Forget VR — Mobile Cameras are the Greatest Innovation Your Business Must Embrace

Arpy Dragffy
Published in
8 min readMay 30, 2017


Imagine a future where you can walk down the street and see someone wearing an outfit you love. You take a picture, give a voice command: “buy,” and you’ll receive it tomorrow. Or one where you can use your camera to unlock the pricing, sizing, origin story of an item in any store.

With the new technologies involving Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that Google, Facebook, Pinterest and others are integrating into camera software — this future will be available in 2018 or 2019.

Not only will it transform retail, it will transform our physical world in ways we don’t even know yet: from the end of ugly adverts in stores to removing language as a barrier to navigating the insanely large 179-station Tokyo subway line.

We’ve all been sold on the dream that Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will change how we do business. Don’t expect those to impact the average business for another five-to-fifteen years.

Instead, understanding how to engage customers using their mobile cameras will be the greatest innovation of the next five years that your business needs to embrace.

Why the camera?

Mobile devices are near peak penetration. A powerful camera is now in the hands of almost all consumers worldwide:

  • Research firm eMarketer estimates that there are 2.4 billion people worldwide using mobile phones in 2017, up 10.8% from last year;
  • Combine this with the Pew Research Centre’s data showing that every year more Americans have a potential of reaching 95% adoption of mobile devices within a few years;
  • Purchases using mobile devices in the US have also surged, from 25% in 2012 to 64% in 2016, and the volume is expected to double between 2017 and 2020;
  • Looking globally, projections show that by 2020 Europe and North America are expected to reach near 90% penetration, followed by Latin America (78%), APAC (76%), Middle East and North Africa (62%), rest of Africa (50%);
  • With a projected global population of 7.7 billion by 2020 this means there will be 3.8 consumers globally with mobile devices.

So then why the camera and not mobile apps?

In last week’s article, Thanks to Google, the End of the Mobile App is Near, I detailed some shocking trends and innovations that make it clear that downloads of mobile apps are slowing down and Google is leading the charge to a download-free mobile economy.

Some highlights:

Consumers seek experiences and the camera makes it possible

When was the last time you were impressed by the latest mobile phone?

With each new release from Apple, Samsung, analysts and consumers are left longing for more — they’re no longer impressed by more RAM and a sleeker screen.

The average consumer — especially Millennials (aka Digital Natives) — are fuelled by experiences and by the power of technology to transform our worlds and lives. The hardware is no longer the star — it’s what it can do for you. As echoed by The Content Marketing Institute, TechCrunch, and Brian Solis, for businesses to succeed, they need to use technology to deliver frictionless, authentic, connected experiences that make our lives easier and more enjoyable.

You’ll notice that Apple no longer focuses on the technology in their phones, but on the power that high-powered camera has to transform and accentuate people’s lives:

Apple’s angle with this ad, and their entire campaign “Shot on iPhone,” is to showcase the authentic and awe-inspiring moments of our daily lives. Their latest billboard campaign took it one step further by having several photographers document the same night in their lives.

Meanwhile, Snapchat transformed how we use the camera by being the complete opposite: fantastical, unrealistic, silly, childlike, illicit.

Snapchat allows people to use their camera to transform themselves

Facebook’s attempt to acquire Snapchat in 2014 for $3 billion was famously rejected. Instead the Facebook empire has spent most of their resources on cloning their former love interest and building on their newer love, Instagram.

Thanks to the Facebook empire’s vast wealth, Instagram is now the champion of engaging experiences using the camera, with features like geo-stickers, data feeds, and aggressive advertisers that can turn your photo into something interactive and data-rich. Today’s version is still basic but expect leaps and bounds in the next year that will turn this from toy to transformative business opportunity.

Why every business needs to embrace the camera

Tech companies have spent the last three decades finding ways to cut down on the number of clicks needed for you to get your data and answers. Augmented Reality (image-based) combined with personal assistants (voice-based) will ultimately be the next big leap. However these two technologies are at least five years away from impacting the average business in a meaningful way.

