Reality Check: Looking Back at Augmented Reality in 2019

Tom Emrich
Dec 31, 2019 · 36 min read

How My “19 for ‘19” AR Trends Actually Played Out This Year

2019 sure was an active and exciting year for augmented reality.

I’ve been publishing a monthly digest of AR activity called “The AR Roundup” for over a year now and, let me tell you, it is getting harder and harder to keep up with everything going on in the AR space — because so much is happening!

With the year coming to an end, it is time to look back and reflect on everything that has happened before focusing on what is to come with the dawn of a brand new decade.

Back in January of this year, I published 19 AR trends I expected to see play out in 2019 and was interested in seeing how my thoughts compared to what actually happened. This post acts as my reality check if you will. It also recaps some of the most important achievements of the year.


Terminology

1 . Bye bye “XR”, hello “Spatial Computing”

What I Thought Would Happen:

I suspect that 2019 will see many transition away from “XR” with the front running alternative being “spatial computing”

What Really Happened:

While the AR/VR space still suffers from terminology and acronym soup, overall I have not seen much traction on the use of “spatial computing” as I had expected. XR still seems to be a favorite for media and industry alike. Big players like Qualcomm, W3C and Unity continue to support its use despite the fact we can’t all get on the same page on what it stands for. That being said, XR is still an industry term — AR and VR continue to dominate as terms of choice by many especially those outside the field.

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Hardware

2. Connected eyewear returns but still has a hard time staying long on consumers faces

What I Thought Would Happen:

2019 will see the return of connected eyewear for consumers. While this next series of “smart glasses” will have a greater focus on fashion, which was said to be Google Glass’ achilles heel, I am not sure that the mainstream is ready for them — yet (on this I hope I am wrong). That being said, I think this next wave will see us getting more right than we have before including the use of digital assistants, a focus on a variety of styles and premium quality materials, and identifying some powerful use cases.

What Really Happened:

2019 did see a push for consumer connected eyewear with Bose, Snap, Nreal, North, and Amazon all making efforts to get smart frames on people’s faces. All of these players have prioritized fashion and wearability with frames that aspire to look like everyday glasses (Snap’s latest Spectacles was even featured in Vogue).

As I suspected this wasn’t the breakout year for consumer smartglasses. I have yet to run into anyone besides me wearing Spectacles or Focals on the street (although I have a couple of friends who swear by the audio AR glasses from Bose).

We did however start to see companies get more right than they have in the past with a focus on integrating with popular digital assistants (North, Amazon and Bose), a glimpse of seeing the world through filters (Snap’s Spectacles Lenses) and the power of a clear, focused and compelling use case (Tilt Five’s AR gaming system). In addition, it has become quite clear that the initial pair of smartglasses will most likely rely on the smartphone rather than replace it, making this device more of an accessory rather than a replacement for now (Nreal).

But most of the activity in the consumer smartglasses space was news and rumors, not launches. Apple dominated the headlines this year with glasses rumors and discoveries for a device that is now expected as early as 2022. Facebook is reportedly working with Ray-Ban on its smartglasses. Pokémon Go creator Niantic announced it is working on AR glasses with Qualcomm’s XR2 platform. And Nreal opened pre-orders for its developer kits and announced its consumer glasses were delayed to 2020.

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3. Context-aware hearables show us AR may be in the ear before our eyes

What I Thought Would Happen:

While most of the attention of the AR industry is focused on putting things in our field of view to augment sight, a more probable AR future to come sooner than this is one based on augmented audio fueled by hearables embodied by digital assistants with some awareness of the environment around it. 2019 will start to see pieces of this future come together.

What Really Happen:

The hearables category did saw a lot of activity this year from big players like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon. IDC’s September report found the hearables category is now the fastest growing wearable category, “capturing 46.9% of the overall wearables market during the quarter, up from 24.8% a year ago”. And Apple beat its Q4 earnings thanks to its wearable category which was up 54% YOY, to $6.52 billion thanks to a large part to AirPods.

While devices like Apple’s AirPods 2, are much “smarter” than the average earphone, thanks to integrations with digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa, and onboard sensors enabling basic spatial understanding, the hearables category is still in its infancy and has much room to grow into the context-aware platform it needs to be to truly be “audio AR”. That being said, these devices are still a shoo-in to be the first always-on, wearable AR for consumers. Consumers are extremely familiar and comfortable with putting tech in their ear so much so that it has become somewhat of a fashion statement with little to no cultural stigma in wearing them for longer periods of time both in and out of the home and even at work.

