Augmented Reality Is the New Frontier — Time to Get Serious about Standards
It’s hard to believe Apple and Google released the first augmented reality (AR) toolkits just a few short years ago (in 2017, to be exact). Only a few years later, augmented reality still feels like magic — and it’s indispensable. It’s part of millions of consumers’ everyday lives. And by 2024, there will be an estimated 1.7 billion (!) mobile AR users worldwide.
And brands are using it to amazing effect. Consumers have come to look forward to pointing their phones at things and experiencing content in surprising new ways, largely because AR is incredibly immersive, engaging, and delightful. It’s also effective.
The rich storytelling capabilities of AR lets brands create an emotional connection with consumers, which increases awareness and recall. And AR is user-initiated, so much so that now 75% of customers expect retailers to offer some kind of AR experience.
Advancements in AR, 5G, and mobile lens software mean consumers, especially Gen Zers who came of age in a pandemic, expect to see furniture in their space, to try on clothes, glasses, shoes, and makeup in a digital-first online shopping world, and to experience a universe of contact-free products. For many brands, AR is no longer optional; it’s essential.
But what AR brings in magic to content experiences, it often lacks in practicality. And that’s because it’s often just too damn hard to scale. There are too few recognized standards, few common formats, and too little interoperability between platforms.
As more and more brands begin using AR to boost engagement, apps, and platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Meta are creating their own walled gardens. They’re making the experiences unique to their platforms which creates a massive cost barrier. They cloak in the language of “specialized technology and tools” that “create enhanced and better experiences on our platform.” But that’s a cop-out.
Whether you are an individual creator or represent a large agency, building content and creative five times means five times the cost, which comes out of the distribution budget. It doesn’t help brands, it doesn’t help the platforms, and in the long run, it throttles the overall growth of AR.
And that’s shockingly myopic in a Web3 world headed for more and more decentralization.
You might even say it’s anti-competitive.
The growth of any new medium absolutely requires agreements on technical standards and operating best practices. Color TV, for example, was throttled in the 50s by a decade of disputes between CBS and NBC over their proprietary systems until the FCC and the National Television System Committee forged an agreement on a single system that was compatible with existing black-and-white TV sets. Yet by the mid-1970s, the only stations broadcasting in black-and-white were a few high-numbered UHF stations in small markets. Through standards, TV has grown to be a $210.4 billion industry in 2021.
Closer to the present, the future of digital advertising has been threatened by non-standard formats and (more recently) disputes over what constitutes a viewable impression, with some advertising agencies attempting to substitute their definition of viewability for the industry standard. And yet it’s only through standards that the free ad-supported internet economy contributed $2.45 trillion to the nation’s $21.18 trillion GDP in 2020 alone. When rich experiences work for everyone, everybody wins.
The same is true of digital video and countless other technologies (even HTML!) that are essential tools in our collective marketing toolkit. We need standards to move forward. We need standards to scale. And we need a transparent supply chain to make the ecosystem work for everyone.
One of the best ways to ensure that these standards are unified across markets is for more creators to participate and there are several development projects that any creator can join for more insight into the world of AR. For example, the framework we use at Blippar for webAR is an open source project called A-Frame. Our developers pushed an update to the documentation which showed an example for creating custom geometry. Creators of all stripes can push updates into the source WebAR projects using A-frame as the rendering engine.
Ultimately, experimenting with open source projects can be a great opportunity for creators to explore new parameters and updates the entire AR ecosystem — and it’s a great way to collectively improve the overall impact of augmented reality on advertising.
It’s time for our industry to come together around AR and establish standards, guidelines, and best practices for brands and marketers. We need the platforms, advertisers, agencies, toolmakers, and publishers to come together to define how we want to grow the entire market. We should be aggressively working with neutral collective industry-governing bodies that have a track record of establishing these standards, building consensus, and moving the industry forward.
Because only then can we truly unlock the full potential of this exciting new medium.