Survey: Game over for AR/VR platform wars?

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The AR/VR industry seems to have made its mind up on platforms, based on responses to Digi-Capital and AWE’s Global AR/VR Industry Survey. While there are still opportunities for niche players and start-ups, clear standouts are now top of mind across the XR industry.

At the top level, mobile AR matters more to the industry than either smart glasses or VR today. And in mobile AR, we’re really talking Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. For smart glasses, where most of the activity is enterprise focused today, Microsoft HoloLens outweighs all others. For nascent consumer smart glasses, Magic Leap One is top of mind despite not being an actual consumer product (it’s primarily a developer product today). The least surprising result is Facebook and HTC platforms leading what VR companies care about, and that’s before Oculus Quest launches next year.

All of this could change as new platforms launch, particularly if Apple enters the smartphone tethered smart glasses market (which Digi-Capital has forecast for late 2020 for a while now).

Base camp

At the top platform level, mobile AR matters to 76 per cent of all respondents, with smart glasses (65 per cent) similar to VR (62 per cent). Mobile AR’s installed base of over 900 million by the end of 2018, growing to nearly three and a half billion by 2022 had a clear impact on the industry’s mental model despite its early stage. However, the overlap shows cross-platform approaches are prevalent for many companies. 17 per cent are focused on other XR platforms, including Web XR, projection-based AR, screen based AR, heads up display, holograms and augmented audio.

Twin peaks

Mobile AR companies are equally focused on ARKit (77 per cent) and ARCore (73 per cent), again showing the cross-platform nature of the market. Vuforia (39 per cent) came in ahead of the mobile social AR platforms of Facebook Spark AR (26 per cent) and Snap Lens Studio (17 per cent), as well as Wikitude (21 per cent). Of the 16 per cent of other platforms (some of which provide specific point solutions), 6D.ai, 8th Wall, Unity and inhouse mobile AR platforms came in strongly. Such a strong showing by Apple and Google makes mobile AR appear to be dominated by those platforms, with clear points of differentiation needed for others to thrive.

Business or pleasure?

Smart glasses have been largely enterprise focused to date, with 75 per cent of companies saying that HoloLens matters to their smart glasses focused businesses. The Q3 2018 launch of Magic Leap One (57 per cent) had a clear impact, even though it is not an end-user product yet. Google Glass for Enterprise (35 per cent), Vuzix (33 per cent), Meta (33 per cent) and ODG (32 per cent) are broadly similar in scale, followed by Daqri (26 per cent), Epson (25 per cent) and Kopin (14 per cent). Other platforms mentioned include RealWear, Mira, Leap Motion North Star and the hoped-for (but as yet unconfirmed) Apple smart glasses. It is going to be interesting to see how this distribution changes if and when Apple enters the market.

Two horse race

VR companies’ major priorities are HTC Vive/Focus/Pro (73 per cent) and Oculus Rift (70 per cent). These are followed by Oculus Go (57 per cent), Microsoft Windows VR (53 per cent), Samsung Gear VR (50 per cent). Oculus Quest (formerly Oculus Project Santa Cruz) was not announced until after most survey responses were completed. Even with that limitation, 41 per cent of respondents were already focused on the platform. Given industry response to its launch at Oculus Connect 5, it seems reasonable to assume that Oculus Quest could index significantly higher in subsequent surveys. Google Cardboard and the more advanced Google Daydream both came in at 39 per cent.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the VR sector is Sony PlayStation VR (29 per cent), despite it being the high-end VR headset leader by sales. This result could be because survey participants are much broader than game developers only, and PSVR is a peripheral for the Sony PlayStation 4 game console. Other VR platforms mentioned included Pico, Web VR, Lenovo Mirage and StarVR.

It’s not over until you win

While the industry seems to have picked its winners (for now), consumers and enterprises aren’t as sure yet. Even with an installed base of 900 million ARKit and ARCore capable phones by the end of 2018, no AR/VR platform has truly scaled in terms of active users yet. And that matters far more than the industry’s mental model.

As in many consumer tech markets, whether Apple enters or not is critical. For the last few years, Digi-Capital has forecast Apple launching smartphone tethered smart glasses in late 2020. But as with all things Apple, the only folks who really know are Tim Cook and his inner circle. So don’t place your bets just yet.


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