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« Twenty Years of Digital Convergence Around Mobile: What can we learn from the Cannibal of Cannibals? | Main | Migration of Digital Services to Mobile: in Gaming, mobile becomes largest sector this year »

April 20, 2017


Tomi T Ahonen

Hi everybody

Wow 24 comments on AR? You guys must be desperately waiting for Q1 smartphone numbers... :-). I'll do some replies and comments

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Winter, Wayne, b

Winter - yeah, it's now no longer a trickle, its becoming a stream. We saw this movie a million times before. It's how various phone types got acceptance (music phones, cameraphones, smartphones); it's how various mobile services went from 'that is ridiculous, nobody will ever do it' to 'yeah, of course I do it' like SMS, ringing tones, sharing pictures on phones, watching TV on phones and now increasingly, AR. For me, obviously its rewarding to see that there is building this belief in AR that goes beyond traditional AR guys or tech geeks from obviously very closely-related tech like the handset people or their software. When social media (Facebook) or videogamers like your link - start to think hey, this AR will be big... that is good validation its not just us talking amongst ourselves.

Wayne - I hear you, the timeline is tough but you've also seen me give the milestones here since my forecast early in this decade and we are exactly on schedule. I can now promise AR will have between 800 million and 1.3 Billion active users year 2020, the range of that forecast keeps shrinking and very clearly we are on the mark, to hit 1B more-or-less on the year 2020.

I agree that AR can now act as a further catalyst to drive more tech development, around the screen and me too, I like that. As to the type of users yeah, if year 2020 there are 1B 'Pokemon Go' type of users on AR, I will take that as total validation that AR is a mass media, I don't need it to be super-immersive always-on viciously addictive many-hours-per-day type of use - at first. It will keep getting 'worse' ie more addictive - over time anyway. So yeah, I will count 'occasional' users like Pokemon Go typical users, on their AR side - to be valid media audience individual members. If someone only occasionally drives the Formula 1 race car on the old Playstation - that consumer is STILL an active console gaming user, even if the usage is not heavy.

b - I agree just having Facebook being excited about something is not very strong validation. They are all over the place. But they are not the first - the relevant point is, they are a global industry leader of a tech sector that is not central to AR today. In that way it is as important as when Google said in 2006 that the future of their industry - the internet - would go to mobile (as it also happened).

I would note you might not want to lump VR and AR together. They are a bit like lumping trains and cars into the same industry. Both yes are transportation, with wheels but are radically different. VR (like trains) needs separate custom tech just to get into the experience (railroads need their own networks, cannot run on roads) vs AR works on any phone similar to how a car could drive on any roads and many places even where there is no road like a field or sandy beach etc.

As to 'will not be big' before anotehr 20 years. I wonder b, what is your definition of 'big?' for a media industry? Would you consider newspapers a big industry? Newspapers only have about 425 million daily circulation - and AR now has passed 300 million active users. I would say its pretty big already. And yeah, the growth path is very well on track to hit 1 Billion active users by year 2020 (may be a year earlier in fact) and I'd ask you b, is 1 Billion active users 'big' enough for you, or do you have some incredibly high bar, to which you assign that adjective... :-)

Winter (your response to b) - agree wholeheartedly and good point about the threshold. Yes, I agree a threshold will happen, after which essentially all tech companies will just incorporate AR, similar to how at one point the HTML internet link became obvious and everybody had to have web pages, or later, how SMS became also obvious and every company had to have some mobile messaging channel to and from consumers. I also agree, Pokemon Go will have been that threshold for many forward-thinking companies and may have been the catalyst for why Facebook now sings the songs of AR.

Tomi Ahonen :-)


"You guys must be desperately waiting for Q1 smartphone numbers... :-)."

Yes, but AR itself is very, very interesting too.

When I was in high school, pocket calculators started to arrive (I actually used a slide rule during exams) and the typewriter and stencil machine were the way of personal knowledge distribution. I have lived through the PC revolution, the Desktop revolution, the Internet, mobile (GSM) and, Smartphone revolutions, and I cannot wait for the next one to start.

My guesses are the next one will be IoT&AR.

