ARCore + ARKit Make Augmented Reality Ubiquitous

On Tuesday, Google released a developer preview of ARCore, a platform for developers to build augmented reality apps for Android. ARCore brings augmented reality to the world’s largest mobile operating system, starting with just the Pixel and Galaxy S8, but will expand to other existing and upcoming Android devices. The announcement comes on the heels of Apple’s ARKit, made available to developers in June. The introduction of both platforms blankets the mobile device market and will eventually make AR as ubiquitous as the devices themselves.

How does it work? Three basic components make up the technology that enables ARCore:

  1. Motion tracking – uses internal sensors and the phone’s camera to identify features and determine your position and orientation as you move through space
  2. Environmental understanding – detects the size and location of flat horizontal surfaces like tables and walls
  3. Light estimation – blurs the lines between the real and augmented world by helping virtual objects cast accurate shadows

What about Tango? Augmented reality is not a new area of interest for Google. Over three years ago, Google released Tango in an attempt to bring AR to smartphones and tablets.  Google’s custom hardware requirements, however, left Tango with little mainstream appeal. ARCore forgoes some of Tango’s power for increased accessibility. Fortunately for consumers, as AR becomes a core capability of devices going forward, hardware will catch up in the form of more sensors and better cameras, benefitting mobile AR as a whole.

Déjà vu. In July 2008, Apple opened the App Store with a total of 500 apps. One year later, it had seen over 2 billion downloads, and by 2011, the App Store was home to over 350,000 apps with 10 billion total downloads. The Android Market (later Google Play Store) was announced 3 months after the App Store, and although it had a slower takeoff due to smaller market share, it surpassed the App Store by 2014, both in terms of number of apps available and total downloads. The Google Play Store currently offers 2.8 million apps, compared to Apple’s 2.2 million. Just as smartphone apps erupted into existence, augmented reality will soon be a core technology available to millions of users. Google expects that by ARCore’s public launch, 100 million Android devices will support AR applications, and our research suggests over 200 million iPhones will become AR-enabled with the introduction of ARKit.

AR is here to stay. The two major device platforms are now wholeheartedly embracing and investing in augmented reality. Microsoft and Facebook have also heavily invested in AR’s future, further confirming AR’s position as a pivotal technology. We have previously written about the gold rush of AR applications on the App Store, which will only be amplified by the addition of ARCore. While the race for the pole position in AR heats up, there is one clear winner – the consumer. Aside from putting useful and fun new apps in our hands, expanding the user base of the underlying technology will accelerate the adoption of the next generation of computing.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

How the Future of Voice Search Affects Marketers Today

Written by guest author Lindsay Boyajian at Conductor

Since Amazon announced its acquisition of Whole Foods, the running joke across social media has been, “Jeff Bezos said to Alexa, ‘Buy me something on Whole Foods,’ and Alexa bought Whole Foods.”

This quip highlights the shortcomings that plague voice search. Today, voice recognition technology is very much flawed and often falls short in delivering on the user’s intent.

Despite its weaknesses, voice search is promising to be the user input of tomorrow. The major tech companies are investing heavily in the technology— Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa, Google has Google Assistant, and Microsoft has Cortana. Even with the technology in its nascency, Google reports 20 percent of queries on its mobile app and Android devices are voice searches.

And thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, voice search is improving quickly. It improves with every user interaction, becoming more apt at understanding user intent. With the technology advancing, more users will adopt voice search, fueling the growth cycle.

The work that is going into voice recognition technology today will power the next evolution in computing— augmented reality.

Augmented Reality & Voice Search

Augmented reality (AR) represents a new computing paradigm. Augmented reality overlays digital assets on the real-world environment. The technology promises to change how users interact with the digital world.

Soon, everything from office activities to shopping will be experienced through augmented reality. For instance, a shopper will be able to put on a lightweight pair of AR glasses to visualize in 3D what different couches will look like in her home. Some AR experiences like this are already offered today through head-mounted devices like Hololens and Meta. However, these devices are only available to developers and still have their limitations. They are not ready for mass consumer adoption.

