It’s clear that mobile AR is where the scale is today, given 3 billion+ global smartphones. As for the portion that’s AR-compatible, the common industry rally cry is that there are 1 billion+ AR-enabled smartphones. That figure applies to ARkit and ARCore-compatible smartphones.

But if you pan back to all platforms, such as Snapchat’s Lens Studio and Facebook’s Spark AR, the AR-ready universe is larger. And the number that matters most is active users across these platforms, projected to exceed 800 million (de-duped) by the end of 2021.

As we examined recently, this contains a mix of platforms. In addition to those mentioned above, There’s TikTok, which is just getting revved up for a potential competitive stake in AR. And there’s web AR which has the most potential reach, due to its delivery through the browser.

How Big is the Mobile AR Market?

Engagement Driver

Supporting AR’s overall penetration is new data from Sensor Tower that show top U.S. mobile app downloads for April. Notably, six of the top seven apps feature AR to some degree. This doesn’t speak to AR engagement levels but is a good indicator of penetration and exposure.

Panning back to the top ten overall apps by download volume, those that feature AR in some way account for 70 percent of the list. This ratio is likewise 7 out of 10 within iOS and Android respectively. Their composition of apps varies, but the AR-dominant share sustains at 70 percent.

These apps each apply AR in different ways and degrees — some more central than others. For example, Facebook and Instagram have leaned into AR lenses as an engagement driver that enhances already-popular media sharing (and monetization).

Source: Sensor Tower. Arrows and emphasis added by AR Insider.

The same goes for TikTok, which has massive global scale but underdeveloped AR. In fact, it sits where Snapchat did before it launched Lens Studio. With a lens creator platform, it could be formidable. And it could differentiate on rear-facing camera orientation (think: dance routines).

Snapchat sits right in the middle of the above list. But its AR-heavy usage outshines others at with 75 percent of users engaging AR. Other apps have greater overall usage but a smaller portion that’s AR-active, so these rankings don’t necessarily correlate to AR usage density.

Meanwhile, borderline cases on the above list are Zoom and Google Meet. We include them due to virtual backgrounds (and lenses are possible via Snap Camera). This depends on your definition of AR: We tend to apply it broadly to any meaningful augmentation of reality.

Business Case

On the same topic of broadening AR definitions, another contentious case is Pokémon Go (for the record, we stand on the side of its AR designation). Beyond that, and in the spirit of the above exercise, we dug further into Sensor Tower’s data to find that it’s likewise performing.

Specifically, Pokemon Go is ranked seventh among top-grossing games in March. This is a good confidence signal for AR, not just in consumer traction, but revenue. Along with Snapchat, Niantic has validated a real AR business case, though it’s admittedly somewhat of an outlier.

This also points to Pokémon Go’s longevity. Since its 2016 launch surge and subsequent dip, it has rebounded over the past two years with new revenue milestones and sustained usage. This is all fueled by a combination of game mechanics, ongoing updates and ingenuity at Niantic.

Source: Sensor Tower. Arrows and emphasis added by AR Insider.

All cases above are good examples of AR as a Feature. This is the AR positioning that’s having the most traction today according to our survey research with Thrive Analytics. This stands to reason as it lets AR piggyback on popular apps rather than forcing dedicated downloads.

We see this principle validated in the fact that the most popular form of AR so far — Snapchat lenses — are AR-as-a-Feature. This once again invokes our “training wheels” construct to acclimate users. AR is too early and unproven to get users to go out of their way or work for it.

But despite growing pains and a challenging path to mainstream consumer traction, we’re still seeing bright spots like sponsored lens ad revenue and enterprise adoption. We can add to this list the fact that AR is delivered alongside 70 percent of the top mobile apps.

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