Is Visual Search the Killer Augmented Reality App?


Anyone who has seen the first down marker displayed during American football broadcasts or viewed compass markings on a car windscreen has experienced augmented reality (AR). But its widespread use has been limited to simple functions delivered via expensive equipment. In the past, the sheer computing power needed to augment reality was cost prohibitive and the technology was not particularly accessible.

Smartphones, with their sophisticated cameras and fast processors, along with the proliferation of high-speed broadband networks, enabled AR to make the leap to mobile. The first AR apps were introduced to smartphones in 2008 and Mobilizy was among the pioneers, as it brought the Wikitude World Browser to the Android-based T-Mobile G1 and, later, to iOS.

Augmented Reality Use Cases Take Root

But clearly, mobile AR stalled between those first AR apps and today. What happened? Between 2008 and the end of 2015, there were technical challenges, particularly concerning the poor accuracy of object placement and orientation, but mobile AR suffered primarily during the period because of the lack of good use cases. Things began to change in late 2015. Computer vision advancements and the broader adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) influenced AR. Smartphone capabilities in processing power and camera functionality advanced. And sustainable AR use cases began to take root.

Today, we are on the cusp of sustainable market adoption of mobile AR, both for consumer and enterprise use cases. More powerful players are entering the space, compelled by potential profits. Advancing technologies on both the software and hardware side are playing key roles in the maturation of AR, as are ecosystems for the nurturing, development, and monetization of AR content and applications. Key use cases that will drive market adoption are: social media, games & entertainment, e-commerce, mapping/indoor navigation, visual search, and toys for the consumer market; and education, plant maintenance, field service, and business-to-business (B2B) sales tools for the enterprise market.

Blippar’s Visual Search App Commercial Breakthrough

The consumer use case for mobile AR with the potential to reach the largest audience and generate the most revenue is visual search, which is the ability to instantly access data associated with anything a user sees. Through innovations in computer vision and deep learning, Blippar has broken through with a commercially available app.

London-based Blippar is the pioneer of visual search and the only independent player fully-focused on a downloadable app. Blippar has been around for a few years and had established itself as an AR browser, enabling users to see commercially advertised data. But in July 2016, the company shifted to a more fully functional visual search engine. The Blipparsphere feature is a proprietary knowledge graph that uses computer vision and machine learning to recognize real-world objects to personalize information about a user’s physical surroundings.

What is intriguing about Blippar is the company has worked hard to make the app more than a promotional tool for advertisers. During a random test of the search function in March, the app was pointed at an uncommon shrub in a public park in tropical Florida. The search engine correctly identified the plant and then provided several links to data about the plant, such as specific gardening/care tips, historic botanical information, photo links, etc. In the example in the figure below, when the app is pointed at the Petronas Towers, the app shows a variety of information links, such as Kuala Lumpur Tower, Kuala Lumpur, a Petronas company link, facts about the famous building, a link to the architect, Cesar Pelli, a link to postmodern architecture, etc.


(Source: Blippar)

Internet Giants Will Enter the Race to Offer Visual Search

Tractica believes several internet giants will launch visual search functionality by early 2018, including Baidu, Alibaba (with Shenma), Tencent (with Sogou), Google, Microsoft/Bing, and Facebook. Search remains one of the largest digital advertising vehicles. All of these companies have a massive stake in search and are among the world leaders in AI/deep learning.

You can learn more about the market for mobile AR, including use case analysis and forecasts for both the consumer and enterprise markets, in Tractica’s new report, Mobile Augmented Reality.

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