Being bullish on AR — to a point

Last week’s TC Sessions: AR/VR was a fascinating study of the industry in myriad ways — not the least of which was the contrast between the two titular technologies. After all, virtual reality is beginning to emerge from the other side of its massive hype cycle, while augmented reality is only really getting started.

It’s easy enough to be bullish about AR these days, between the success of Pokemon Go, its prevalence on social platforms through various photo filters and the ways in which mobile giants like Apple and Google appear to be embracing it long term. But virtual reality’s unfulfilled potential has left many wondering whether AR is destined for a similar fate.

The three participants on my panel, Finding Potential of Phone AR all appeared cautiously optimistic about the emerging technology that forms the foundation of their respective startups.

“I don’t think [killer app] thing exists yet. I think part of the issue is that the camera as a technology stack is really challenging,” Camera IQ’s Allison Wood explains. “It’s a very disparate landscape. And you add to that that the content can be very difficult and expensive to create, not to mention that most content creators are used to creating for 2D. While the technology is there, we’re still working on how we pull that whole stack together and solve for UX challenges.”

The group was hard pressed to identify an app they all use on a daily basis, beyond those employed for job related research purposes. The group did point to both Pokemon Go and camera apps as the programs with the most stickiness thus far, but there’s probably no better indication of the current AR timeline than awkward silence when pressed as to which applications were true daily drivers.

“A lot of this comes down to what is habit forming,” said Illumix’s Kirin Sinha. “That’s something we’re still trying to find in AR. We’ve found pockets of value in things like makeup and e-commerce, where people in a specific moment can see value in adding AR. But none of those are daily activities.”

Like VR, most of the early applications we’ve seen thus far are novelties — they’re more proof of concept than legitimately usefully features. Apple’s Measure app for iOS 12 was a valiant attempt to create something truly useful with augmented reality, but so far, it hasn’t exactly been gangbusters.

Asked how long we should expect before AR becomes a truly mainstream experience, the panel’s answers largely hovered around five years, with a standalone device like a headset taking even longer.

“As a guess, I think it’s a five to ten year range,” said Modiface’s Parham Aarabi. “But I think in five years, if not sooner, everyone will be interacting with it in some way. They may not know it, but they’ll be interacting with it. “