Who’s Using Local AR? And How Often?

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Amid our ongoing coverage of augmented reality’s (AR) impact on the future of local commerce, it’s important to stop and ask how consumer adoption is coming along so far. Following the recent Street Fight white paper release on visual search and “local AR,” we’ll engage in that reality check here. 

ARtillry Intelligence recently paired up with Thrive Analytics to conduct a survey of 2000 U.S. adults regarding their AR use, demand, hopes, and dreams. The results are in and are telling of AR’s strengths, soft spots, and areas of business opportunity. The outcome: There’s good news and bad.

Starting at the top, 32% of respondents have used mobile AR—greater than expected. This is a positive sign, representing a combination of healthy adoption (considering the early stage) and room to grow. Usage levels should accelerate in future survey waves, similar to early smartphone adoption.

But the quantity of users alone is a binary figure. Either someone has used AR (at least once) or they haven’t. To provide more granularity, how often are they using it? This gets to a key metric in mobile apps, which is to set aside download metrics and instead focus on active users.

On that measure, 66% of mobile AR users are active at least monthly. Going one level deeper, 54% of respondents use mobile AR at least weekly. Only 8% used AR just once, indicating that the active-use challenges endemic to mobile apps aren’t as great in AR.

This is again surprising because the appeal of mobile AR apps we’ve examined lies mostly in novelty. AR is attractive for that reason, but the novelty can wear off quickly. This means companies should build experiences that offer inherently sticky components such as social communication or local utility.

That brings us to the matter of what types of apps are being used. Not surprisingly, games (à la Pokemon Go) and social apps (à la Snapchat) lead the pack. But there’s lots of promise in some of the app categories that feed into local commerce such as city guides and in-store retail apps.

Perhaps more important than consumers’ current usage is their desire for what comes next. Gaming was again the clear winner, and there’s likewise demand for education and product visualization. But here, we also see new categories emerge, such as the local ones mentioned above.

These local applications of AR include city guides, sports, and retail. City guides and retail align well with AR, given the potential to overlay product info like reviews and promotions. Moreover, they’re monetizable and tap into the same out-of-home purchase intent that fuels mobile local search today.

AR sports apps also hold interesting local commerce and media implications: Team owners can create more compelling arena experiences, such as player stats and additional layers of entertainment. Meanwhile, broadcasters can battle cord-cutting with compelling “second-screen” mobile AR features.

Lastly, there’s an important lesson: AR users like what they see, with a whopping 73% reporting high or very high satisfaction. But non-users report explicit disinterest, with the biggest reason being the rather daunting “just not interested.” This presents a big hill for AR app developers to climb. 

In fact, the disparity between current-user satisfaction and non-user disinterest underscores a key challenge for XR: you have to “see it to believe it.” To reach high satisfaction levels, apps have to be tried first. This presents marketing and logistical challenges in the way of cultivating that initial taste.

Put another way, AR’s highly visual and immersive format is a double-edged sword. It can create strong affinities and engagement levels. But the visceral nature of its experience can’t be communicated to prospective users with traditional marketing like ad copy or even video.

That’s where the good news/bad news comes in. AR could transform local commerce, given its ability to shorten gaps between visual search interactions and offline outcomes. But it will take a while to sway laggards and reach ubiquity. Plan product road maps and go-to-market strategies accordingly. 

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.

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 Localogy.com