As we roll into 2022, it’s a good time for annual projections. This is a ritual we’ve taken part in, including a long report and series of articles on the top learnings from 2021 and outlook for 2022. But one of our favorite market watchers is the “man from the future” Tom Emrich.
Emrich has been doing annual wrap-ups for some time on Medium and LinkedIn, as well as monthly roundups of AR and VR happenings throughout the year. His latest exercise is a 2022 outlook and corresponding virtual event held by 8th Wall, where Emrich is VP of product.
The event features his 22 predictions for 2022, which we’re featuring for this week’s XR Talks, including embedded video and narrative takeaways below. The latter includes a sampling of ten of Emrich’s predictions that we’ve spotlighted for AR Insider readers. Let’s dive in…
The Metaverse is at peak hype, but actualization is far off
Expect to hear a lot more of the m-word in 2022, says Emrich. Its positioning in Gartner’s Hype Cycle will remain in the Peak of Inflated Expectations. The downside is that most metaverse excitement is a “metaverse mirage” because all its moving parts still need years to develop.
Speaking of which, the metaverse shouldn’t be thought of as one monolithic thing but rather a stack of technologies including AI, IoT, AR and VR. And in that sense, the good news is that those building blocks are here today, even if the metaverse itself is years or decades away.
The smartphone gains capabilility as AR’s primary vessel
The smartphone continues to evolve as an AR machine, says Emrich, due to ongoing advancements in chips, cameras displays and connectivity. This year will bring a new A16 chip from Apple that will elevate AR capabilities while 5G rollouts handle AR’s heavy payloads.
Emrich says that it’s important to look to flagship phones from Apple and others as the leading edge of AR enablement. But equally important is the trickle-down effect of features in lower-cost phones. This will bring higher-powered AR machines to the masses, where AR can scale.
Early consumer AR glasses will lean on the smartphone
Speaking of smartphones, they’re not only AR’s primary vessel in the near term, but an important bridge to its next generation. In other words, smart glasses will be powered by smartphones, rather than replace them. That includes connectivity and processing.
These are critical functions for smart glasses. Moreover, offloading compute-heavy processing and graphics to a smartphone means that glasses can shed weight and heat. That’s a key consideration in getting glasses slimmed down for mainstream commercial viability.
There will also be a range of devices – from personal entertainment to camera glasses (a la Ray Ban Stories) to more advanced glasses that sense surroundings and integrate graphics dimensionally. In all cases, the smartphone will be a key puzzle piece in the near term.
Platforms will enable developers to take AR to the next level
Developer platforms are the lifeblood of AR – everything from ARkit to Lens Studio. Emrich projects a focus this year on rapid feature development and elevated capabilities. We’re talking spatial maps and anchors, semantic segmentation and APIs to process surroundings.
The above list represents advanced AR functions that go beyond face filters and cartoon monsters. This next generation of AR content will increasingly become table stakes. It will, in turn, produce slicker and more realistic AR that stimulates user demand and traction.
Web AR will grow in demand to spatialize 2D websites.
The browser is a more logical vessel for AR than apps. This is due to its universal access and lack of friction (no additional downloads). That last point is key as AR is too early and unproven to get users to have to work for it. Lessening friction is the name of the game at this stage.
Adding to web AR’s benefits is the fact that it scales to many more devices, given the universal access noted above. That’s music to the ears of reach-driven brand marketers. So expect web AR to be the entry point for Madison Avenue’s continued embrace of immersive ads.
Display ads are the next target for AR disruption
Speaking of brand marketing, advertisers are at a crossroads with several platform changes such as Apple’s ATT. At the same time, consumers are suffering from display ad fatique. Add it all up and brands are going to be looking for new avenues for consumer engagement.
This could bode well for AR because it’s middle name is engagement. Given campaign performance metrics like conversions and dwell times, AR will continue to attract brand marketers – at the expense of display ad budgets. In fact, AR is the ultimate form of “display.”
Meanwhile, 8th Wall has begun to pioneer embeddable AR. This turns static banner ads into AR-ready media. It lets mobile web users activate their camera to go directly from banners in the browser to AR, including measurable lower-funnel activities like product try-ons.
AR transforms eCommerce across product categories
Beyond brand marketing and paid AR ad campaigns, retailers and e-tailers increasingly utilize AR in their own apps and properties. This is what we call camera commerce and it has helped several brands and retailers in the pandemic offer IRL-like product dimension.
That has accelerated AR’s exposure as a shopping tool, which will sustain into the post-Covid era. As this gradual adoption curve rises, AR will increasingly become expected by consumers. And that will put competitive pressure on brands to accelerate their own AR adoption.
This brand adoption will also broaden into new categories. Erstwhile popular among beauty, art and furniture brands, 2022 could see AR from a wider cross-section of industries, says Emrich. That could mean spatializing existing eCommerce sites, or even “spatial-first” stores.
AR-enabled packaging creates new consumer touchpoints
Speaking of camera commerce and brand/retail adoption, it won’t just be in eCommerce. As physical retail returns, AR offers opportunity to bring static packaging to life. This could be welcomed in a Post-Covid “contactless” era of retail, where AR does the heavy lifting.
This can happen through QR codes and other physical markers. Not only is this a familiar use case for consumers – a key adoption driver for emerging tech like AR – but it carries economic advantages. In other words, brands can build on sunk costs in their own packaging.
The avatar wars heat up as digital identity becomes currency
Begun, the avatar wars have. As a component of metaverse mania, there’s a land grab to create and invest in a digital self to carry identity. Emrich points to disparate avatar systems from Apple, Meta, Snapchat, TikTok, Microsoft, Roblox and Epic Games (Fortnite).
Beyond table stakes like UX and customabilty, avatar systems need to be cross-platform. This is a corrolary to an eventual metaverse where interoperability is table stakes. This means that avatar systems like Ready Player Me (which recently partnered with 8th Wall) are well positioned.
AR becomes the physical-world vessel for NFTs
NFTs are a tentpole in web3 and the metaverse. But one confining factor is that they’re still bits on a screen. Putting aside the behavioral economics of collectibles – which drives most of the billions spent on NFTs – could additional value and utility be unlocked through AR?
Emrich asserts that though NFTs were made for digital worlds, AR can do its thing and offer tangibility in the physical world. Show off your new NFT on your coffee table, make it “playable” or wear it and take selfies. Could NFTs be the AR killer app that we’ve been waiting for?
We’ll pause there and cue Emrich’s full talk below…