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4. Smart speakers demonstrate they are the trojan horse for AR in the home

What I Thought Would Happen:

Portal’s AR effects are just the start for Facebook as they continue to evolve AR functionality on other platforms that can be leveraged for this device. I suspect that we may see AR features launched on the latest generation Echo Show via a 3rd party app. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next version of Google Hub, Apple HomePod and/or Samsung Bixby devices launch with a camera to provide a similar offering. Getting a camera in the home is an important step towards our smart home future and right now Facebook and Amazon are leveraging the smart speaker to do just that. Equipped with a screen, these devices may also soon become home to virtual humans.

What Really Happened:

2019 did see the launch of new camera-enabled smart speakers (also known as smart displays) from Amazon, Line, Google and Facebook. While all facilitate video-calling and integrate with digital assistants, only Facebook and Line boast augmented reality features and neither of these allow third party apps at this time. Apple has yet to debut a smart display version of its HomePod.

With the smart speakers’ global installed base on track to top 200 million by the end of this year according to Canalys, I still believe these devices have the potential to be a trojan horse for AR in the home. But the question is, are people ready for it? As per my original post, just getting cameras in the home is going to be a challenge and Facebook’s Portal sales, as one example, are reportedly very low due to consumers’ privacy concerns.

This year, we did not see a collision of virtual beings and smart displays as I had hoped. We did, however, see Google Assistant updated with the ability to select celebrity voices from the likes of Issa Rae and John Legend, which suggests we are heading in this direction.

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5. Google and Microsoft launch new hardware aimed at winning the next computing war in the enterprise

What I Thought Would Happen:

While it may not be time for smartglasses to be on the faces of consumers, these devices are proving to be valuable tools used at work. This year we expect both Google and Microsoft to launch next generation hardware to grab a piece of the emerging AR enterprise market. But these are not the only devices to keep your eye on this year.

What Really Happened:

One of the biggest milestones for AR this year was most certainly the launch, and most importantly the shipping, of Microsoft HoloLens 2. The lighter, more ergonomic and extremely powerful mixed reality device features new components like the Azure Kinect sensor, an ARM processor, eye-tracking sensors and a new display system. The hardware upgrades along with its integration with Microsoft Azure have most certainly afforded Microsoft to sustain its lead as the immersive computing device in the enterprise.

As part of the HoloLens 2 launch, Microsoft adopted a very similar marketing position for its smartglasses as Google has with Glass (which saw Enterprise Edition 2 launch this year), making it clear that this device is aimed squarely at the enterprise and distancing it from the consumer space. This strategy was later embraced by Magic Leap at the end of this year as the company shifted its focus to the enterprise with the launch of its Enterprise Suite.

But it wasn’t just the big players who released new devices for work this year. ThirdEye, RealWear, and Varjo are just a few of the startups looking to adorn workers with AR headworn devices.

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6. AR plays an important role in the evolution of auto and car makers want to show us how

What I Thought Would Happen:

AR is one of the technologies car manufacturers are looking at to assist with their evolution. While 2019 won’t be when these in-car solutions come to market, it will be another year car manufacturers give us a glimpse into what they are envisioning and preparing to launch.

What Really Happened:

The car most certainly is becoming a hub for AR. While there are already a few examples of basic heads-up displays (HUDs) in cars from BMW, Volvo, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and others, this year we saw a number of automakers show more advanced AR concepts transforming the driving experience.

Nissan’s “Invisible-to-Visible” concept demonstrated how AR and VR technologies could make allow remote friends to virtually drive with you as a passenger, project an image of oncoming vehicles that are hidden beyond a curve, and even project a scene of clear skies on the vehicle windows during poor weather conditions to improve the driving experience. Nissan suggested these types of features will start to emerge in its vehicles “sometime beyond 2025”. Jaguar Land Rover announced it is working on advanced technology to make information appear as though it’s being displayed on the road ahead, as did Hyundai and WayRay. And Volvo and Varjo debuted a mixed reality application for car development with the use of Varjo XR-1.

While we wait for these advanced experiences to arrive, many automakers have already embraced mobile AR as a replacement for the user manual and are are using AR as a powerful sales and marketing tool. They are also equipping mechanics with AR headsets to make them more efficient.

