Despite receiving plenty of investment and hype, augmented reality (AR) has yet to hit the high expectations that both consumers and providers have for the technology. Handset AR has mostly been relegated to a minor feature, and one more akin to a gimmick than a core part of the device’s interface.
There is one company however that has firmly put AR at the core of what it is doing: Snap. Snap has integrated AR into Snapchat with its Lenses feature and has been steadily improving these over time to become a core part of the app. Snap recently claimed that over three-quarters of its daily active users, or more than 170 million people, use its AR features on a daily basis.
While other app developers should be taking note of what Snap is doing now with AR to engage with its users, big tech platforms and service providers need to watch what Snap does next. At its developer conference, Snap announced that is adding voice search to help with discoverability of its AR Lenses, and it is clear from the examples used that Snap is aiming to make this feel like a digital assistant for AR, with users directing the app with instructions like “Hey Snapchat, make my hair pink.”
While many tech commentators salivate over rumors of an Apple AR headset, Snap has continued to iterate on and improve its AR-powered Spectacles. If Snap can add voice commands to its Spectacles, then it will overcome the biggest weakness of the headset formfactor—the clunky and unintuitive need for physical interaction. The headset is the most natural place for AR to exist, so moving in this direction makes a lot of sense for Snap.
Even with adding voice commands to Spectacles, Snap would remain quite a way off the AR headset dream promised by Google Glass over seven years ago (i.e., it lacks some key uses like navigation). Still, Google and Apple should be very wary of Snap’s AR efforts and in particular the potential for the Spectacles to rely on Snap’s own AI assistant and not any third-party platform. If AR headsets become a significant device segment, Snap could see itself vaulted into a crucial position in the overall device ecosystem. As such, service providers should be talking to Snap about the potential for adding eSIM to Spectacles to try to ensure AR headsets come with mobility by default.
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