Rise of Augmented Reality: companies that are putting the tech under the spotlight


2017 was truly the year for Augmented Reality (AR), as it owned up to all the hype created by the technology and stole the thunder from Virtual Reality (VR) in the process. Almost every tech giant in the business – including the likes of Apple, Snapchat, Facebook, Google, and many others – is betting big on how AR will carve out a future for content consumption. Keeping in mind all the buzz, here are some updates that you can expect to gain traction in the AR space in this new year:

Image: By OyundariZorigtbaatar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Snapchat and the power of creation

Keeping with its trendy and snappy user interface, Snapchat is looking to bet big on the AR game in order to regain its user base. In December, the image messaging app launched Lens Studio, an initiative which allows users to design and build augmented reality lenses for Snapchat. Now you can modify the real world with your own AR creations and place them at a location of your choosing.

Essentially, when a user sees Snapchat-enabled art, they see a unique lens which is much more than just a static image. It provides viewing of real-time animated characters with a customisable interface option. A brilliant move into consumer AR, this opens up multiple opportunities for marketers, brands, artists, and collaborators for new innovations. As one of the early movers in the AR field with its “face filters”, Snapchat now hopes to explore the technology’s capabilities further by putting the power of creation in the hands of consumers.

AR on the go with Apple ARKit

In September 2017, Apple created big ripples in the world of AR with the launch of ARKit at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The toolkit allows independent developers to create their own AR-powered applications for iOS devices. While Apple has been hyping the technology up, it has had slower-than-expected user adoption. With less than 1,000 AR apps on the app store, Apple is looking to ramp up its adoption of ARKit, which it hopes will be a platform-centric experience for customers.

However, certain apps have already begun to explore the potential of the new ecosystem, such as Pokémon Go. The game has a major update coming up in the next few weeks with an ‘enhanced AR’ feature for iPhone users. This update will amplify the game’s interface, giving greater clarity, enhanced gameplay, and utilisation of the full suite of AR tools that Apple has to offer. Here’s what lead developers at Niantic have to say about the new rollout, “Imagine looking up at a massive Onix or walking around a gigantic Snorlax blocking your path! This feature brings us one step closer to truly realizing Pokémon the way they are supposed to be represented in the real world. Pokémon GO AR photos will never be the same again!”

Capturing the imagination of users globally, Pokémon Go and its AR-based gameplay was a raging success which resurrected Nintendo’s plunging market shares. Even when it was launched, the application’s use of AR in the mobile gaming section was unparalleled and the new updates are eagerly awaited by fans across the globe, proving the potential offered by Apple’s ARKit.

Facebook ramps up its bid for AR

Facebook has been interested in the space of AR for years now. In April this year, it debuted its Augmented Reality Camera Effects platform and AR Studio tool at its developer conference F8. The tech giant’s Instagram acquisition in 2012 has helped the company strengthen its AR footprint, and to compete with other AR applications like Snapchat, the company in December announced that it was opening its AR tools to all third-party developers. This will allow the creation and launch of more filters, lenses, and AR-enabled facial recognition software for people on the platform. It opens up a fun experience for millions of users on both platforms. Anyone can design a world lens today, and create new experiences for users across the world.

Facebook’s vision of AR is unique, in that it’s designing applications to enable real-life interactions. You can engage with a physical object via the Facebook application, and at the same time create messages and new experiences for other people.

Taking a Magic Leap into the future

One of the more interesting AR developments from 2017 was when US startup Magic Leap finally revealed details and pictures of their upcoming AR headset – Magic Leap One. Scheduled for a 2018 release, the headset is a head-mounted virtual display that overlays 3D CGI over real-world objects. The device has been compared to other similar products like Microsoft Hololens and Google Glass.

Magic Leap has been working on the project for the better part of a decade now, and their device has been awaited for a long time. After raising more than $1.9 billion, the company finally revealed some interesting images, indicating the future of the brand and its vaunted AR tech. Talking about the future of the product, Julia Gaynor, spokesperson for Magic Leap, said, “Anyone who is a creative or a developer or in the gaming community has the opportunity to make anything they imagine on this device. Early adopters too. We think they will have a really good time tinkering and creating.”

Google looks to up the ante

Unfortunately, all was not perfect in the land of AR, as Google had to shut down Project Tango around the same time as Magic Leap’s launch. Instead of focusing on Tango, Google’s design and engineering team will now place all bets on ARCore, the augmented reality development platform it debuted in late August. Although currently supported on only a handful of devices, it shows great promise.

Google has been an active participant in the AR space for the last few years and has been researching innovations more than most other organisations. It showcased its AR expertise earlier this year by embedding Star Wars characters as stickers on its Pixel smartphone platform. Realising that AR is a potential goldmine, and following the success of the Star Wars stickers, Google has also been pushing its AR Stickers app.

Amit Singh, VP of Business Operations at Google, is expecting a massive shift in the way that we think about AR. According to Amit, we’re going to be using AR daily and not just as a one-off in the future, “There will be hundreds of millions of phones that will be AR-ready. The current stage is we are helping developers build the experiences so that it becomes a daily habit.”

What does the future hold for AR?

The interest that AR has ignited has all the potential to turn the technology into a disruptive innovation in the near future, with 2018 positioned to fan the embers. Though the tech is still in its developmental stage, for the most part, both techies and corporates expect major announcements and launches to happen in the coming months. Things are really looking up for AR in the new year, and it will be fascinating to see what the future reveals for this new frontier of technology.


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