The principal user input for augmented reality devices (excluding hardware input accessories like keypads and clickers) is gesture and voice. The issue with gesture controls is user discomfort and fatigue. Many experts agree that voice will be the primary input for these devices.

As the augmented reality space matures so will the importance of voice search.

The tech company with the most advanced voice recognition technology will have an advantage in augmented reality computing.

Optimizing Organic Search for the Future of Voice Search

Although mass consumer adoption of AR hardware is still years away, brands that optimize for voice search early will lead in organic and search marketing when the technology becomes ubiquitous.

Voice search behavior differs from traditional search patterns. Consumers approach voice search using natural, more conversational language. The queries are often longer and delivered as questions.

The result for marketers is that content optimized only for keywords will falter, while content that delivers value and matches the intent of the user will see improved organic search performance. To do this, marketers need to develop a deeper understanding of their customers to deliver content that provides relevant and timely value. This approach to marketing is known as customer first marketing.

Customer first marketing is not new. More and more brands are quickly adopting a customer-centric marketing approach. Relevant and contextual content drives traffic, fosters customer engagement, and builds loyalty. The rise of voice search and its link to the future of augmented reality only makes adopting a customer first marketing strategy even more advantageous for brands and marketers.

This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn. For more, follow Lindsay Boyajian on Twitter and LinkedIn

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

E3 Leaves VR Fans Wanting More

Fans of virtual reality gaming didn’t hear quite as many announcements as they were hoping to last week at E3. While Sony and PC platforms announced some impressive titles launching in VR, Microsoft was silent about VR despite releasing the most powerful console to date. It was Nintendo however, that made a surprise announcement about its efforts in VR.

During its press conference, Nintendo unveiled that Mario Kart is arriving at a location-based VR with VR Zone Shinjuku, a 40,000 square foot arcade from Bandai Namco, offering 15 different VR games. The facility is set to open on July 14th. One of the most anticipated games to be showcased at the facility, Mario Kart, gives gamers the chance to sit in a go-kart and put on a VR headset, racing their friends virtually. This is Bandai Namco’s second foray into location-based VR arcades, after opening up “VR Zone Project I Can” in Tokyo last year.

Time will tell if Nintendo further adopts the location-based approach, and brings more of its games to the increasing number VR arcades across the world. Location-based VR is a great way to introduce VR to a higher number of consumers. These VR arcades help defray high costs, provide ample space for VR gaming, and offer a fun, communal VR experience. However, given the declining cost of VR gaming, we view this as stepping-stone technology that won’t be the final place for VR gaming. Eventually, VR gaming will be home-based, just as console video-games replaced arcades of the past.

In contrast to Nintendo, Sony continues to release VR content to its PlayStation VR console. At E3, Sony announced major titles in VR including Skyrim and Doom VFR. Previously, Sony’s VR titles were non-major titles that were developed specifically for the VR experience. Major titles reaching its VR platform is a big step forward for VR gaming and a positive indication for the space.

Microsoft has yet to bring VR gaming to the Xbox, instead choosing to place a bigger bet on Mixed Realty, focusing on their new MR platform for PCs coming this fall. When Project Skorpio was announced last year, it seemed all but a certainty that it was a move to compete directly with Playstation VR, and bring VR gaming to the Xbox One. However, Microsoft tempered expectations before E3. Microsoft’s Phil Spencer shared his belief that VR console gaming is typically done in family rooms and needs to have wireless headsets in order for it to be done right. While the newly announced Xbox One X is powerful enough to support VR, owners likely won’t see VR support until 2018. Until then, Microsoft remains focused on its Mixed Reality platform coming to PCs this fall.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Face Off: Siri vs. Google Assistant vs. Cortana

The importance of voice assistants in the screenless future is hard to overestimate. We see speech-driven user interfaces as a key component of the next computing paradigm, so it’s helpful to understand empirically where each platform stands today. In February, we compared Amazon Echo and Google Home to see which assistant was winning the race to become the centerpiece of the home. Google Home won that battle, but it was close. For our next digital assistant face off, we tested the three most prevalent digital assistants available for mobile devices: Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana. This time, Google Assistant came out on top.

