Published On: Wed, Jul 19th, 2017

The 4 waves of protracted existence (that Apple owns)

Tim Merel is handling executive of Digi-Capital.

We’ve been observant for a final integrate of years that augmented/virtual existence is a fourth call of consumer technology, and that AR could turn many bigger than VR. But AR itself is not one hulk wave, it’s a set of 4 large ones: mobile AR software, mobile AR hardware, tethered smartglasses and standalone smartglasses. These 4 waves could expostulate AR from tens of millions of users and $1.2 billion final year, to more than a billion users and $83 billion by 2021. Surf’s up.

Digi-Capital AR height waves

Consumer record waves are not all a same. Some are ripples, others start tiny and bloat to good heights and there’s an occasional tsunami. So what is any AR wave? Let’s start by defining them:

  • Mobile AR software: AR program that works on customary smartphones/tablets, like Apple ARKit for iOS and Facebook’s Camera Effects Platform.
  • Mobile AR hardware: dedicated smartphone/tablet AR hardware and software, like Google Tango phones.
  • Tethered smartglasses: AR smartglasses requiring a smartphone/tablet or PC host, like Meta smartglasses.
  • Standalone smartglasses: Self-contained AR smartglasses with no host, like Microsoft HoloLens (which they call churned reality).

Mobile AR software

Mobile AR program is a tsunami that came out of nowhere, with Pokémon GO downloaded 750 million times in a initial year. But where Pikachu gave consumers their initial ambience of mobile AR, Facebook’s AR height and Apple’s ARKit for iOS democratize mobile AR program during scale as loyal consumer platforms.

Apple’s ARKit for iOS requires during slightest an iPhone 6s, iPhone SE, 2017 iPad or iPad Pro, with 300 to 400 million ARKit-compatible inclination today. Eighty-six percent of iOS users commissioned iOS 10 a year after launch, so presumption iOS 11 follows a identical trail and iPhones/iPads keep selling, ARKit could have an commissioned bottom of adult to 400 million inclination by a finish of 2018.

Facebook’s Camera Effects Platform is being rolled out to Facebook Messenger’s 1.2 billion MAU, WhatsApp’s 1.2 billion MAU and Instagram’s 700 million MAU (with poignant overlap). Facebook migrated 15 percent of WhatsApp users to Status 10 weeks after launch, 29 percent of Instagram users to Stories reduction than a year after launch and 54 percent of Instagram users to Direct 4 years after launch. A identical expansion bend could broach around 400 million commissioned bottom for Facebook’s Camera Effects Platform by a finish of 2018 too.


As good as these dual widespread platforms, mobile AR program is set to play out opposite messaging apps from Tencent, Snap, LINE, Kakao and Snow, maps apps from Google and Baidu, e-commerce apps from Alibaba, Amazon and eBay, plus consumer (non-games), enterprise, games, location-based, video and other new mobile AR apps nobody has suspicion of yet. The mobile AR program call could expostulate some-more than a billion users by 2021.

As with early iOS/Android, a Cambrian explosion of mobile AR apps with new widespread forms should emerge on tip of these platforms (see what’s been grown so far here), creation them a excavation for developers. As mobile AR program players will be means to quit to mobile AR hardware, tethered smartglasses and standalone smartglasses waves, mobile AR program looks like a one call to order them all.

Mobile AR hardware

Mobile AR hardware’s additional sensors, CPU/GPU grunt and AR-focused device potency could urge user knowledge where computer vision and coexisting localization and mapping (SLAM) are critical. This is notwithstanding a fact that Apple’s ARKit for iOS and Facebook’s Camera Effects Platform apps will work usually excellent on many customary smartphones.

With phone deputy cycles during 2.5 years and high-end phones anywhere between one-third and two-thirds of smartphone sales (depending on manufacturer and geography), range-topping AR phones could broach an commissioned bottom of tens of millions in a subsequent 12 months, and more than 400 million by 2021. In other words, mobile AR hardware competence take 5 years to strech a same scale as usually one of a widespread mobile AR program platforms subsequent year.

This creates a mobile AR hardware user bottom a high-end subset of mobile AR program (except for Apple, where it will eventually be a same thing). Mobile hardware makers could do unequivocally well out of this market, and it competence also have stronger monetization for mobile AR program developers with less-price-sensitive early adopters.

