AR Embedded in Google Search and the Importance of Streamlining AR Content Interaction

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By Eric Abbruzzese | 2Q 2019 | IN-5508

Google once again highlighted the company’s increasingly wide focus compared to the past at I/O 2019. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) were of course in full effect, but Augmented Reality (AR) also brought a strong showing from the company. Most notably, Google is working to implement AR to its search product, with relevant AR-enabled content such as 3D models instantly viewable leveraging ARCore for tracking features. Google Lens is also getting new features, with some restaurant tie-ins for menu recommendations and tip calculation using a smartphone camera. Virtual Reality (VR) again goes unmentioned, with internal efforts folding into other non-VR areas and external messaging all but silent.

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Footprint as Large as Google Search

NEWS


Google once again highlighted the company’s increasingly wide focus compared to the past at I/O 2019. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) were of course in full effect, but Augmented Reality (AR) also brought a strong showing from the company. Most notably, Google is working to implement AR to its search product, with relevant AR-enabled content such as 3D models instantly viewable leveraging ARCore for tracking features. Google Lens is also getting new features, with some restaurant tie-ins for menu recommendations and tip calculation using a smartphone camera. Virtual Reality (VR) again goes unmentioned, with internal efforts folding into other non-VR areas and external messaging all but silent.

While software enablement was the primary focus of I/O, Google also updated their Google Glass product with improvements to battery and processing for US$999. The company is banking on a more mature and knowledgeable market, some minor but welcome improvements, and a more welcoming IT conversation thanks to an AOSP foundation and support for Android Enterprise Mobile Device Management, to grow its ongoing (albeit quiet) Glass efforts.

Tapping into Nearly Everything...Potentially

IMPACT


The theoretical impact of having seamlessly integrated AR with Google Search on its own is significant, but taking into account every bit that Google can touch and having AR tied to it is theoretically unparalleled in potential scope. A direct path from a Google search to an AR-enabled 3D model has obvious benefits, and could see a similar growth path that other content types have expanded along with and intertwined with the Google ecosystem (Google Maps, videos, news, photos, etc.). At the same time, these other Google products can be (and have already been) expanded and improved with AR as well. Monetization and business models around AR content remain a difficult subject, and while search integration does not solve all issues here, it is the largest scale push toward a new AR content distribution opportunity yet seen. A less discussed but still very interesting path for Google going forward is the user data available with this; on top of the incredible amount of user data already available to the company, now add on camera/sensor data from ARCore, usage data around AR content, connected location data, retail/commerce/marketing content access, etc.

In the meantime, Glass 2 enters both a more mature and more competitive market than its predecessor, complete with the benefits and drawbacks of both of those factors. The total addressable market pales in comparison to anything on the consumer side and especially the entire Google ecosystem, but there is proven and quickly reached Return on Investment (ROI) in the enterprise for monocular AR devices like Glass. Competitors like Vuzix and RealWear remain a threat, but Glass 2’s AOSP OS, device management, and Qualcomm XR1 chipset place it favorably. While there’s no consumer play with Glass, nor are there exciting mixed reality opportunities, the enterprise use cases where Glass is best suited are also the ones with the fastest ROI and most promise to scale: remote expertise, training, step-by-step instruction, and more.

Needs Some Help to Take Hold

RECOMMENDATIONS


For years, the importance of streamlining content access has been a predominant talking point, especially so in AR where hardware, content, and use cases are all novel. Improving the pipeline from developer to end user has been a priority that also presented plenty of obstacles. The siloed, application-based approach for content is an inherent barrier to streamlined content access for a new device type or use case; requiring an application download to experience a piece of marketing content, for example, has and always will be a hard sell to a user. Some use cases can get around this through pre-installed content and devices, such as for dedicated retail installations or gaming areas. However, for Google’s ultimate vision for AR integration through the Google ecosystem, those structured content experiences will be an incredibly small minority of content access.

Universal browser-based content access is being explored, reneging on the decade plus of the app model content haven but ultimately promising an easier content distribution and access model for an AR-enabled future. WebXR is an example here, targeting a fully universal XR-enabled browser than brings the same opportunities as a regular desktop browser to AR/VR. Another path is the AR cloud, with a repository of data delivering through some sort of end-node. There are some obvious questions around security, monetization, and IP protection here, but it’s early days with plenty of room for change and knowledge growth.  

Another important question to ask is how viable handheld AR really is. Some use cases can absolutely thrive with smartphone only AR, especially education as shown with Google’s AR search examples at I/O, but even other Google examples, such as the restaurant menu augmentation, seem to be a stop-gap on mobile until hands-free AR is an option. Google Maps AR navigation again is a compelling example, where the current generation is impressive and can add value for some but fails to remove the required attention on a smartphone in the real world.

Google could have a significant impact on AR content distribution and access with their current efforts, but enough barriers exist outside of Google’s (or any one company’s) control that need to be worked through.

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