Report: Smartphones, Developer Kits Drive Local AR and Visual Search

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After a rocky start depending on geeky goggles, augmented reality and the closely related application of visual search are gaining smartphone momentum in local commerce and marketing. A new white paper from Street Fight examines how developer kits from Google and Apple have jumpstarted these technologies and sketches strategies for developers, marketers, and media companies hoping to tap into an exciting new trend.

Though still nascent, visual search builds on a few key trends. Smartphones have increasingly powerful optics; AI and machine learning support computer vision to identify items; and there’s behavioral alignment with millennials who use the smartphone camera as a communication tool. These drivers make visual search a close cousin to an equally opportune and emerging area: Augmented Reality (AR). It similarly uses computer vision to identify surroundings, then goes one step further by overlaying graphics. Both AR and visual search hold opportunities for Local AR, given that they often involve information about surroundings that can influence local commerce and purchase decisions.

Over the past year, major tech giants have planted their flags in the mobile AR soil. Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon have each launched mobile AR efforts of varying intensity. Each of these players takes a different approach, most often aligned with their particular strengths and goals. Facebook wants AR to boost multimedia social sharing. Apple wants it to sell more iPhones. Google wants to drive search. And Amazon wants you to order more goods.

Recognizing these giants’ goals can inform decisions about the market’s trajectory, filling necessary gaps in the AR value chain.

  • Startups can triangulate areas where greatest demand and valuations lie, especially if interested in market exits or partnerships with tech giants setting this course.
  • Non-developer marketers and media companies should watch the approaches and market shares of these AR platforms to target opportunities for audience extension, user engagement, and monetization.

Meanwhile, Apple and Google have released software development kits for any software development company who wants to get in the mix to further democratize AR. Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore put advanced AR capability—working out some of the harder programming challenges in the background—into the hands of everyday mobile app developers. The apps they create will be compatible with past generations of iPhone and Android devices, meaning they’re compatible out of the gate with hundreds of millions of existing devices. They do this by accomplishing advanced AR through software instead of hardware.

For companies building AR apps, the best bets are ARKit and ARCore. ARCore and ARKit apply simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) through a surface detection approach that doesn’t require a depth-sensing camera. They utilize the RGB camera, found in most smartphones, and require only a certain processing speed to run AR graphics.

  • Apple’s app-centric paradigm is reflected in ARKit’s delivery, while Google’s web orientation will shape ARCore’s stated web delivery goals. Apple’s software/hardware integration has always been its strength. In this case, it can directly govern the camera optics and sensor calibration that support ARKit apps. But Google has an edge in its open hardware approach that creates a lot more scale in the Android universe.
  • Though ARKit has a head start and a near-term advantage in today’s volume of compatible iPhones, ARCore will quickly catch up and exceed the scope of its competitor, given a larger overall Android base. It will reach 71.5 million devices by the end of the year and 3.6 billion by 2020, as shown in the figure above.

Ultimately, platform choice will be an individual decision based on capability (what a developer wants to achieve), reach (platform scale), and audience alignment (platform demographics).

But how will this play out? How long will it take? What does it mean for local media and commerce? What will the best practices be in developing AR apps? And how will apps best integrate with existing media or search products?

Street Fight’s latest white paper, Local’s Visual Future: The Rise of AR and Visual Search, explores these questions.

Mike Boland is Street Fight’s lead analyst and author of the Road Map column. He covers AR & VR as chief analyst of ARtillry Intelligence and SF President of the VR/AR Association. He has been an analyst in the local space since 2005, covering mobile, social, and emerging tech.

Click here for more on the Street Fight report, Local’s Visual Future, free for a limited time.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at