Tethered smartglasses

Say “AR” and many people hear “smartglasses” (or “Iron Man”). But smartglasses’ 5 vital hurdles contingency be cowed for them to work in consumer markets: (1) favourite device (i.e. an Apple-quality device, possibly finished by Apple or someone else), (2) all-day battery life, (3) mobile connectivity, (4) app ecosystem, and (5) telco cross-subsidization. While many courtesy is paid to what that favourite device will demeanour like and when it will get here, dual of a other hurdles are quite tough to solve.

Until a vital breakthrough in battery record or device efficiency, a lightweight span of standalone AR smartglasses doing heavy-duty AR is tough to energy all day though a battery container or hot-swappable batteries (fine for craving users, a harder sell for consumers). This is a non-trivial problem. Plus, it’s a vital risk for a developer ecosystem to deposit heavily in building apps for new platforms until a commissioned bottom reaches scale. It’s a long-lived duck and egg problem that all new tech platforms face. Mobile tethered smartglasses offer a intensity resolution to both.

Sharing processing, arrangement and sensors opposite smartphones and tethered smartglasses gives we dual batteries, any powering fewer sold systems. If they’re connected by a cable, this could give a healthy strike to battery life. But if a fasten is wireless (like Apple’s Watch and AirPods), communication between inclination could take behind some of a benefits.


Apple, Facebook and Tencent’s mobile AR program ecosystems could also transition seamlessly to tethered smartglasses if and when they launch them. For Apple in particular, ARKit for iOS could see a resources of mobile AR program developers migrating to iGlasses (even if they call them something else). Our stream perspective is that Apple competence enter a mobile tethered smartglasses marketplace around 2019, with probable foe from Samsung, Huawei, Facebook, Tencent and others.

As mobile tethered smartglasses are peripherals to, not replacements for, smartphones, users will need to compensate for, assign and lift dual inclination rather than one. That additional nuisance and cost could extent marketplace distance to a tens of millions by 2021. By comparison, mobile AR competence have billions of users in a same time frame.

PC tethered smartglasses that need some-more computing energy could sojourn some-more expensive, enterprise-focused and have smaller commissioned bases than their mobile tethered equivalents. They also competence not advantage directly from a mobile AR program ecosystem. A together for this energetic already exists in VR, where mobile systems outnumber PC equivalents 10 to one.

Standalone smartglasses

You could buy standalone smartglasses (HoloLens anyone?), though cost (around $3,000), form cause (weighing some-more than a pound, singular margin of view), battery life (2-3 hours), app ecosystem (limited consumer apps) and mobile connectivity (Wi-Fi only) restricts them to a craving marketplace today. High-profile startups like Magic Leap are perplexing to solve AR’s 5 large consumer challenges, though standalone smartglasses demeanour like a fourth and final call of consumer AR (at slightest until The Matrix gets here).

But good things come to those who wait. Mobile AR program will solve a app ecosystem. Tethered smartglasses will solve a favourite device. Mobile connectivity is easy (although not powering it all day), and telcos are already offered AR phones to reinstate customary smartphones to expostulate information revenues. But all-day battery life though a battery container or hot-swappable batteries stays a challenge. Again, though a breakthrough in battery record or device efficiency, standalone smartglasses competence not totally reinstate your smartphone before 2020.

When standalone smartglasses are prepared to conquer consumer markets, user adoption reverts to a phone deputy cycle. Early adopters will lead a assign to reinstate their phones with standalone smartglasses, though we’re still articulate about a Tesla marketplace by 2021. By proceed of analogy, Interstate 280 between San Francisco and Sand Hill Road is a Tesla parking lot during rush hour; we don’t see many Teslas in Marengo, Indiana.

Apple owns your protracted future

Since early 2015, we’ve pronounced that Apple could broach as good prevalence and profitability in AR as it has in mobile today. Its end-to-end ecosystem of hardware, software, app store, developers and sell are healthy advantages that can’t be beaten (and many have tried). Dominance opposite all 4 AR waves looks like it could be a creation for that Tim Cook is remembered, and take Apple over Steve Jobs’ bequest to make it a 100-year company.

Facebook’s user base, platforms (Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp), developer ecosystem, mobile AR developer tools, mobile marketplace knowledge and financial flesh pledge a success in mobile AR software. However, Facebook’s entrance into a phone hardware market did not go to plan, and Oculus is orders of bulk smaller than a rest of Facebook. This creates a mobile AR hardware play (i.e. a Facebook AR phone) demeanour unlikely.

Mark Zuckerberg believes in smartglasses’ long-term future, though a head-to-head conflict with Apple in this marketplace competence not be a satisfactory fight. Apple’s fundamental advantages and consumer hardware DNA make it a many profitable association in a universe (mostly), and Facebook would be building a smartglasses hardware ecosystem from scratch. Facebook could still launch smartglasses, though adhering to a needlework as an AR program association is always on a table. Either way, design poignant Facebook investment in AR over a Camera Effects Platform.

