Emerging technologies often follow a common evolutionary path from novelty to utility. It’s all about fun & games before settling into lasting value in everyday utilities. Consider the iPhone’s evolutionary arc from novelty apps like iBeer and Zippo to staples like Uber and Spotify.
The same happened on the web. After the early 2000’s bubble burst from an inflated atmosphere of grandiose visions, the web eventually reached those elevated valuations….but in a different form. The web’s killer apps are decidedly mundane: search, email, news, and productivity.
“Mundane” sounds like a bad word, but it’s not. The above killer apps have one thing in common: frequency. All-day, everyday use cases aren’t as sexy as the novelties that preceded them, but they breed sustainable business models through scale. They’re things that everyone uses.
The question is if AR will follow this same trend. This is why we’re bullish on use cases like visual search a la Snap Scan. Speaking of Snap, it’s in tune with AR’s evolution towards utility, which it discussed at AWE USA – the topic of this week’s XR Talks (video and takeaways below).
Approachable & Whimsical
At Snap’s recent Lens Fest, it announced a series of new milestones. Among them, it has reached 6 billion AR lens engagements per day. That’s the equivalent of one lens engagement per day for every human on the planet. This makes it by far the consumer AR leader today.
How has it gotten to this point? There are several tactical lessons in Snap’s rise to AR dominance, including the fact that it let AR piggyback on – and make better – an existing and prevalent behavior. In its case, that behavior was socially-fueled multimedia sharing, a la selfies.
This strategy was chosen because AR is so new and it needed that piggyback ride. For the same reason, Snap took the tech-geek ethos out of AR and simply made it fun. This approach – replete with dog ears and rainbow vomit – made AR approachable and whimsical.
Snap’s social-sharing framework meanwhile infused another key element: virality. So with this list of ingredients, Snap’s lenses began to skyrocket in usage, eventually leading to the 6-billion figure above. But they’ve also grown more recently for another reason: platform evolution.
That’s where the “toy to tool” progression comes in. Snap’s Carolina Arguelles asserts that the above approach was necessary to achieve scale. But there’s more sustained value in becoming an everyday tool in people’s lives. Virtual dog ears have novelty….utilities have staying power.
One of those utilities that’s been baked into Snap’s lens virality since the beginning is communications. The “chat” in Snapchat is meaningful here, in that AR has been propelled (along with the above factors) through the utility and frequency of messaging. It’s an all-day use case.
Moving on to other types of utilities, Snap Scan is a useful tool in that it helps identify and annotate the world. But unlike Google’s “all the world’s information” mission that drives Google Lens, Snap Scan has a more focused set of use cases, such as fashion and food discovery.
For example, one target use case is what Snap calls “outfit inspiration.” Point your phone at a friend’s jacket to browse colors, sizes and buy it on the spot. And that all leads to Snap’s real target: camera commerce. It’s the ultimate cocktail of utility, frequency, and monetization.
We’ll pause there and cue the full video below, including insights from Arguelles, as well as Snap’s Kimberlee Archer and Sophia Dominguez…