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7. Advancements in senses other than sight begin to make AR more immersive and enable natural interaction

What I Thought Would Happen:

2019 will be a big year for the continued digitization of senses needed for AR to feel more immersive and enable more natural interaction. The three areas I am keeping my eye on this year are spatial audio, haptics and gesture control.

What Really Happened:

2019 was a significant year for the digitization of senses as we saw our hands and body, eyes and ears all being used to make AR more natural and real — but we have so much work to be done to make these experiences truly “immersive”.

Microsoft HoloLens 2 debuted eye tracking, which feels magical when wearing the device. Access to our eyes has countless possibilities within AR (and VR) in furthering human computer interaction but there are ethical implications to consider. AR Pioneer Avi Bar-Zeev underscored these in his must-read article in Vice warning readers that eye tracking will enable companies to collect your intimate and unconscious responses to real-world cues.the implications of giving companies access to our eyes, including reading our emotions and intentions.

Microsoft made major improvement in its hand tracking in HoloLens 2 with its sensors which can now recognize up to 25 points of articulation per hand through the wrist and fingers. Magic Leap also improved its hand tracking with a 15 keypoint model giving Magic Leap One the ability to track a full hand with five fingers. Meanwhile, Facebook acquired CTRL-Labs making this neural interface startup part of its Reality Labs and, while more VR news, also unlocked hand tracking on Oculus Quest.

In mobile AR, we saw the debut of Google’s Project Soli radar system in Pixel phones and the Google AI team unveil an open-source, cross-platform MediaPipe framework to process video on mobile devices to map up to 21 points of the hand and fingers via machine learning models. Apple’s ARKit 3 brought body tracking & people occlusion to the mix. And Snap update its Lens Studio with new templates for hand tracking and body tracking.

Leap Motion, leaders in gesture control, was acquired by Ultrahaptics, leaders in haptics, to form a brand new entity combining the two — Ultraleap. While Emerge came out of stealth and announced funding for its tech aimed at giving AR all the feels.

In spatial audio, Sennheiser acquired AR/VR audio software firm, Dear Reality. And we saw many developers create some of the very first applications for the Bose Audio AR platform including “Traverse” which debuted at SXSW with an Immersive Elvis Experience.

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Platforms, Tools and Infrastructure

8. 2019 is the year of the Creator as authoring tools equip a whole new generation who will define the future of AR

What I Thought Would Happen:

2019 is the year of the AR Creator. This year we will see a huge influx of creators get their feet wet with AR as they create their first hello (3D) worlds. Creators will demonstrate new, novel and value-added ways to use AR and help define a new user experience which will become unique to this technology.

What Really Happened:

2019 most certainly was the year of the AR Creator. From filters and lenses, to apps and websites, we saw developers and creators populate the world with AR experiences — all enabled by tools and platforms making it easier to create immersive experiences.

The most active of these spaces was social AR especially due to the launch of Facebook’s Spark AR platform opened up to everyone to create filters for Instagram and Facebook Messenger. While the ability to create filters is not new (Snapchat launched Lens Studio two years prior) the reach and diverse audience makeup of Instagram has attracted a brand new set of creators. Instagram filter creators are redefining beauty, providing brands and influencers with a new set of tools to market and tell stories, are shaping the music and art scene and even challenging identity itself.

Snap’s Lens Studio was given a massive update with Landmarker template support for 14 new real-world locations, six new facial templates, body, hand and pet templates and an interactive tour for first-time app users.

Adobe and Apple joined Torch in providing creators with a WYSWIG style app to create augmented reality. Unity debuted its AR Foundation tool which makes it easier to create AR apps for iOS and Android.

And 8th Wall continued to advance its WebAR platform with support for image targets and volumetric video and the debut of a cloud-based authoring and hosting platform providing developers with an integrated developer environment to easily create, collaborate and publish AR content to the web.

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9. Our heads will be in the AR Cloud again this year and it will enable AR to feel more real and less lonely

What I Thought Would Happen:

It is clear that the AR Cloud is necessary to enable next level AR experiences and with solutions beginning to become available to developers in 2019 we should start to see AR feel much more real and way less lonely.

What Really Happened:

While 2018 was a lot of talk about the AR Cloud, positioning it as a critical part of the AR stack, 2019 started to see it come into formation. But was 2019 the year we started to see “AR feel much more real and way less lonely” I don’t think so.

The year started off with the AR Cloud on the cover of Wired in Kevin Kelly’s essential read on what he called “The Mirrorworld”. This was followed by AR pioneer and 6D.ai founder, Matt Miesnieks, warnings of ethical implications of the AR Cloud in his post “AR will mean dystopia if we don’t act today” on TechCrunch.

