

Meanwhile, parts of the AR cloud will inherit the walled garden structure that’s present in parts of today’s web and app ecosystems. This will be the case in enterprise security, and with tech giants who are paving the roads for AR, incentivized by their own different versions of an AR future.

For example, among tech giants tackling AR, the most “walled garden,” is Facebook. It will need secure data in a closed system for social information to be presented in 3D space. It’s everything from social status to facial recognition — a sort of 3D identity layer for the immersive web.

Playing to Their Strengths

AR clouds will map to the tech companies creating them. For example, as the world’s search engine, Google has assembled several cloud assets including physical world geometry (maps), object recognition (images, Street View), and predictive data of what we want (knowledge graph).

Amazon’s AR cloud is a commerce layer. It has object recognition for billions of products, which makes it the most directly-monetizable AR cloud. And it’s assembling lots of valuable intelligence of the things we as consumers want, given its longstanding blitz of AI and voice search.

Speaking of voice and AI, that’s Apple’s Achilles heel. But it’s building 3D spatial maps for Apple Maps, and it owns the greatest portion of the tech stack. So it may be happy to cede AR cloud dominance to others (as it did with the web) while it accumulates massive wealth selling hardware.

Back to the social theme of this report, players like Facebook and Snapchat will employ AR clouds that are a sort of 3D identity layer that builds from the ability to recognize faces. That could be a foundation to display permission-based layers of info about oneself in AR (e.g. relationship status).

The Field

Beyond tech giants, emerging players could also be advantaged. Not only do they have a native edge in product design, but they aren’t tied to legacy businesses, so they’re more nimble. They’re also not incentivized to walled gardens nor data collection, and can operate across platforms.

A data-collection conflict is present for anyone with ad revenue (Google, Facebook). Hardware players like Magic Leap and Apple are less conflicted. Going smaller, AR cloud startups like YouAR and Ubiqity6 are aligned with AR end-user needs and will find lots of room to add value.

The data collection conflict is also an issue with anything that involves personal information, which social experiences certainly do (just ask Facebook). Privacy and data security are scrutinized to even greater degrees when combining social dynamics with location, as AR will do.

So smaller players could have more impact in building the AR cloud, given a non-conflicted and native focus. For example, the technology for AR image persistence and multi-player support is more advanced at than the corresponding efforts explored earlier from Google and Apple.

Similarly, Ubiquity 6 has an ambitious vision and strong technology to replicate socially-oriented online communities in physical space. This creates a sort of “MMO for the real world,” as founder & CEO Anjney Midha puts it. We will profile several of these players in Part II of this report.

For now, as our industry colleague Charlie Fink says, the world will be “painted with data.” There are lots of colors and styles of paint needed, especially in socially-fueled personal expression. And there’s lots of room for innovation. The world is a big place after all.

See more details about this report or continue reading here

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