Until then, AR-lite (aka the Connected Camera Experience) will be the new immersive and personalized technology your business will need:

1. VR isn’t the right technology for most businesses and AR isn’t ready yet

Forget VR — the average business will always struggle to overcome its two biggest barriers to entry: the bulky headsets and huge psychological shifts needed to make us feel comfortable in that world (for now).

Many, including the CEO of Unity, believe that VR must overcome 5 challenges — including lack of innovative content and faster internet connectivity — before it can be more than just a gamer’s paradise.

Ultimately, AR is projected to be worth four-times as much as VR: $120 billion vs. $30 billion. AR will enable users to connect with the internet and each other in a more immersive way.

Yet, for all the power that AR can offer, the world’s biggest advocate of VR and AR still believes the mobile phone and its camera will be where AR truly goes mainstream:

“The phone is probably going to be the mainstream consumer platform [where] a lot of these AR features become mainstream, rather than a glasses form factor that people will wear on their face.”
— Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

2. The camera solves very human problems: translating language, finding you

Today you can download the Google Translate app to your phone and use the camera to take a photo of text in any language and instantly translate it.

Not only will this make it easier for customers of any language to interact with your brand, it will also integrate with other camera-based innovations to make an ultra-powerful product. More on that in a minute.

Pinterest are now among the tech giants investing heavily in image recognition. They aim to solve simple problems like: What is that called? Who sells it? Who makes it?

Yet another step made possible thanks to AI and Machine Learning… and it doesn’t only work with photos, Google also can identify images that are in videos with an amazing accuracy.

3. The camera will answer people’s questions

Identifying what is in an image is only step one.

By connecting the massive Google data machine —Google Streetview, Google Place Photos, Google Cloud Vision API, Google Maps, Google Trips and their announcement of Google Lens— will transform the camera into a visual search engine.

Here you can see a future that no longer requires us to type anything into a search engine, you simply take a picture. This is the true beginning of the Connected Camera Experience: a way to see the useful and personalized data overlaid onto the world around us.

Soon you’ll be able to take a photo of a billboard and immediately know where to buy that product, see reviews, and additional content. You’ll be able to take a photo of meal in a magazine and get a video-guided recipe. You’ll be able to use your camera to take a photo of a broken part of a toy and order it.

How businesses will change because of this:

  • Consumers won’t just buy the item, they will buy the entire story with it, through additional content accessed by taking a photo of it;
  • Businesses need to create more content to support people’s decisions to buy in that Zero Moment of Truth, when they want validation;
  • The unbelievable will need to feel closer and more intimate: this is particularly important for tourism and entertainment where people want to get closer to the experience;
  • Increased ability to sell direct-to-customer, but at the expense of additional reliance on Google, Facebook, Amazon for their connected services.
Fans of Drake and Lebron get up close and intimate thanks to Snapchat’s camera

While the future of Augmented Reality will include contact lenses with cameras built into them, the near term business opportunities are more like the Recon Snow2 goggles that map data onto your ski run, or Samsung’s mirror displays that allow businesses to add interactive signage into stores to help customers interact with content and virtually try-on items.

AR-lite will come in many forms, and for the majority of businesses the mobile camera will give you access to 3 billion consumers worldwide. We believe all business leaders must explore how the Connected Camera Experience will transform your relationship with customers.

  • Will you use it to connect all your existing services in a visual way?
  • Will you use it to build closer and more intimate brand experiences with your customers?
  • Will you use it to conquer human problems like sizing, previewing, how something works?
  • Will you use it to create a virtual story in your stores?
  • Will you use it to transform how you look at signage, promotions, marketing?

Arpy Dragffy is a Digital Product Strategist and Innovation Consultant in Vancouver, Canada. As President of PH1 Media he leads innovation workshops and designs products and strategies for businesses who want to future-proof their relationships with customers.



Arpy Dragffy
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