Augmented Reality Augmentation: Blippar Has Bought Layar

Some consolidation — or augmentation, if you will — in the world of augmented reality. Blippar — an image recognition platform used in digital advertising — has acquired Layar, an augmented reality platform used across different applications (from advertising to education) that uses cameras on devices like smartphones to inject virtual elements into real-world images in real time.

Blippar is not officially commenting on the acquisition, noting, “We cannot comment on market speculation at this stage, but Blippar is dedicated to growing the global marketplace for immersive, engaging content, and part of this strategy may include acquisitions later in the year.”

But we have sourced a memo from Blippar’s CEO and co-founder, Ambarish Mitra, announcing the deal that we have confirmed is genuine. From what we understand, the deal was planned to be announced officially on June 19.

We haven’t been able to nail down the terms of the deal but we are trying to find out. To date, London/NYC-based Blippar, founded in 2011, has raised an undisclosed amount from Qualcomm Ventures. Netherlands-based Layar, founded in 2009, has raised some $17 million from Intel Capital, Sunstone and others.

More recently, at least one of Layar’s co-founders, Raimo van der Klein, has moved on to do other things, such as this Google Glass app that lets you nod to pay for items.

Mitra’s memo notes that discussions between the companies started a few months ago when Layar CEO Quintin Schevernels visited Blippar’s offices to discuss “how we could work together to bring our vision to hundreds of millions of people.”

Indeed, the name of the game here appears to be scale for the two companies.

In an area of tech that is still relatively young, AR is still heavy on innovation. Coming together will give the two startups more R&D firepower, and potentially the ability to pool together their publisher relationships to be able to serve a wider audience, and also move into newer areas such as white-label services.

“It gives us the best shot at truly changing the world. It opens doors to new opportunities and partnerships, reduces risk on learning from scratch, gives us headspace in market for whitelabels,” Mishra writes. The company today focuses its product around “blipps” in which users snap pictures in printed or other display ads through the Blippar app, triggering bigger and more interactive campaigns. Blippar says it works with thousands of companies.

The other area where this will be important is to compete better against other AR rivals. A combined company, Mishra writes, “allows us to play in the whole AR market place and compete with people like Metaio and Vuforia with whom we weren’t previously competing.”

Augmented reality applications have been around for a while now — Layar especially was an early mover in this area, using cameras on phones to provide real-time overlays of images on to real-world locations — with applications of the technology being used in mobile games, advertising and other areas.

But some of that may have been ahead of its time — or that’s the sympathetic spin, at least. Less charitably, augmented reality has been called overhyped and pointless (and much worse if you listen to some of my more cynical friends in the tech world; I’m not naming names).

That perception (see what I did there?) is almost certainly changing, though. More recently, buzzy headgear makers like Oculus VR (now gobbled up by Facebook for $2 billion) and Meta have added a new twist to the idea of injecting virtual reality into real-world scenarios. So, rather than getting sidelined amidst the evolution, both Layar and Blippar have been tapping into that, with AR applications for products like Google Glass — efforts that are likely to step up a notch in the bigger organisation.

[Edited to remove company memo.]