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Michael, Wayne, b

Michael - very good point about 3D with TV. The tech industry is full of tech flops. AR was definitely on the risk of perhaps being a curiosity that never took off. We had many niche-type services and ideas and concepts from Ikea's catalog to the i-Butterfly of Hong Kong to Layar's AR browser, that all had their brief moments in the sun but didn't (yet) achieve the scale and acceptance that would signal a success for this technology. Pokemon Go is that transition point. Now with the fastest-launching mobile game of all time, and fastest totally new consumer service to ever hit 1 Billion dollars in revenues (excluding the franchise sequels, part 3 or part 7 of some big branded game etc) - essentially everybody in tech knows Pokemon Go and through it, can understand ways that AR could function as new type of media.

As to why using Pokemon Go as the example? Because its the newest and biggest and best example of success in AR. Its totally irrelevant if users SOMETIMES turn the AR function off - for some of the play. They 'had' to use AR to get into Pokemon Go in the first place. That means that anyone doing Pokemon Go has now experienced AR on their phones. It's like what American Idol/Pop Idol the reality TV format did for television voting via SMS. Most who voted for American Idol in its first year had never sent an SMS to TV before. It taught a whole generation (or Americans, lagging in SMS use) to vote via mobile for TV shows.

As to use cases, please go watch my TEDx Talk that I link to. There I show you with a simple mock-up via video, of what several AR media concepts will be like from real-time translations to advertising to 'superpower senses' - all that are now increasingly appearing in tech - but which will 'obviously' be done via AR soon.

Wayne (reply to Michael) - Good points esp the Snapchat filters type of very simple uses. But I'd say that is the same as what ringing tones were to music video watching of YouTube on mobile phones today. Or what SMS did to say Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp etc. It starts small and simple - but it reaches HUGE MASSES of people. Then companies will innovate and expand on the tech and the opportunities. But as to Hololens and Google Glass and that type of 'heavy' AR gear worn on the face - that I don't see yet viable, on the current level of tech costs and cumbersome hardware - that will need at least another decade in miniaturization before we get there.

b (second comment) - of VR being in hype stage 20 years from now - perhaps you're right. I will be here on this blog at least 10 years from now, we can see how that goes. But AR will be a commercial mass media that every major media brand uses and is a standard element in the marketing mix - just like today you would not imagine a global brand doing an ad campaign and forget to mention their website... AR will be a mass media in less than 5 years. And I will be here for you to return to mock me, if I turned out wrong. I am 100% convinced of my early (bold) forecast by now. All user numbers and revenue numbers now scream of this trend holding. VR, who knows. AR will definitely be a mass media. But you don't have to trust me b, just monitor the AR space, and return to this blog from time to time and we'll continue that discussion. I've gone through this exact debate dozens of times and I know what signs I need to know if this is a winner. AR is a winner. Unstoppable now.

Ok, more comments coming later, keep up the discussion

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Tester, Winter, b and Wayne

Tester - good points. Now on comparison to 3D movies isn't really valid. I think it would be for VR, because for VR you have to buy new tech (same with 3D movies, you need new cinema equipment and/or for home TV you need new TV gadget at home AND the broadcaster or blueray player needs to then give you the 3D content). But with AR the current tech can deliver the AR experience in particular with smartphones.

But as to seeing AR's early promise primarily in toys and gimmicks, ok, I don't doubt that. But one toy type - videogaming - grew into a huge giant global media industry by itself worth over $100 Billion today, far larger than say music recording industry or movies/Hollywood etc. And the 'virtual' gaming environment tech then also sustains parallel but obviously far smaller industries in education via virtual 'gaming' ie simulators for fighter pilots, commercial jet pilots, various other specialist jobs like Formula 1 race drivers, tank crews, etc.

So while yes, gaming may be the main element that AR will ever do - that could be in the scale of what the videogaming industry is today in very rough sense - and that would be a big industry all by itself. Secondly AR could spawn 'spin off' uses similar to how training-simulators now use gaming type of technology to create greater realistic experiences (flight simulators existed from before WW2 but they were 'mechanical' so pilots didn't get that strongly the sensation of flying which they do in modern simulators with their digital multi-screen displays.

Funny side story - the world's first multi-screen fighter jet simulator (with multiple computers running a synchronized view, so if you looked forward, then turned to look out the side window - those two screens had the videos synchronized so that it had the 3D realism) - was built by BAE in the UK, for the Hawk jet trainer and the first such multi-screen jet fighter simulator was sold to Finland. The programming work involved to do the synchronized screens was so huge, that early on, the only 3D displays the pilots could use for learning to fly the jet in Finland, were done in night-time so they only needed to do a few 'spots of light' when you flew over a given bridge or whatever at night. Haha... perils of adopting new tech.

Now of course most advanced jet simulators are that type, with multiple screens to give pilots the 3D effect.