This year saw 6D.ai moved its platform out of beta with developers such as Autodesk, Nexus Studios and Accenture now able to ship apps using its SDK. One of the first consumer-facing apps to leverage 6D.ai is Babble Rabbit which is available in the App Store. 6D.ai also expanded its platform support beyond iOS to Android phones and lightweight headsets. The company is also announced a partnership with Qualcomm, which is integrating the company’s tech into what basically seems to be a reference design for AR headset manufacturers.

Ubiquity6 kicked off the year acquiring AR music startup, Wavy, which the company said fits into Ubiquity6’s idea of a spatial internet. Later this year, Ubiquity6 launched a consumer-facing app, Display.land, an augmented reality app that lets people capture the world around them and share it — or what Variety aptly called “an Instagram for Photogrammetry”.

UK’s Scape was quite active this year, releasing its SDK, announcing it had scanned London and San Francisco with 100 cities in the works and partnering up with Samsung and Nexus Studios on a stunning stadium-scale AR activation featuring the Dallas Cowboys.

Simon Property Group is working with Niantic to turn 200 of its shopping centers into in-game locations that players can visit while they role play as wizards. Niantic also launched a $10M developer fund for creators to use its Niantic Real World Platform and updated Pokémon GO with multiplayer “Buddy Adventure” support.

Finally, some of the big tech giants showed the work they have been doing to create the AR Cloud. Facebook announced its “Live Maps” initiative, aiming to produce “multi-layer representations of the world” using crowdsourced data, traditional maps, and footage captured by phones and AR glasses. Microsoft announced its cloud AR platform, Spatial Anchors, which supports ARKit and ARCore. Google introduced persistent anchors, demonstrating it in a demo app called Mark AR. Huawei revealed its vision of a 5G-powered AR Cloud called the Cyberverse. And the Open AR Cloud (OARC) group unveiled its plans to build a decentralized spatial web.

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10. WebAR plays an important role in consumer education by reducing the friction of AR

What I Thought Would Happen:

WebAR will play an even greater role in educating the consumer market on what AR is all about by removing the friction to access and experience it. For this reason it will be a lucrative platform for advertisers and marketers to exploit. I am excited to see how much further WebAR will grow in 2019. We may even see Google’s much anticipated Chrome AR move out of the experimentation mode we saw at Google I/O 2018 and into the hands of users.

What Really Happened:

This was a significant year for AR on the web in large thanks to 8th Wall and its custom AR engine that brought both world tracking and image target augmented reality to the browser, unlocking the massive opportunity of WebAR for developers, agencies and brands.

8th Wall has become a lucrative platform for advertisers and marketers powering meaningful WebAR experiences for brands such as Sony Pictures, LEGO, adidas, Toyota, Red Bull, General Mills and more. 8th Wall’s AR engine is also powering the WebAR capabilities of many other platforms including Blippar, Torch and Subvrsive (Lens.io).

Recently, 8th Wall announced its ability to stream holograms on the web in its integration with Microsoft Mixed Reality Capture Studios. And it also launched its Cloud Editor + Built-in Hosting platform which is a professional tool giving developers one place to develop, collaborate and publish WebAR (and WebVR) experiences.

I believe so strongly in the massive opportunity that is WebXR and 8th Wall’s role in ushering in the immersive web that I joined the team as VP of Product this year.

One of the big milestones of the immersive web this year was the release of the draft WebXR specification from W3C. While WebXR focuses on the virtual reality portion of the WebXR standard, with the augmented reality portions of the standard remaining a work in progress, it is a huge step in bringing the necessary standards to the browser to allow for AR/VR experiences. The WebXR API was subsequently implemented in Chrome 79 and Chromium-based browsers later this year. Magic Leap also joined the list of WebXR supported devices for its Helio and Lumin Web Platforms.

Google, Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple were also active in this space. Google updated search with 3D and AR search results. Apple’s QuickLook got Apple Pay support. And Mozilla announced Firefox Reality AR web browser for HoloLens 2 and is working on updating its WebXR Viewer iOS app to support the WebXR API.

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11. 5G tests and limited rollouts will prove why it is the missing ingredient to this next wave of computing

What I Thought Would Happen:

2019 will be a critical year for 5G as we will begin to see a number of carriers and device manufacturers slowly rollout this major advancement in connectivity. While 5G is not expected to be widespread until 2020, the limited networks and devices available in 2019 will be used to illustrate why upgrading your device and carrier plan to 5G will be worth it. This will include showing how 5G can enable better augmented reality.

