ARTICLE BY COLIN MCMAHON
When the Internet was proven to be commercially viable, companies scrambled to build a web presence. Hastily constructed websites appeared overnight, with the vast majority of them failing to capitalize on the full potential of the new technology. The few companies that had web designers had a large advantage over the multitude of others. Web design would spend the next decade maturing and developing, leading the websites of today to be vastly superior to their ancient archetypes. Augmented reality (AR) is currently in a similar situation.
Numerous technological challenges, coupled with the need for a consistent stronger-than-4G web connection, are holding the industry back. The few dedicated products that have come out, namely Google Glass, have failed to catch on. While AR hardware struggles, AR software – at least in its simplest form – has managed to grab a foothold within the smartphone and tablet mediums.
While there have been some breakaway mobile entertainment apps (namely Pokémon Go), the bulk of early AR success revolves around marketing. AR provides companies with a method to blend the physical and digital. A standard device like a smartphone can be used to enhance a mundane ad like a movie poster – giving it pop-out animation, text, or even a short video. This deepens the immersion and has been shown to increase the likelihood of further interaction leading to a purchase. Incorporating AR technology, however, requires that companies and employees invest in learning how to use it. Again, think the web design problem of the 1990’s.
Much in the way that WordPress, Squarespace, and others sought to create templates for web design, companies have moved in to streamline the AR content creation space. This article will highlight three of the larger companies (Blippar, Zappar, and Aurasma), focusing on their range of services, pricing model, and areas of specialty.
Based in London, Blippar is an AR advertising company that has created a platform for its clients to enhance outdoor ads, billboards, magazines, newspapers, and packaging. Like many in the AR space, Blippar works through image recognition software. Blippar’s platform comes in the form of a free app that can be downloaded to any Android or iOS smartphone, tablet, or wearable. Companies can outsource to Blippar for AR content creation, however the company also provides Blippbuilder. Blippbuilder is a tool that streamlines content creation and provides analytics for clients to track marketing effectiveness. Pricing for the Blippbuilder tool varies, depending on usage. Blippar works primarily with the branding, enterprise, and education markets.
Zappar is a software platform for AR marketing content. The free app is compatible with all mobile and tablet technology. Zappar works through “zapcodes” (the evolution of barcodes and QR codes) to embed a wide variety of AR enhanced media onto virtually any surface. Users can create custom content through ZapWorks. The content creation tool breaks itself down into three parts: widgets, designer, and studio. Companies can create their own custom AR experiences, assign them to custom zapcodes, and embed them into whatever marketing surface they wish. Similar to Blippbuilder, ZapWorks users can monitor analytics to measure a marketing campaign’s success. Zapworks is available in two versions – a “basic” for $45 a month and a “pro” version for $135 per month.
Owned by HP Autonomy, Aurasma describes itself as “the world’s leading augmented reality platform.” The company works much in the same as the other identified solutions, however, it boasts the fastest turnaround time. Aurasma argues that, using its software, users can create AR content in under a minute. Aurasma’s app is free through Android and iOS. To utilize Aurasma’s content creation software (Aurasma Studio) requires a monthly subscription fee that is “scalable” to fit the project, while the free app is for basic content creation. While the free app allows for basic content creation, analytics and support are locked behind the pricing.
Short of training employees on Unity’s ARToolKit, these companies offer a way to bypass the learning curve and begin distribution of AR content almost immediately. The value in sidestepping a clunky learning phase cannot be underestimated. Comparing a website from a decade ago to now highlights the value of streamlined content creation tools.
Quick and intuitive content creation tools will bring superior AR content faster and will help jumpstart the industry. These content platforms all leverage the smartphone, already the public’s introductory tool for providing AR. Using these platforms, and others like them, will give companies a definite marketing edge in AR space.