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Over the past year, there’s been a lot of chatter of how “mixed reality” – a sort of blanket term encompassing both augmented reality and virtual reality – has the chance to fundamentally change the world of social media. While virtual reality (VR) certainly has the backing of social media giant Facebook, it has also been a lot more difficult to figure out than augmented reality.
The new eMarketer study on AR
As a result, augmented reality (AR) is now gaining the upper hand, and is starting to change the way we view social media (literally). At the end of May, research firm eMarketer released a report suggesting that 40 million Americans will use AR at least once every month this year. This is a 30 percent increase from the previous year. By 2019, says eMarketer, 1 in 5 Internet users will be experimenting with AR, including 54.4 million Americans.
If you’re like most people, you’re probably a bit skeptical about those numbers. Somebody’s been drinking the AR Kool-Aid. 40 million Americans are using AR right now? Really? That number seems fantastically high.
Snapchat as the market leader in AR
According to eMarketer, Snapchat is the leading reason why AR use has taken off. In April, for example, Snapchat unveiled its new “World Lenses,” which enable you to add special effects to the video messages that you send others. The first World Lenses include things like rainbows, flowers and a giant “OMG.”
Here’s how it works: let’s say you make a quick video message at a picnic. You could add in all kinds of AR elements to make the video message really pop. For example, you could add a giant rainbow over your picnic table. Then, as you pan out to show the field around you, you could add in some beautiful AR flowers. Finally, you could add a giant “OMG” image at the end of the message, when you’re holding your pet.
According to Snapchat, these lenses are different from stickers or filters because they adjust and move according to the action in the video message. You can think of them as special effects.
Here comes Instagram and Facebook
Not to be outdone, Instagram recently added augmented reality face filters. The first AR filters include crowns and effects that make a person look like a rabbit or koala. There’s also one that adds spinning math equations around your head.
And Facebook, too, has been outlining its views for augmented reality and social media. Recently, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg called the smartphone camera the “world’s first ubiquitous augmented reality platform.” As Zuckerberg sees it, augmented reality will be a great way to merge the physical and digital worlds.
AR as a new form of advertising?
Presumably, AR will also open up all kinds of new advertising opportunities. Why advertise on a physical, real-world billboard when you can create an AR billboard that appears every time your camera views a specific destination? Facebook must be salivating at the prospect of selling AR ads to potential advertisers!
Going forward, expect to see more innovation in the AR space. For now, Snapchat is the market leader. The only question, of course, is whether people will want a specific device to view AR images (similar to Snapchat’s Spectacles or a VR headset), or whether they will want it all to happen on their smartphone camera. Either way, 40 million Americans can’t be wrong. It’s all leading to a future where AR is built right into our digital devices and can be used easily anytime we communicate with others.