I read a lot (which probably shocks those of you that know me) of articles, blog posts and the like on Augmented Reality (AR). And it’s interesting to me how much buzz Mobile AR is getting. In fact some articles seem to think that Mobile AR and AR are synonymous… that is, they seem to discuss it as if it’s the only type of AR. There’s some great work being done around the world with Kiosks and Online, yet everyone seems enamored with mobile. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have much of an issue with that (“a rising tide lifts all boats”), but the problem for me, is that the buzz/hype is disproportionate to the near term practicality of the medium. I feel as though you brand and agency folks reading this might be getting a touch misled. The fact remains it just doesn’t make sense for most of you to do a Mobile AR campaign today. In a few years, it will be different (hopefully. I mean remember how it was “the year of mobile” in 1999, and 2000, and 2001, and 2002, and 2003….). But we aren’t talking about 2015 right now, we’re talking about 2010.
Now before I discuss the reasons I feel this way below I just want to make it clear that if you’re doing something with mobile that’s incredibly cool and your main goal is to get press, then my points aren’t applicable. I’m really only focusing on the brands/agencies that want to engage their consumers.
Now let’s get down to it. I think the main reason Mobile AR isn’t practical comes down to primarily two reasons: Technical Issues, and Consumer Reach.
I wrote at length last August (2009) about the Technical Issues, specifically the inaccuracies of Civilian Grade GPS and the Compasses that are installed on smartphones. So I won’t rehash that here even though the points are still valid a year later (If you want to read that post though, please click here). I would like to bring up a new point briefly though, and that’s Data Accessibility. Simply put, the networks aren’t fast enough yet and web content loads too slow to provide a reliable and satisfying experience for mobile users. That’s not just my opinion, according to an eMarketer report that came out this morning 29% of people feel that the biggest problem with accessing the mobile web is that sites load too slow. Do you think people really want to wait 15 – 30 seconds on a street corner with their phone pointed in a direction waiting for the content to load? I don’t… Will 4G be the answer? Maybe. But what’s the penetration rate of 4G right now? And that gets me to my second point… consumer reach.
There was a great infographic yesterday on Mashable regarding the popularity of the iPhone. There were some fascinating stats in there. I learned that 83% of Americans have a mobile phone and 25% of phone owners (i.e. that 83%) own a smartphone (both numbers are higher than the rest of the world. Those numbers are 68% and 17% respectively). Now, obviously you need a smart phone to interact with AR, so where does that put us? Roughly 1 in 5 Americans has the technology to interact with your mobile AR execution. Not terrible numbers (as I’m sure you’re targeting the “early adopters” anyways), but it’s not actually the full picture. According to an InfoWeek article “Nielsen reports that 33% of smartphone owners in the U.S. haven’t even subscribed to a data plan”. Obviously why someone would own a smartphone with no data plan is a head-scratcher, but apparently a large number of people do it (and let’s not forget, that was before AT&T and Apple began phasing out the “all you can eat” data plan so it will be interesting to see how people use their phone’s when data is a bit more of a “precious resource”). Of course, no data plan means that 1 in 3 smartphone owners can’t technically access your execution. The potential reach of your execution just got much smaller… Wait, you’re just creating an execution for the iPhone? None of the other smartphone operating systems? Again, your reach just got smaller.
Now, I don’t want to be a complete pessimist, so I wanted to point you towards two mobile AR executions that I really like. That’s not to say that the issues above don’t still apply. It’s just that if you plan on doing Mobile AR no matter what, these executions conceptually separate themselves from the pack:
1) A “Tower Defense Game” called “ARDefender”. Rather than try to describe it, I’ve embedded a video demo below. Once you watch the video, think about the potential of using product packaging to engage consumers in this way (are you reading this kid’s CPG manufacturers?). The possibilities are pretty exciting…
2) iButterfly. Now admittedly, this is an execution from Japan so we were unable to try it out. But as you’ll see in the video below, the concept is unique, and engaging.
As always, I’d love your to read your thoughts below, or you can contact me directly at twitter.com/jack_benoff