Spatial computing – including AR, VR, and other immersive tech – continues to alter the ways that we work, play, and live. But there have been ups and downs, characteristic of hype cycles. The pendulum has swung towards over-investment, then towards market correction.
That leaves us now in a sort of middle ground of reset expectations and moderate growth. Among XR subsectors, those seeing the most traction include AR brand marketing and consumer VR. Meta continues to advance the latter with massive investments and loss-leader pricing.
Beyond user-facing products, a spatial tech stack lies beneath. This involves a cast of supporting parts. We’re talking processing muscle (Qualcomm), experience creation (Adobe), and developer platforms (Snap). These picks and shovels are the engines of AR and VR growth.
So how is all of this coming together? Where are we in XR’s lifecycle? And where are there gaps in the value chain that signal opportunities? This is the topic of ARtillery Intelligence’s recent report Reality Check: the State of Spatial Computing, which we’ve excerpted below.
Location, Location, Location
Picking up where we left off in the last part of this series, one of AR’s foundational principles is to fuse the digital and physical. The real world is a key part of that formula….and real-world relevance is often defined by location. That same relevance and scarcity drive real estate value.
To that end, one of AR’s battlegrounds will be augmenting the world in location-relevant ways. That could be wayfinding with Google Live View, or visual search with Google Lens. It’s about pointing your phone (or future glasses) at places and things to identify and contextualize them.
As you can tell from these examples, Google will have a key stake in this ‘Internet of places’ or ‘metavearth.’ It’s driven to future-proof its core search business, given Gen-Z’s affinity for the camera. Also seen in Snap Scan, visual content joins text and voice as a search input.
And Google is well-positioned, given existing assets. For example, Street View imagery serves as a visual database for object recognition so that AR devices can localize themselves. That forms the basis for its storefront recognition in Google Lens and urban navigation in Live View.
But Google isn’t alone. Apple signals interest in location-relevant AR through geo-anchors and other efforts, while Meta has revealed its work with “Live Maps.” Niantic continues to provide a framework for developers to build geo-spatial AR apps, including its Lightship VPS platform.
Then there’s Snap, the reigning champion of consumer AR. Erstwhile propelled by selfie lenses, Snap’s larger AR ambitions will flip the focus to the rear-facing camera to augment the broader canvas of the physical world. This is the thinking behind its Landmarkers and Local Lenses.
Captions for the Physical World
One question that emerges from all the above is what will be the killer apps for geospatial AR? To answer that requires looking at the common qualities of killer apps. Often, they’re utilities that have wide-scale applicability, inherently-frequent usage, and large addressable markets.
Meanwhile, one common misconception about killer apps is that they must be sexy. In fact, most killer apps are decidedly mundane. Take the web for example… its killer apps have settled into a comfortable set of utilities like shopping, weather, news, email, and search.
A glimpse of such utilitarian qualities was recently seen in Google’s vision for AR glasses. Though it has since discontinued the effort, its focused use case still has validity: real-time foreign-language translation. This is a utilitarian endpoint with a large addressable market.
Panning back, language translation could represent something broader: captions for the physical world. It starts with language but could spawn identifying overlays for anything that can benefit from context. We’re talking storefronts, restaurant menus, and fashion discovery.
Again, Google could be the company to deliver this vision given Google Translate, Google Lens, and Street View – a knowledge graph for the physical world. Expect similar from Meta (social layer), Amazon (commerce layer), Microsoft (productivity layer), and Niantic (gaming layer).
That brings up another misconception about emerging tech killer apps: their singular tense. There will be several AR killer apps, just as we’ve seen on the web and smartphones. But given AR’s practicality headwinds in gaining mainstream traction, they’ll take longer to materialize.