AR has had massive growth across industry verticals in the last two years. According to IBM’s 2020 retail index report, the pandemic alone has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years, while global spending on AR/VR software, services and headsets increased 50% from 2019 to 2020.
In a post-pandemic market, brands now have a golden opportunity to offer immersive digital and real-life experiences for their customers. But one company, Niantic, is taking things a giant leap further: leading the world in augmented reality development.
Niantic’s name has become synonymous with popular, real-world, fantasy AR games that get people outside. The company has produced titles such as Ingress, 2016 global hit Pokémon GO and Pikmin Bloom. But it is also exploring the potential of AR across industries and how it can add layers of experience to a geospatial map.
Niantic’s proprietary AR development platform, Lightship, has powered many of the company’s major projects, which include upcoming games like the recently announced Peridot. In late 2021, Niantic opened the platform to developers so they could begin using Lightship’s AR development tool kit to create brand experiences.
Since its launch, Lightship has worked on dozens of immersive apps, including Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s Coachellaverse, which immerses you in the real-meets-digital festival world, engaging with points of interest to unlock experiences such as a giant blue butterfly landing on a rainbow tower on the festival grounds. Other exciting projects include Historic Royal Palaces’ Tower of London Superbloom, a mobile AR floral landscape promoted during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and PGA of America’s safari-themed shared-AR game, Jr. League Safari Par-Tee, that can turn any large surface into a virtual putting green.
But perhaps the most exciting development for the future of AR is Niantic’s recent acquisition of leading web-based augmented reality platform 8th Wall. Originally launched in late 2018, 8th Wall has powered over 50,000 web apps and thousands of commercial experiences for top brands.
“We realized we have a shared mission: to make augmented reality accessible for everyone,” said Tom Emrich, 8th Wall’s Director of Product Management. “We want to empower developers with tools that can enhance and turn real-world, everyday experiences into extraordinary ones.”
Web AR is a lighter-touch type of AR development that allows marketers to more easily engage with consumers on a range of mobile and connected devices. Instead of requiring users to download new apps, this frictionless technology can be accessed by just clicking on a link, scanning an image or QR code.
Web AR also has a much wider reach. Not only can an estimated 5 billion iOS or Android smartphones access 8th Wall’s Web AR content, but users can also engage with it through any PC, tablet or home computer with a web browser.
“8th Wall Web AR has truly unlocked the massive opportunity of augmented reality for marketers, advertisers and brands, no app required,” Emrich said. This game-changing technology can help companies tap into a huge range of experiential marketing campaigns, from embedded AR worlds and characters to filters and digital ads.
World Effects, which anchor digital objects in the real world, are best known in games such as Pokémon GO, where it brings Pokémon to life all around you. Last year, Barbie’s Dreamhouse built a full-size interactive Barbie mansion that players can set up anywhere, complete with animated characters, custom sounds and lighting and interactive games.
Image targeting has become another popular Web AR feature for brands. It allows developers to add AR elements on top of existing images, such as signs, logos and packaging. As part of a nostalgia campaign, Pizza Hut brought the classic arcade game PAC-MAN® into customers’ homes, embedding an AR game on pizza boxes for customers to enjoy with a slice.
And when Paramount was looking for an innovative way to market “Top Gun: Maverick,” it landed on an AR face effect. This uses front-facing cameras or webcams to add custom visual effects such as filters and virtual objects. Users could create a call sign at WhatsMyCallSign.com and design their own virtual helmet, which would appear on a filter with the movie hashtag.
Web AR has the capacity to do amazing things for marketers, developers and brands. But to Niantic and 8th Wall, it all comes back to empowering developers. In May, Niantic held its first conference geared toward developers, the Lightship Summit, which featured speakers such as Niantic CEO John Hanke, Niantic product leaders, developer partners, and members of the 8th Wall team, including Emrich.
“We’re on a mission to make a metaverse for everyone,” Emrich said as he wrapped up his Day Two keynote. “And we’re doing this by equipping all developers with tools to harness the power and the freedom of the web to create reality content. Something big is happening on the web, and together, we’re all making it happen. We can’t wait to see what you create.”