Top tips for scaling up AR apps in 2017

The creative industries may welcome emerging technologies with excitement, but this does not necessarily translate into immediate success. Any initial enthusiasm is quickly dampened by fear surrounding the return on investment in these unchartered and potentially risky waters. 

VR is going through this second stage at the moment; it didn't explode at Christmas and uptake has been slow for a mainstream audience. When looking at augmented reality (AR) on the other hand, it seems it will have a good 2017, especially when you see that investment (across all industries) is significantly higher than its sibling VR.

Perhaps the reason AR had a slower start is that it's not necessarily a new technology in the creative industries. Where I work at Nexus Studios, we'd already used AR in a commercial project five years ago. 

However, since then there have been some pretty mega technological advances; from tracking a marker, to rendering graphics, to the smartphone (the single most important hardware device we own). 2017 is really the year to showcase what is now possible; creatively and technically. 

Nexus has upscaled the AR technology in its recent Gruffalo app to create close to life-sized characters in a real world location

Easy adoption

The opportunity for AR this year is being heavily driven by its easy adoption; everyone has a smartphone and knows how to download apps. And the emergence of big computers and new headset options should not be downplayed. 

For example, when we were working with the Obama administration last year on an AR project, the initial brief was to use AR as the technology platform as it offered an exciting creative opportunity without any financial or time investment on the part of the user.

2017 is really the year to showcase what is now possible with AR, creatively and technically.

Also working in its favour is the fact that mobile AR can built once but seen everywhere. So if the marker is a movie poster, then this experience can be seen wherever the movie poster is, whether that's in a magazine, on the underground, at the bus stop, on TV, online, or even on a massive billboard. That represents a real opportunity for adoption and ROI. 

Of course, high adoption and ROI are only possible if the experiences themselves are noteworthy and therefore have a social impact amongst groups of friends. AR has to credit projects like Pokemon Go and platforms like Snapchat for introducing the potential of the technology as a storytelling medium – but I think it's only in 2017 that we're going to see it adopted as a film-making medium.

Groundbreaking projects

This month we're releasing our latest AR project for the Gruffalo brand, Gruffalo Spotters. In it, kids can engage with characters from the book and films while on the Gruffalo trail. Another of our projects, 1600, is essentially an interactive 90-second film. 

So the potential is there; it's still the beginning really. Just like the radical learning developments we've made in film-making for virtual reality (like Pearl getting an Oscar nomination), we must now do the same for AR.

Mixed reality

As AR develops this year it's worth keeping an eye on mixed-reality (MR). Often confused with augmented reality, MR offers the opportunity for real world and digital to co-exist in the same space, all in real time and fully interactive. The experiences can be 'intelligent', with an understanding of their environment (in contrast, AR uses the marker to 'place' the digital experience). 

A good, recent example of the potential of MR is the demo of Portal on Microsoft's HoloLens. Products like the HoloLens or the unreleased Magic Leap offer insight into the potential creative opportunities with MR. 

This year we'll also see more phones like the ASUS ZenFone AR and Lenovo Phab 2 Pro that are utilising depth cameras and specific hardware like Google's Tango for the same creative opportunities. The MR industry is getting really exciting and of course, the opportunity as a mobile experience is huge.

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