Methodology

We asked the same 800 queries to each assistant that we asked Amazon Echo and Google Home. We graded the queries on two metrics: First, did the assistant correctly understand the query? Second, did the assistant answer the query correctly?

The queries break down into five categories:

  • Local – Where is the nearest McDonald’s?
  • Commerce – Where can I buy more printer paper?
  • Navigation – How do I get to REI from here?
  • Information – What is Apple’s stock price?
  • Command – Remind me to call Mom at 2pm today.

Results

Google Assistant, the clear winner, understood 99.9% of the queries we asked and answered 74.8% of them correctly. Siri understood 94.4% of the queries we asked and answered 66.1% of them correctly. Finally, Cortana understood 97.3% of the queries we asked and answered 48.8% of them correctly.

By category, Google’s lead in navigation and information is demonstrable, but there’s more parity between Siri and Google Assistant in local, commerce and command related queries. Cortana lagged both Siri and Google Assistant in all categories, narrowly coming in second only in information.

Read More

Don’t Write Microsoft Off

Typically, when we talk about the future of AR and VR, the first companies that come to mind are Apple, Google, Facebook, and Snapchat; however, Microsoft does not receive enough credit for the strong positioning it has already built.

As shown in our Jump Ball for the Next OS chart, Microsoft sits in third place behind Google and Apple in terms of elements necessary for a complete AR OS.

In the past week, Microsoft has made three important announcements that show the advances it’s making in order to better position itself as a key platform for VR and AR the future.

Project Scorpio. Last week, Microsoft unveiled its final Xbox Project Scorpio specifications through Digital Foundry. Project Scorpio is a mid-generation console with 4K output and VR gaming capabilities. Gaming is one of the first areas where VR will have a big impact, and Microsoft is poised to benefit from it.

Of all of the companies vying to own VR and AR platforms of the future, Microsoft is the only one to have a gaming console. In January, Microsoft shared that it had reached 55 million monthly active users on its Xbox Live platform, up 15% from the previous year. The Project Scorpio console, set to be released this fall, is powerful enough to display VR content. Microsoft’s main competition in console gaming is Sony, who released an early VR system in November of 2016. Sony has since announced that Playstation VR has sold over 915,000 units as of late February. We view Playstation VR as a step behind the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but ahead of smartphone-powered experiences.

While Microsoft doesn’t produce any VR hardware, it sells the Oculus Rift headset in its stores and has included the Xbox controller in Oculus Rift bundles. Oculus seems like the logical choice for a VR headset partner for Project Scorpio, but Microsoft shared that the next console will also support the Mixed Reality Headsets from Microsoft in 2018, which include headsets manufactured by Lenovo, Dell, Acer, and HP.

Mixed Reality OS Support. Microsoft recently announced that its latest Windows 10 update, the Creator’s Update, will start rolling out to users beginning on April 11th. This update will include support for Mixed Reality (MR) headsets. While this doesn’t mean much to consumers now since MR headsets won’t be available until the holiday season, developers that are soon to receive their MR development kits will be able to work on creating content and applications now. Providing developers with this early window should lead to high-quality MR content being available on day one of the MR headset releases.

It’s also important to remember that Microsoft is leading the way when it comes to MR hardware, with the Hololens. While there are improvements that can be made, Microsoft has a commanding lead in the category. Its updates to Windows 10 will further benefit Hololens developers as well. We continue to view mixed reality as true augmented reality.

Sprinkles. Microsoft has also released a photo application for iOS called Sprinkles, which is a foray into AR on a mobile platform. Sprinkles gives users photo editing tools, allowing them to add filters, stickers, and emojis. In addition, it utilizes facial recognition to position stickers and recommend celebrity look-a-likes. This app is similar to Apple’s recently released Clips.

While Microsoft clearly missed an opportunity in the shift to the mobile computing paradigm, it seems heavily invested in positioning itself as a strong company in the future computing paradigm based on its investments in AR and VR.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.