What Really Happened:

AR and VR were in high demand by carriers as a means to market the value of 5G and demonstrate the progress of its rollout. 5G and edge computing are positioned as key ingredients to unlock the full power of AR and bring it to the masses.

While there has been some progress in rolling out 5G by carriers, widespread deployment is expected to take a longer time. In addition, not very many phones are on the market to support this new network, Samsung S10 5G the exception. iPhone 5G phones are rumored to arrive in 2020.

Verizon has been very active in promoting its 5G network with AR. It launched a 5G challenge to find and fund companies who can demonstrate the power of 5G, formed an official partnership with Snap to pre-install Snapchat on 5G phones which will feature exclusive 5G-enabled Snap content and launched a number of large-scale AR marketing activations including the first ever live 5G AR concert experience with the Chainsmokers.

AT&T, SK Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, EE and others also used AR to market the value of 5G with memorable PR-worthy experiences around the world.

Despite all of this activity, I am not quite sure if consumers and industry folk alike are ending this year clear on the true value of 5G as it relates to AR.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm debuted a platform for smartphone-powered virtual and augmented reality headsets that rely on 5G networks, alongside partners like Acer, LG, and Sprint. The first lightweight “XR viewers” are to come from Acer and Nreal.

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Investments

12. Investors remain cautious in investing in AR but some big wins bolster their confidence

What I Thought Would Happen:

While I do expect increased interest from investors in AR this year, I don’t expect things to get any easier for AR startups looking for funding. I suspect that new hardware, such as HoloLens 2, continued success stories in the enterprise, and some big wins such as Wizards Unite from Niantic and possibly a huge M&A deal involving an AR company this year will bolster confidence in this space.

What Really Happened:

Compared to previous years, 2019 was a “down year” for AR investments according to an analysis done by Next Reality. According to their review, the top 10 investments in 2019 represent $1.19 billion in funding, down from $2.26 billion in 2018.

While AR continues to be an interest for investors, we saw many early stage funds diversify their focus by adding AI to the mix and investors measuring AR startups against other tech startups in their category/industry with a demand for market fit and revenue as soon as possible, not solely relying on the innovativeness of the technology.

We did see a number of large investments being made this year, mostly in the hardware category including funding for Waveoptics, DigiLens, Light Field Labs, CTRL-Labs, Magic Leap, RealWear, Nreal and North. Enterprise solutions such as Scope AR, Upskill and Augmedix and Platforms and Tools such as eyecandylabs and ThreeKit rounded out the top three most active investment categories.

2019 also saw a number of acquisitions including CTRL-Labs (Facebook), Infinity Augmented Reality (Alibaba), Leap Motion (Ultra Haptics), IKinema (Apple), and Streem (Frontdoor). Along with a few goodbyes to some big AR pioneers including Blippar, ODG, DAQRI and Meta.

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Consumer Solutions

13. 2019 will be the Year of Mobile AR Advertising

What I Thought Would Happen:

2019 is teed up to be the year for mobile AR advertising. Measurement is key to any ad ecosystem and I expect to see a growing demand from advertisers for more robust analytics specific to 3D on top of the typical clicks they are used to measuring. In return, the variety of places end users will be forced to interact with AR ads will be a key step in educating and assisting user adoption of this technology.

What Really Happened:

2019 was a banner year for AR in advertising and marketing mainly due to the number of platforms that supported AR as a new ad format. Facebook, Unity, Verizon, Snapchat, Instagram, Google and 8th Wall were some of the major players in the AR ad space servicing brands such as Miller Lite, Bobbi Brown, Papa John’s, HBO, MAC Cosmetics, LEGO, Sony Pictures and more.

Facebook rolled out its AR and 360 ad format in Messenger and in the Facebook feed and started to test out virtual try-on ads in Instagram as part of its Instagram Shopping rollout.

Google demonstrated Google Lens as an AR marketing platform teaming up with Netflix to bring a print ad to life for Stranger Things. YouTube also saw AR ads come into the fold for select beauty influencers and brands to use as part of a companion virtual try-on to beauty videos.

And both Verizon and Unity have committed to AR as an ad format on their ad networks.

8th Wall’s custom AR engine powered a ton of memorable WebAR marketing experiences that can be accessed via a link or QR code including most recently Sony Pictures’ “Jumanji: Next Level” created by Trigger and Pink Floyd’s “The Later Years” created by Draw & Code.

