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Mobile is the “here and now” AR opportunity, given its capacity for scale. But the key word is “capacity”: half a billion smartphones is an addressable market, not necessarily an actual one (yet). This was an important reminder from Happy Giant founder & CEO Mike Levine at AWE.

Citing ARtillry Intelligence, he reminds that we in the industry are all amped on AR, but much of the consumer public isn’t sold, or doesn’t care. This includes the fact that 68 percent of consumers haven’t tried it yet and many of those are “just not interested.”

“We’re kind of all in the bubble,” said Levine. “We like AR, but we have to remind ourselves how the general public looks at it, and why haven’t they used it when asked… there’s not a compelling use case yet for the people at least who’ve been asked in this poll.”

This consumer attitude will likely shift as the technology assimilates, improves and feeds us killer apps. But Levine makes a well-reasoned case that the communications, social or utility killer app we’re all waiting for could be gaming instead. And furthermore, has it already arrived?

“It’s hard to say [Pokemon GO] was not a killer AR app,” said Levine. “This was a cultural moment that exposed the public to AR for the first time…it was the most popular AR app, most downloaded of all time, made the most revenue of all time… to me, this is an AR killer app.”

Levine acknowledges the debate over whether or not Pokemon Go is really AR, but it doesn’t matter: it’s done the industry a favor as its gateway drug. Furthermore, deficiencies in “true AR” won’t be an issue for long, given Niantic’s acquisition spree, and upcoming Harry Potter title.

“They’re going to seriously up the AR game on Harry Potter,” he said. “The future of mobile AR, especially over the next 6-12 months, hinges on this title. There will be no bigger use case or utility app that will use the AR cloud and get people mapping the world than this Game.”

These tailwinds will certainly accelerate adoption and help AR app developers. But challenges should be acknowledged, including overcrowded app stores and other hurdles that exacerbate the foundational challenge of relatively low interest levels (per the above data).

“Our apps have to go into these already insanely overcrowded app stores,” he said. “Now we’re even more reliant on Apple and Google to stick out than we were before, and that was already a hard ask. As we’ve just seen, many users aren’t even aware of their devices support AR.”

Meanwhile one thing the industry can do is share best practices. In that spirit, Happy Giant has observed key user behaviors to inform game design. For example, arm fatigue compels short sessions. And underlying AR Cloud functionality is needed, along with tech-giant support.

“We need more AR game devs, we need people committed to it,” said Levine. “We need more funding for content. We need a marketplace and we need support from the big players. In VR we have Oculus and Google and I keep waiting: Where are those players in this space.”

Consumer AR will get there, but slower than many of us had hoped. Meanwhile reality-check rhetoric like this helps manage expectations and steer good business strategy. And while we all wait for killer apps — gaming, utilities or otherwise – at least one may have already arrived.

“Good times are ahead,” said Levine. “AR games will pave the way.”


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Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.