In the last four months we've attended conferences, launch events and opened up Authorised Reseller programs in Mexico, Turkey, US, Israel, South Africa, Brazil, Panama, Hong Kong and now China at the global Augmented Reality Summit in Shanghai where we were invited to give a key note speech.

In the last four months we’ve attended conferences, launch events and opened up Authorised Reseller programs in Mexico, Turkey, US, Israel, South Africa, Brazil, Panama, Hong Kong and now China at the global Augmented Reality Summit in Shanghai where we were invited to give a key note speech.

Zappar CEO talking in Shanghai

From this accumulation of air miles three clear observations have emerged:

  1. There are already a dozen companies with their own augmented reality solutions working on mobile devices; Zappar, Qualcomm, Metaio, Layar, Total Immersion, Daqri, String, and Aurasma, to name a few. The tech works. Everyone has a treasure trove of demos and ‘look this stuff really does work’ case studies. We know it drives engagement, data and purchase intent. We get it.

  2. Whether you’re in Pretoria or Pudong augmented reality has the ability to surprise and delight users in equal measure. We’ve experienced the Zappar Rush first-hand the world over. The moment of magic and in-take of breath when people zap an image. It transcends borders.

  3. We’re not in the business of selling augmented reality anymore. We should be selling compelling experiences that consumers care about around sustainable commercial models.

Market forces are coalescing to give augmented reality a real shot at becoming adopted at a mass-market level due to the processing power of smartphones, camera quality, improving network capability and cloud computing infrastructure (OK some markets are still playing catch-up on these last two points but they’re not far off). AR stands to be the interface between mobile / wearables as the new window onto the world. It could be as significant as the mouse was to desktop computing. With your mobile device as a lens you can ‘click and connect’ to additional content.

That’s the good news. But here’s the thing: there are already thousands of apps using AR with many more to come. So why does augmented reality have such low levels of consumer awareness and understanding? The simple answer is that consumers really don’t care about augmented reality (in the same way I’m not fussed about what chip set is powering my iPhone). They care about valued experiences and what it means to them in their lives. AR may be magical but what’s the real benefit once the show is over. Yes it has to work seamlessly but then its only role is to improve my life in some way: through greater function, improved efficiency or simply entertainment versus other channels. It’s the content that counts not the delivery method.

The problem with AR summits and the industry as a whole right now is that it spends too much time talking to itself and either i) talking up incremental tech advances about their solution which are cool but don’t move the conversation on; or ii) focusing on the tech rather than the sustainable commercial models and end user benefit.

It’s why the VC community as a whole has jumped on wearables in a way that it really hasn’t on AR. Why? Because they want to see sustainable long-term business models that work at an enterprise level rather than some impressive one-off 3D consumer demo. With wearables they see practical applications in the military, medicine, education, stock control and the service industry with the potential of mass-market consumer adoption down the line. We could learn from this approach. Augmented reality needs to be bigger than just a killer consumer app that may never come. We need to think how AR could integrate with a multinational software corporation like SAP not just the latest blockbuster movie. How it could offer a functional benefit to both business as well as consumers.

What’s been fascinating to observe here in China is the role of the QR code versus almost all other markets in the world. We have a clear stated mission at Zappar to kill the QR code. And rightly so as our zapcode solution is better on every metric: detection, scanning, hosting, analytics, versatility in terms of usage and most importantly end user engagement and experience. In most of the western world QR codes are tacked onto marketing collateral as a lazy nod to tick the mobile marketing box. Little wonder few have scanned a QR code more than once. (My favourite example of late was this truck I spotted in Mexico a few weeks back. I love the idea of a driver having to get out their mobile, open their QR code reader and tail-gate the guy in front to scan the code!). 

QR Truck

Yet in China QR codes and scanning are an important part of everyday life. They are firmly embedded within the WeChat app and a plethora of other messaging and e-commerce platforms. It’s a way to connect with others and acts as a payment gateway for quick transactions. In short it makes people’s lives easier. And these QR codes are everywhere. QR codes have given themselves a purpose beyond their ugly appearance and questionable benefit as an old school technology. In China they don’t think about that. It’s just a simple shorthand to connect, transact and move on which benefits both businesses and end users. It helps that it’s cheap and easy to implement. Where time is a valuable commodity, in China QR codes streamline certain utilitarian and frankly dull processes. The ugly QR duckling became a swan in China it would appear. Who knew?!

Where does this leave us and what can we learn from this?

Our approach at Zappar with the Zapcode Creator is to start this evolution of what augmented reality could mean to business and consumers alike at a mass-market level and deliver QR codes 10.0. 

RIP QR CodesFirstly we’re making the technology the most affordable and easy to use of any system through our super simple online interface and tool for the creation of content and deployment of codes. Whether you're a consumer or business you can sign-up and get started for free.

Then we’re making the feature set fit every possible use case: from simple zap-and-go experiences to more immersive engagements. The service is fully hosted and managed so there’s no additional back-end requirement. And there’s also a full data dashboard built in so you can track usage and effectiveness of campaigns and experiences in real time. 

The experience through the Zapcode Creator doesn’t feel technical it feels both practical and creative. As videos, photos, animations, links, calendar entries, contact details etc. are put to work as digital packets to be shared. (To keep the Eastern theme they’re like digital Fortune Cookies.)

Overall the printing and deployment of zapcodes could not be more efficient allowing for the broadest use of codes and delivery of experiences across all media (from TV to print, P.O.S, packaging and product). Updated content can be placed on a zapcode and published at any time at no extra cost. Zapcodes deliver a marriage of form and function that reinvent QR codes as a code you actively want to scan through a clever use of augmented reality and computer vision technology but realized in a playful, purposeful and practical end user experience. 

Crucially for businesses and consumers it’s simply an icon that connects the physical world of things to your mobile device. Zapcodes deliver bite-sized info-tainment in a snackable format. When opening up the internet on your phone it can sometimes feel like standing under a waterfall when all you want is a glass of water. A zapcode serves up relevant content in the cup-sized container you were looking for, straight to your device from the world around you. It’s easy to use and it works. And that’s it.

With some large-scale deployments around the world on their way in the coming months we’ll see if our strategy is correct and whether it can find a valued place in peoples' lives. Watch this space.