The future of AR is being decided now
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: Snap is betting on mobile AR to eventually win the AR glasses race, and YouTube has struck a new deal with Roku.
The future of AR
It will be many more years until the arrival of truly consumer-ready augmented reality glasses — but just developing next-gen hardware in a lab isn’t enough to win the future, according to Bobby Murphy. Snap’s CTO recently told me that mobile AR is a key stepping stone to next-generation wearables.
“AR is going to require some real leaps in hardware [development] to get to a place where we have a comfortable, lightweight, powerful display that we can wear for many hours during the day,” Murphy said during a conversation we had ahead of this week’s Lens Fest , a multi-day event for AR creators that ends today. “Our strategy [for succeeding in AR] is rooted in hitting tangible practical impact in the next two to three to five years, and then continue to build on that foundation towards a future in which hardware is more capable,” he said.
Key to those efforts is Snap’s Lens platform, which includes its Lens Studio AR authoring suite, and its community of 250,000 Lens creators.
- Snap revealed this week that its Lenses have been viewed over 3.5 trillion times, with 200 million Snapchatters using mobile AR daily, totaling more than 6 billion views every day.
- Granted, much of that is due to face filters — hardly cutting-edge stuff, unless your vision of the future includes your AR glasses giving everyone you meet on the street puppy ears. (Which admittedly sounds pretty fun, too.)
There’s also a growing trend of creators pushing the envelope with Lenses, especially with machine learning. “Snap ML is an incredibly powerful capability in Lens Studio,” Murphy told me.
- “Snap ML allows any Lens developer to bring their own machine learning models into a Lens,” Murphy said. “Through that, we've seen some very unexpected and surprising use cases. Someone has made a Lens that helps you identify bird species, or translate objects.”
- Murphy also pointed to a partnership with Disney as an example of where things are going. “Disney just launched something for Disney World Park, where visitors can use their My Disney Experience app to unlock some really amazing AR experiences, [including] a landmarker Lens connected to the Disney Castle.”
Snap also unveiled a number of tools to help Lens creators build AR experiences.
- A new physics engine allows creators to incorporate gravity and more to make their AR experiences more realistic.
- Snap expanded real-time 3D mesh reconstruction, known as world mesh, to mobile devices without Lidar sensors. This will make it possible to use object occlusion on lower-end handsets.
- Snap is also starting to make real-time data feeds available to Lens creators, starting with things like stock tickers and weather data.
- Soon, Lens creators will be able to create custom landmarkers, meaning that they will be able to create location-based AR experiences from scratch, simply by scanning a location with a Lidar-enabled phone.
- Finally, Snap also wants to help creators make money with AR, which includes cash grants of up to $150,000 for select projects.
All the while, Snap continues to work on AR glasses. The company revealed the first AR version of its Spectacles earlier this year, and Murphy told me that AR will be the focus of its hardware efforts going forward (read: no more non-AR Spectacles). But the company also plans to support AR devices made by other companies, including Meta and Apple.
“We will continue to look for opportunities to work with any company who is doing innovative work in the space,” Murphy told me. “Whether we are building our own hardware or operating our software on other companies’ hardware, we're going to empower the best form of AR experiences that we can.”
Check out my full interview with Snap CTO Bobby Murphy on Protocol.com.
On the schedule
Big Tech and gaming platform wars
Big Tech is more interested than ever before in trying to own and define the platforms of tomorrow, but game companies have their own unique visions for how we’ll play and socialize in virtual spaces in the future. Join Protocol's Nick Statt in conversation with Manticore Games CEO Frederic Descamps and Zynga CPO Scott Koenigsberg at 10 a.m. PT on Dec. 14.
“Every article talking about a groundbreaking metaverse thing is just something that was done a decade ago in WoW or Second Life.” — Twitter user Grimvvice, responding to a New York Times article about a wedding in the metaverse.
“Roku needs YouTube more than YouTube needs Roku.” — LightShed’s Rich Greenfield, summing up the power imbalance in Google’s now-resolved fight with Roku.
A MESSAGE FROM PROEDGE, A PWC PRODUCT
To get higher impact — and ROI — on your upskilling investment, you need a program that meets your people at the intersection of skill level and function with engaging, hands-on experiences. Today's upskilling should include training on technologies like automation that can power innovation and drive efficiency across the enterprise.
Google and Roku make up, just in the nick of time
Crisis averted: You will be able to watch YouTube how-to videos on your Roku while trying to assemble your holiday gifts after all. The two companies struck an 11th-hour deal to keep YouTube’s apps on Roku’s streaming devices and smart TVs, ending a multi-month spat.
- "Roku and Google have agreed to a multi-year extension for both YouTube and YouTube TV," a Roku spokesperson said via email. "This agreement represents a positive development for our shared customers, making both YouTube and YouTube TV available for all streamers on the Roku platform."
- "We are pleased to have a partnership that benefits our mutual users,” a YouTube spokesperson added in a separate statement.
The deal follows a few months of tense negotiations, complete with a lot of finger-pointing from both sides.
- News of the dispute first broke in April, when Roku announced that negotiations between the two companies had broken down. To force Google’s hand, Roku removed the YouTube TV app from its app store; Google responded by integrating the pay TV service directly into the main YouTube app.
- At the center of the dispute weren’t any monetary issues; Google has never shared YouTube advertising revenue with Roku.
- Instead, Google was requiring Roku to support the open AV1 video codec to stream YouTube content in 4K on future Roku devices; Roku also alleged that Google was forcing it to give its content preferential treatment in search results — a claim that Google denied.
It’s unclear who ultimately won the fight. Spokespeople for the two companies didn’t share any specifics of the deal. However, It’s not unreasonable to assume that Google will have won at least some new concessions from Roku, given that YouTube is the second-most popular app on the smart TV platform, making it a must-have for the company. In return, Roku likely pushed for a long-term contract, which would give the company some confidence that people using its devices will have access to YouTube for years to come.
That’s not to say that everything is all merry and bright. As more people cut the cord and switch to streaming, smart TV platform providers are bound to keep clashing with the services running on their devices. Just look at the chaos on your typical streaming remote , and you’ll get a sense for how many issues still remain unresolved — and how many potential blackouts are yet to come.
A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com.
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Thanks for reading — see you next week!