Local’s Visual Future: The Rise of AR and Visual Search


“The camera is the new search box.” This has been the rally cry from companies embracing visual search. This emerging area is defined by apps that let consumers hold up their smartphones to identify and get information about physical world items. At the same time, app development kits released by Apple and Google democratize AR app creation by putting into the hands of millions of developers, and hundreds of millions of consumers. The result could be an explosion of AR apps.

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



Key Findings from the report include:

Ride the the Drivers of Visual Search and AR
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 in 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.

Monitor the Motivations of Key Players
Over the past year major tech giants have planted their stake in the mobile AR soil. Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon have each launched varying degrees of mobile AR efforts. Each of these players take a different approach — most often aligned with their strengths and goals. Facebook wants AR to boost multimedia social sharing. Apple wants it to sell more iPhones. Google wants to drive (visual) 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.

Prioritize Development by Platform

For companies building AR apps, the best bets are ARKit and ARCore.

  • 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, 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.