Tencent has as good mobile AR program intensity in China as Facebook outward it, focused on a some-more than 846 million folks who use WeChat. But if Tencent unequivocally wants prevalence opposite all 4 AR waves in China, it could proceed a AR hardware marketplace in a singular way. Enabled by a marketplace share of WeChat, a app store strength and a fragmented inlet of a Chinese phone market, Tencent could furnish a domestic chronicle of Apple’s AR ecosystem together with vital domestic phone makers. This could outcome in Tencent AR hardware, software, app store, developers and WeChat as a widespread Chinese AR platform. As with Facebook, Tencent also could equivocate AR hardware altogether and sojourn a pristine program player.

Google’s Maps, VPS and information resources give it poignant advantages in mobile AR program outward China, though it doesn’t have mobile messaging platforms like Facebook or an integrated ecosystem like Apple. Google Tango relies on hardware partners outside a tip 5 globally (e.g. Lenovo, ASUS), though Samsung, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo haven’t sealed adult yet. If Google wins support from these 4 companies, a highway to tethered smartglasses and standalone smartglasses for consumers becomes clearer. But if it doesn’t, Google would need to find another path (potentially as an expansion of Google Glass Enterprise Edition). Baidu faces identical opportunities and hurdles in China, though with a opposite set of domestic competitors.

Whether or not Google partners with them, Samsung, Huawei and other phone makers don’t have a advantages of Apple’s ecosystem, Facebook/Tencent’s messaging platforms or Google/Baidu’s information to support them in mobile AR hardware, tethered smartglasses or standalone smartglasses. To mangle out of today’s standing quo, investments and MAs for totally new AR capabilities competence be required.


Alibaba has already invested heavily in AR, with a perspective to apropos a AR e-commerce personality in China (where it doesn’t have Tencent’s advantages as a mobile AR program platform). Given Jack Ma’s gusto for confidant moves in new markets, he competence cruise going from Magic Leap’s lead financier to a owners (assuming it delivers on a promise). Amazon and eBay have identical AR e-commerce program opportunities outward China to sell things to folks in totally new ways.

Microsoft now has no play for mobile AR program or mobile AR hardware, and it isn’t transparent that it will enter possibly market. Satya Nadella focused HoloLens on a enterprise, and even Windows 10 VR is being left to PC hardware partners without Xbox One X support this year. Microsoft’s craving focused plan for AR (which, again, they call churned reality) means HoloLens is their usually equine in a race. When a destiny HoloLens is prepared for consumers, Microsoft competence have to try to switch mobile AR and tethered smartglasses developers and users divided from Apple. That arrange of thing was final finished successfully by a immature male called Bill Gates in 1981.

Snap was a mobile AR program marketplace before Pokémon GO, Facebook and Apple came along. But with a sealed height and 300 million monthly active users, it’s many smaller than any one of Facebook’s large three. So it has a large quarrel on a hands to say a movement as a mobile AR program leader. Snap Spectacles were a shining pre-IPO selling wheeze, and a good Trojan equine to accumulate consumer data. But if Evan Spiegel decides to rise Spectacles into full-blown mobile tethered AR, his bargain of what his users wish would need to be matched by hardware and ecosystem scaling over anything he’s finished before. Doing new things seems to be his strength, so watch this space.

Like Microsoft, startups Magic Leap, Meta, Avegant, ODG, Vuzix and others (including corporates like Epson) are going true to tethered smartglasses or standalone smartglasses and bypassing mobile AR entirely. This sees them all focused on craving business while they innovate to solve AR’s 5 consumer challenges. But when they finally strech a betrothed land, they’ll have a common set of enemies (apart from any other) watchful for them.

Apple, Facebook and other vital AR developer ecosystems competence already be monetizing during scale during that stage. This could give smartglasses pure-plays a plea of switching developers and users opposite from customary platforms with billions of users and network effects to exclusive platforms with a few million users and insubordinate technology. That arrange of thing was final finished successfully by a male in his 50s called Steve Jobs in 2007.

I scream, we scream, we all roar for ice cream

Apple’s Tim Cook pronounced about AR, “I cruise it is profound. we am so vehement about it, we usually wish to roar out and scream.” Apple could browbeat all 4 AR waves and your protracted future, so he competence cruise jumping adult and down too.

Featured Image: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

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