Content Creation and Developer Support Enter the AR Spotlight

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 4Q 2021 | IN-6367

Through a variety of efforts, digital content companies are pushing to expand their augmented reality and extended reality offerings.

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Unity and Qualcomm Making Moves


While augmented reality (AR) hardware and the metaverse get the majority of coverage in today’s market, the content and backend side of AR remain equally important to the growth and success of the industry, if not more so. Especially as metaverse continues to permeate through the tech world, content and developer enablement will be even more necessary to gain and maintain a foothold in the rapidly shifting metaverse market. In that vein, Qualcomm and Unity announced a few relevant efforts to cater to that content and development segment.

Unity, once only a game development engine and now a much more robust digital content creation and integration player, announced the acquisition of Weta Digital for US$1.6 billion. Weta Digital is the collection of talent and tools behind some of the most famous and high-quality VFX in the entertainment industry: Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Avatar, to name a few. The acquisition includes both the engineering talent and creation tools.

Qualcomm, known for their chipset dominance in the smartphone space, recently launched their Spaces XR development program. They also finalized the acquisition of AR Software Development Kit (SDKP) Wikitude—the companies had been officially partnered since 2019. The acquisition and development program join an impressive portfolio in the Extended Reality (XR) space for Qualcomm, which includes the famous Snapdragon mobile chipsets as well as the XR-targeted XR line, reference hardware in AR and Virtual Reality (VR), hand and gesture tracking (also enhanced with the recent acquisition of Clay AIR), and more.

Integrating and Expanding Access


Unity’s acquisition of Weta Digital is an interesting one, but not surprising. The company has been pushing into the broader device enablement and content creation facets of AR and VR for the past few years. The desire for high fidelity 3D content can only grow from today, as most industries are putting significant resources behind metaverse opportunity. While this isn’t limited to AR and VR, immersive hardware is a key portion of this momentum and will be a substantial consumption element going forward. Increased access to quality content creation tools is a benefit for Unity of course, but also for developers and content creators. The company’s efforts to integrate and support a significant selection of other platforms and creation sources further expands the reach of these newly acquired tools and capabilities.

Speaking of integration, AR SDKs act as a foundational link between hardware and content, allowing developers access to machine vision and AR processing through the end device to enable AR content. Apple has ARKit and Google has ARCore, but there is value in a platform agnostic toolset like Wikitude. Wikitude differentiates with this cross-platform support but also through some value-add features like cloud recognition—which helps with large scale AR—as well as significant developer framework support including JavaScript, Unity, Cordova, and others. Qualcomm’s direct ownership of Wikitude enables a more cohesive integration of Wikitude capability into the Qualcomm XR portfolio.

Furthering this portfolio is Qualcomm Spaces. While Spaces is limited today, but the potential for growth is substantial. The platform is focused on head-worn content development—the head worn qualifier is important, as most developer programs and toolsets have not been purpose-built for Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) but rather made to work with them. The only supported device currently is Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3, but expansion is planned for early next year and Qualcomm’s XR chipset, reference designs, and deep hardware partnership catalog create a promising growth path. Integration with Unity and Unreal is already available, opening two significant object-based creation platforms from the start.

Solidifying Potential, with Lingering Fragmentation Questions


Qualcomm perhaps pulled the sale trigger too early on their Vuforia SDK product, selling to PTC back in 2015. Now, they are back in the game officially with Wikitude after an official partnership for the past two years. While not confirmed, it seems obvious that Qualcomm saw the AR SDK gap in their portfolio, missing Vuforia in a now much more mature and promising market. PTC has pivoted most of the company to be behind Vuforia, growing it into an SDK with a complete enterprise enablement ecosystem surrounding it.

There are a few unanswered questions in the XR market around content creation and access, especially as mergers and acquisitions (M&R) and consolidation continues to occur: fragmentation and time to scale.

Apple’s ultimate role here is unclear but incredibly impactful. Their ARKit remains a leading SDK in terms of features and addressable userbase, but of course is locked to iOS devices. Smart glasses, both in terms of actual HMD product as well as support in iOS, are both still yet to be seen. Apple devices will be a critical component of the total XR market, but if the walls stay up around the Apple XR garden, developers will struggle. Any developer or content creator looking to work in the cross-platform and universal access paradigm expected for XR in the next decade may still have to deal with company-specific, device-specific, and content-specific limitations. Unity’s efforts to integrate with third parties is a critical and a strong example of how to minimize potentially harmful silo-ing without completely eliminating a large revenue stream. Unity is trying to both grow and maintain a developer and development toolset ecosystem as a market that will be starving for content blooms.

When it comes to scaling up capability and addressable market, broad support is necessary. Obviously these concerns around fragmentation and efforts to lessen it apply directly here, but there is also uncertainty around how quickly platforms both can and will scale up in scope and footprint. For Qualcomm Spaces, initial efforts are highly targeted; this is great for fact-finding efforts and feeling out needs but is also inherently limiting in what can be discovered with a small net cast. On the other hand, increasing supported hardware and toolsets quickly runs the risk of weakening focus and adding bloat with the side effect of a more robust and attractive overall platform for developers to enter earlier rather than later.



Companies Mentioned