While AR still has a PR-worthy quality, it is also delivering on views, time spent and increase in conversion. Unity provided data on a recent Miller Lite AR campaign which had a 28% engagement rate compared to the 20% benchmark. WeMakeUp tested virtual lipstick try-ons in the new Facebook AR format and saw a 27.6-point lift in purchases, with consumers spending an average of 38 seconds with the ad. Papa John’s Snapchat Lens boosted pizza orders 25% for Valentine’s Day. Google finds 30% of viewers activated an AR try on makeup experience in the YouTube iOS app, spending over 80 seconds on average trying on lipstick virtually. And according to 8th Wall, 80% of end users spend more than 1 full min within each published WebAR experience & 50% of users spend greater than 2 mins interacting within a single WebAR activation.

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14. The democratization of special effects continues to be the killer app for consumer mobile AR

What I Said in January:

User generated content elevated by augmented reality (or remixing reality as I like to call it) is most definitely today’s killer app for consumer mobile AR and it will hold its crown again for 2019. But I expect this year we will see some new tricks such as segmentation of other body parts, the rise of 3rd party filters and lenses made by creators, and a growing understanding by users that they can turn the camera around to place digital objects in the world around them. AR will be used by social influencers to help their posts stand out from the crowd. But we may even see the rise of a new generation of social influencers that master the art of AR to create a whole new type of social feed — one filled with wonder and disbelief — especially as CGI and VFX tools are democratized to the every day poster through augmented reality.

What Really Happened:

Our social feeds dramatically changed this year as users applied filters, lenses and effects on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat. Combine this with deep fakes and compelling VFX and CGI projects and it is clear that on social media — nothing is real anymore.

Filters have democratized special effects. On one hand the social platforms equip third party creators with easy-ish tools to create filters and effects for the masses. On the other, the filters themselves become one-tap tools for social media users to edit their stories and posts in ways only the pros used to be able to do. With over 600,000 lenses on Snapchat and over 1 billion users of AR on Facebook platforms it is easy to conclude that filters are the main way consumers are engaging with AR today.

This year we saw a number of filters take over the internet. Filter creators on Instagram have grown to over 200,000 followers in one day due to a a viral filter such as the “What Disney Character Are You” filter from Arno Partissimo . We also saw the “Time Machine” and “Gender Swap” Lenses from Snapchat and Johanna Johwska’s “Beauty 3000” on Instagram break the internet.

In addition, the large influx of filters caused the emergence of a new influencer, Filter Influencers, who use and promote new filters to their growing followers to help them discover the latest effect for them to try.

While AR platforms did offer creators new tools such as body tracking, people occlusion, landmarkers and others previously mentioned in this article, the majority of filters in use continue to be front-facing face filters.

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15. Wizards Unite brings the magic of AR gaming back to the masses in an even bigger way than Pokémon GO

What I Thought Would Happen:

With Potter arguably an even stronger IP than Pokémon GO (sorry Pikachu fans), advancements in AR from Niantic and the use of ARCore/ARKit, not to mention a much more educated mobile AR user base — it is entirely possible that “Harry Potter Go” is going to make Pokémon GO feel like a dry run. But Harry Potter won’t be the only strong IP to try to capitalize on the AR gaming gold rush. 2019 will see a ton of brand names launch mobile apps to get you and your friends holding up your phone and moving around outside.

What Really Happened:

Ironically, the magic of AR gaming was not brought back to the masses by a new game like Wizards Unite as I had thought, but by the game that started it all — Pokémon GO. According to SensorTower, 2019 will see Pokémon GO surpass its 2016 revenue record, expecting the app to gross $774.3 million by the end of the year. Niantic, the creators of Pokémon GO, issued some major updates to the app. It leveraged ARCore and ARKit to make photos of Pokémon more realistic. And recently enabled an AR multiplayer function to allow users to go on Buddy Adventures together. We may even see Pokémon as a major game on an AR headset Niantic is now confirmed to be working on with Qualcomm.

While the Wizards Unite game launched with lackluster success compared to Pokémon GO, it is far from a failure. The app saw 15 million downloads in its first month and generated an estimated $22 million after five months according to SensorTower. But the runner up to Pokemon wasn’t Potter it was a bunch of slimes. According to SensorTower, Square Enix’s Dragon Quest had the second-highest growing launch month receiving 1.7 million downloads and bringing in an estimated $86 million.