Now on the issue you ask, Tester, how can AR fit into this new media landscape? Apart from gaming, obviously. I'd say AR is the ultimate 'magical' experience. Take the AR driver's manual for Audi and several other car makers by now. Rather than read what you should do, take out your phone, look at the car, select the AR assistant - and a virtual guide will SHOW you what to do. Right on the car, YOUR car. Where are the spark plugs and how do you change them, etc... This is magical. Like the Ikea catalog, to magically 'test' furniture in your home before you buy.

Now, both of these examples are not 'we use it every day' type of uses. So an Audi driver might not 'need the user manual' ever, and thus never go to the AR service - or use it only once, or when needed, has utterly forgotten it is possible, and for exmaple goes to his smartphone, and just Googles the issue - show me a video of how to change my spark plugs.

Same with Ikea, most families do not go furniture shopping every week haha. The usage would be rare and occasional, and may well be forgotten.

BUT... remember the first use of QR codes? Once you used it once, you wished everybody had QR codes in use... Now we see them in many places and have no problem using them to get more information etc. That is somewhat, what I foresee AR will become - that we learn to use it in one case (like playing Pokemon Go) but then when our bank or our airline or our hotel or whatever offers THEIR service on AR we are more prone to use it.

Thats not to say, that there will necessarily be 'non-entertainment' content of meaningful use, on AR. Time will tell. It is theoretically possible to deliver news via music recordings too, haha, but nobody buys records to listen to news. Not every media concept works in every media channel. And so far, gaming is the only certain one that definitely works on AR.

Winter (reply to Tester) - good points and I also can foresee those types of uses in improving communciation - but I would think that will take more time - because then each consumer would need some level of the AR 'authoring' type of tools or services too. Currently we are (consumers) mostly just consuming AR content. That I do think will be the early majority of the services.

b - onto contact lenses. That will come, obviously. But that will only enhance the experience, make AR bigger. AR without contact lenses is headed to a massive media opportunity already now. Note that AR at this point in time is AHEAD of where mobile media - fastest-growing media in human history - was at the same point in time. The successes in AR are far larger and more lucrative today, than at the comparable point in time with mobile media content.

Winter - great point about the killer app. Like you, I wish I knew what that will be for AR, but it will come and very likely, as we had with the PC, the internet and mobile - there will be several killer apps, not only one. (Killer app is not necessarily a lucrative business and doesn't need to be a large component of the total industry - but a killer app will be the CAUSE to adopt a new technology. For some parents, Pokemon Go, seeing their kids falling in love with that game - was a reason to go get a smartphone, so the parent could join the kid in exploring this game. Hence Pokemon Go could be seen as a modest killer app for some parents to get a smartphone; the kids were already using the smartphones so it was no reason to go get a smartphone (and/or AR) but it was of course a new type of experience for most of those kids too.

Wayne - good point about VR vs AR (totally agree) and the type of AR. That many foresee the 'visor' type of AR (lets not forget, AR can also be done in sound, without video) like Google Glass or Hololens, and yes, Pokemon Go type of smartphone AR is far from that. Also totally agree, early on, only smartphone-based AR can reach 1B users. But if AR gains a large sustainable audience - AR may DRIVE the adoption of visor equipment too... That would be for the next decade, not now...

Tomi Ahonen :-)

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    Tomi Ahonen is a bestselling author whose twelve books on mobile have already been referenced in over 100 books by his peers. Rated the most influential expert in mobile by Forbes in December 2011, Tomi speaks regularly at conferences doing about 20 public speakerships annually. With over 250 public speaking engagements, Tomi been seen by a cumulative audience of over 100,000 people on all six inhabited continents. The former Nokia executive has run a consulting practise on digital convergence, interactive media, engagement marketing, high tech and next generation mobile. Tomi is currently based out of Helsinki but supports Fortune 500 sized companies across the globe. His reference client list includes Axiata, Bank of America, BBC, BNP Paribas, China Mobile, Emap, Ericsson, Google, Hewlett-Packard, HSBC, IBM, Intel, LG, MTS, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Ogilvy, Orange, RIM, Sanomamedia, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Three, Tigo, Vodafone, etc. To see his full bio and his books, visit Tomi Ahonen lectures at Oxford University's short courses on next generation mobile and digital convergence. Follow him on Twitter as @tomiahonen. Tomi also has a Facebook and Linked In page under his own name. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and as expert witness, please write to tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com

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