Mobile Augmented Reality Could Be Next Killer App

Carl Weinschenk

The augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) segments will gradually be dominated by mobile AR devices, according to a report from Digi-Capital. Indeed, mobile AR seems poised to be the “killer app” that the mobile sector has been seeking for years.

Digi-Capital says that it is possible that mobile AR will have an installed base of 3 billion by 2021. During that period of time, smartglasses, premium VR and mobile VR “might top [an installed base of] 100 million,” the report says.

Non-insiders should pay attention to two things about the report. One is that mobile VR or AR refers specifically to smartphones, tablets and other traditional mobile devices. Smart glasses, which of course are as mobile as the noses upon which they perch, are considered to be in a distinct category.

The other interesting element is that Digi-Capital conflates VR and AR in its assessments. In other words, the firm says that mobile AR and mobile VR are distinct products. However, total unit sales predictions dump them into the same bucket.


The firm says that mobile AR will benefit from the ubiquity of smartphones. Average revenue per user (ARPU) will be much higher for smart glasses. However, smart glasses will have orders of magnitude less penetration since purpose-built devices, not smartphones, are necessary. In essence, the consumer decision is an app plus the hardware to run it on versus an app alone.

A post at Forbes by Michael Parks, the founder and CEO of PostAR, tracks with Digi-Capital’s assessment. The theme is that Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook, are bullish on AR. It logically follows that a company that makes its money selling smartphones and tablets will favor that over smart glasses and other forms of AR that require new hardware.

The rest of the sector won’t simply surrender to Apple, of course. The wars are gearing up. Today, Evans Data Corp. said that AR is being incorporated into apps by 44 percent of developers. The survey, which features input from more than 600 developers, adds that 30 percent are in evaluation or test mode.

Straits Times lays out the landscape. The Apple AR functionality is supplied by the ARKit applications programming interface (API) that is in iOS 11 (which, according to IB Times, was installed in more than 25 percent of Apple devices just a week after its mid-September launch). Google responded with ARCore. Again, the differentiation from AR approaches that require new hardware is scale:

Unlike the standalone Google Glass, ARCore will support more than 100 million existing and upcoming Android devices when it is launched this winter, said Google.

An element of this goes beyond the future of AR. The bloom has been off the mobile device rose for a few years. Growth is minimal. A big reason for that is the absence of glitzy new features. A marginally better camera is a positive. It is not likely, however, to drive a huge number of people to replace their phone more quickly than planned.

The Straits Times’ story points out that Pokémon Go was a hit. Bets are being made that the attraction will grow to be far broader and that the smartphone segment has finally found another killer app.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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