Niantic’s Harry Potter game wasn’t the only big IP to launch an augmented reality game. Microsoft’s Minecraft launched Minecraft Earth building up 1.4 million downloads in its first week. And Angry Birds debuted its mobile app “Isle of Pigs”.

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16. Navigation emerges as a killer productivity use case for AR starting with tests in malls and airports

What I Thought Would Happen:

One of AR’s killer productivity consumer use case will most certainly be navigation and 2019 will be the year we get a taste of it. While I don’t suspect we will see a massive roll-out of AR world maps this year, I do expect we will see it available for select large high-traffic indoor areas such as shopping malls, airports, cruise ships theme parks, or similar. AR way finding as a feature for supported locations within an app is definitely on the horizon.

What Really Happened:

We got an even bigger dose of AR navigation than I was expecting this year and it emerged outdoors, not in, as I had thought. Google debuted “Live View” for Google Maps delivering AR walking directions for ARCore and ARKit enabled smartphones. Live View mode provides visual markers in the real world to help people better navigate to their destination.

While we didn’t see large high-traffic indoor areas debut AR wayfinding there was some activity in this space. Visualix kicked off the year with a demo of its large-scale AR navigation for enterprise at CES. Dent Reality, which made waves for its prototype back in 2017, announced it is making an SDK for iOS apps to integrate the map of indoor spaces. And Scape has already created 3D maps of London and San Francisco with 100 more cities underway to power its SDK for developers to use for navigation and other purposes.

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17. Avatars are the new stickers and the rise of virtual celebrities as well as virtual YOU

What I Thought Would Happen:

2019 will continue to see the avatar and virtual being space heat up and evolve. I suspect we will see this open up like the sticker market to allow 3rd parties to provide a sea of new content which we can use while video chatting or sending audio messages to our friends. This year we may start to see how virtual humans combined with digital assistants and other chatbot systems can bring virtual humans to life. I suspect that we will see some major celebrities jump on the virtual human bandwagon as well, launching a copy of themselves they can monetize as part of AR experiences. Doubling yourself won’t just be for the rich and famous however, keep an eye on platforms like Snap’s Bitmoji platform and advancements in photogrammetry which will allow everyday people to create and use their own digital twin.

What Really Happened:

While it didn’t come together exactly how I had suggested in my original post, we did see a ton of activity in the virtual influencer, avatars and digital double space this year.

2019 was a great year for capture studios as we saw a number of new stages pop up around the world, ready to capture people and create holograms that can be used in AR and VR experiences. As suspected, celebrities are a key target to be scanned with Intel Studios, the world’s largest volumetric capture stage, capturing a scene performed by the cast of Grease and singer Laura Rizzotto making history as being the first-ever holographic performance in an AR app launched by Metastage. We also saw Madonna dance with 5 replicas of herself at the Billboard Music Awards while Whitney Houston, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly came back to life to take the stage as a part of a hologram tour.

Apple doubled down on Animoji and Memoji it in its latest iOS update launching new Animojis, beauty options and accessories for Memojis, and the ability to use Memojis as stickers in iMessage. It also updated its Clips app to support Memoji and Animoji.

Snap released Bitmoji Kit to free Bitmoji from Snapchat and allow your avatar to be used in third party apps such as Tinder. It also announced the launch of Bitmoji TV which makes your avatar the star of a TV series on Snapchat. Snap also launched Cameos this year which used a single shot of your face to create “deep fake-like” video clips you send as part of a chat on Snapchat.

Google expanded Playmojis to more Android devices and partnered up with Childish Gambino to release his double as part of Playground on Pixel. And Samsung’s AR Emoji used DeepMotion to bring real-time motion capture to avatars on its latest devices to let you make them dance.

The virtual influencer space most certainly heated up. Our social feeds are now populated with virtual models and influencers from all over the world. Lil Miquela, one of the original virtual influencers from brud, has now moved beyond just static photos in a feed as she now posts videos and has released singles on Spotify. But she is not the only avatar on the music scene. Yona, an AI-generated musician from Auxuman released her album this year.

