Looking Back and Looking Forward to AR in 2021

by Jon Cheney

What will AR look like in 2021? How will leading revenue categories like AR advertising take shape? Contextualizing AR’s future requires looking at its recent past. So we’ve decided to do just that. Here’s our take on where AR has been in the past year….and where it’s going in the next.

Looking Back…

AR Continued to Establish Itself as a Powerful Channel

From wearables to AR advertising, consumers got a deeper look into what a world with AR would look like in 2020. Thanks to greater platform support, better authoring tools, and increased device capabilities, AR moved further into the mainstream. In tandem, the pandemic and the concurrent shift to digital made brands better understand that the best way to deliver a new level of customer experience and engagement is through AR. This meant that the general public were really able to experience the technology on a more personal level and understand its benefits beyond an entertainment factor, particularly in the eCommerce space where physical retail came to a screeching halt and forced many to begin the process of AR. Likewise, many in the education industry turned to AR to aid remote learning. Awareness was also driven by major platforms like Instagram, who added features that put users in control of creating AR experiences.

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AR Advertising Boomed

AR neared a tipping point with brands finally beginning to understand the technology’s true value as a media and marketing tool, and third-party providers working hard to break down barriers to entry. We watched new and exciting experiences for mobile users to interact with their favorite brands, including one popular fast food joint introducing a Hip Hop program triggered with a huge QR code in the middle of a tv commercial. AR became a must-have for many brands and retailers. Physical retail came to a screeching halt and this forced many companies to jump into gear and begin the process of AR.

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High-Quality Mobile WebAR

Continuing its rise from 2019, the quality in Mobile WebAR saw tremendous growth in 2020. With the mobile AR market projected to grow from USD 7.6 billion in 2020 to USD 29.5 billion by 2025, there is no doubt that the quality of the product has been improving at a fast pace. Additionally, WebAR innovators like Pinterest and Snap hit the customer satisfaction mark by creating deeply engaging at-home retail experiences through high-quality WebAR. These are comparatively difficult to achieve in traditional 2D campaigns, and with experiential marketing handicapped by the pandemic AR got a chance to step in and deliver. In this way, AR began to stimulate all of the 3C’s of camera marketing: conversation, commerce and the customer.

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Looking forward…

3D content will become Ubiquitous

Similar to how images and video content are used by nearly every company in the world, as more platforms enable interactive use cases for 3D/AR models it will become an invaluable marketing channel that cannot be ignored. Longer-term, as popularity grows, we can expect the standard file format for 3D models to become universally supported, just like PNG or JPEG are for 2D images. This will lower barriers to entry and democratize the technology even further.

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Adoption Will Spread to New Industries

By this time next year, we can expect to see significant software improvements to AR as well as better connections between spatial platforms. This increase in accessibility will drive further integration into a broad range of industries such as teaching, training, marketing, and tourism. Businesses will build AR strategies into their business models in order to stay ahead of the curve and reach consumers where they are, on their phones.

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Ads Will Evolve with Spatial Web, 5G, MEC and AR

AR will step in as a refreshing evolution to the fatigue the media industry has been stuck delivering with its endless scrolls of videos and photos. The Spatial Web, coupled with 5G, Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) and AR itself, has a chance to transform the advertising world into something audiences are excited to interact with again. The medium is still new and it’s up to the creatives and pioneers to deliver as vibrant a 3D world online as the one we inhabit in real life. We expect to see AR really start to do what it was designed to do next year: create digital content that augments, rather than distracts us from our reality.

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The Rise of Virtual Events Using AR

2021 will be a time of innovation for virtual events. With our world being more virtual than ever, we’ve been stretched to think outside of the box in ways that we can still connect, interact, and experience events together. AR is the future of virtual events, providing an interactive experience that engages the customer and immerses them into the technology. This will not only be a wide adoption for event coordinators, but also trade shows, exhibitions, webinars, conferences, meetings, and more. This is the solution to the all too familiar “Zoom Fatigue” that consumers have been experiencing in 2020.

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Jon Cheney is CEO and co-founder of Seek. Follow him at @cheneypiano.



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