- USA Today this week released an augmented reality (AR) experience that showcases some of the world's biggest buildings. "New Heights: Groundbreaking skyscrapers" immerses viewers in engineering feats like the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, Petronas Twin Towers, Willis Tower and the Burj Khalifa, per an announcement shared with Mobile Marketer.
- The AR experience renders 3D visualizations of the buildings on a mobile device, letting users compare the structures, learn about their technology and see interesting factoids about the construction. Users will be able to navigate the towers through a gallery card, swiping left or right to change the skyscraper on an iOS or Android device.
- The interactive skyscraper exhibit its USA Today's third AR experience this year following a feature about Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson and a display of Oscar-nominated costumes leading into the Academy Awards.
As news organizations like USA Today seek to engage readers with their content, the addition of AR experiences urges mobile viewers to spend more time with the media brand. USA Today has previously experimented with AR development and immersive storytelling with an eye toward the future of news consumption.
Along with its Washington Capitals and Oscar costumes experiences, the news organization last year created four AR projects that included "321 Launch," a standalone app focused on spacecraft, and a separate AR experience designed to promote a new city-focused podcast. It's not clear how media companies in general will monetize AR content, although virtual billboards and a pathway to virtual commerce transactions are two likely possibilities.
While USA Today's AR experiences can be accessed on smartphones, the growing popularity of AR headsets likely will urge viewers to seek more immersive media experiences instead of 2D displays of virtual video screens that are most common today. Total AR headset shipments are expected to jump 141% a year to 31.9 million units by 2023, faster than the 47% annual gain for VR headsets to 36.7 million during that period, per the International Data Corporation (IDC).
Much of the development of AR headsets so far has been for commercial users. Google, which ended its Glass Explorer program in 2015, later relaunched the product as Glass Enterprise Edition for the workplace. Microsoft and Magic Leap have touted the capabilities of their latest AR headsets, although their high-priced models are aimed at businesses. Other consumer AR glasses, like Focals by North, already are on the market, while the prototypes of Project Aurora and Nreal Light were demonstrated at CES 2019.