Suggested Reading:


Enterprise Market

18. Assisted reality solutions continue to show real ROI in the enterprise but value is not what’s holding AR back in this space

What I Thought Would Happen:

This year, I expect we will hear more stats and stories on the use of AR in the enterprise including some that suggest that we are closer to seeing solutions move from R&D and pilot stages to larger roll-outs. Resistance of change from IT teams, long and complex procurement cycles, demand for greater security, lack of a readily available digital twin and smartglasses not entirely suitable for a full days work are just some of the challenges holding AR back in this space. Keep an eye on military, aerospace, manufacturing, supply chain, oil & gas, automotive, retail and pharmaceuticals as just some of the sectors extremely active in this space.

What Really Happened:

Assisted reality continues to be the dominant enterprise AR service and this year we saw funding, acquisitions and case studies from companies demonstrating how AR is changing the way we work.

Upskill, Scope AR, Augmedix and Streem were just some of the startups which saw funding and M&A activity in the enterprise AR space. Microsoft and Team Viewer launched new software for enterprise use. And of course the launch of new hardware aimed at longer and more comfortable use by workers such as Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, the HoloLens 2 and devices from RealWear and ThirdEye greatly served this market.

While there is still a ton more story telling that can be done, we were provided with some new insights into the dramatic impact AR has on the workplace. A report from Accenture found that AR and VR could boost worker productivity by 21%. Coca-Cola AR use case for warehouse picking saw +99.99% picking accuracy and +11% productivity in 6 months according to a talk at AWE EU 2019. Toyota was able to achieve a 20% cost savings in field service by using an Augmented Support solution by Essert together with RealWear’s HMT-1. And a Honeywell novice can take up to an hour to fix a variable frequency drive, which is an hour of downtime (thousands of dollars lost) while AR glasses, which power remote assistance, can reduce this time by up to 34 minutes.

Suggested Reading:

19. Advancements in telepresence continue to show us the future of video conferencing is near

What I Thought Would Happen:

Telepresence solutions will continue to demonstrate how augmented reality will change the way we communicate and collaborate in a world where remote working is the new normal. It also has the potential to cement itself as a killer app for AR in the enterprise.

What Really Happened:

Both Microsoft and Magic Leap turned to leading telepresence startups to demonstrate the future of communication and collaboration with smartglasses. Microsoft featured Spatial on stage at MWC 2019 as part of the the HoloLens 2 launch, showing how Mattel is using mixed reality in its toy design. And Magic Leap acquired telepresence startup Mimesys with the goal to offer its robust, true spatial, volumetric co-presence platform to the market.

Meanwhile, concepts emerged from industry players such as Nissan (already mentioned above), ANA and Facebook illustrating how avatars (including Facebook’s realistic Codec Avatars) could be used in the near future to change the way we communicate.

Suggested Reading:


What I Missed

Here are some of the big trends I didn’t have on my radar in the beginning of this year which were critical to the AR journey.

  • AR headsets are hard: One of the big messages we heard from most of the major players this year was that AR glasses for consumers are coming but they are really hard to make which means they will take longer than we may want to get to market.
  • Everyone is waiting for Apple: The Apple smartglasses rumor mill was extremely noisy this year as the media and industry continue to obsess over Apple’s market-making track record with hopes it will do it again in the AR space. This noise overshadowed many of the amazing accomplishments happening right before our very eyes this year.
  • Not all AR startups will survive: This year we said goodbye to some of the pioneering AR startups who have helped create the foundation of which others stand. ODG, Meta, Blippar and DAQRI are just a few to note (although some of these have returned in a new form).
  • Displays that aren’t phones or glasses: While most of the attention has been on handheld and headworn AR, a new platform has emerged — the holographic display. The launch of Looking Glass’ 8K display is set to lead this category in offering a frictionless, device-free AR experience while we saw other technologies from Dimenco, Light Field Labs and Adobe’s Project Glasswing.
  • True Mixed Reality: Varjo’s debut of its human eye resolution mixed reality headset, XR-1, demonstrated the power of one single device that could allow a user to move from AR to VR.
  • New smartphone spatial sensors: Apple’s U1 chip in iPhone 11 leveraging UWB or ultra wideband technology and Samsung’s use of the ToF (time of flight) sensor in the S10 5G and Note 10+ mark a new breed of smartphones with powerful spatial understanding which will result in richer AR experiences.
  • China as an AR powerhouse: With Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent, Huawei, and Oppo as just a few Chinese tech giants employing the use of AR, the government’s support to make China a 5G and AR powerhouse and a forecasted spend of $65.21 billion on AR and VR by 2023 according to IDC — China is a critical market to watch.

What were some of the highlights for you in Augmented Reality in 2019? DM me on Twitter @TomEmrich or email me at tom@tomemrich.com.

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