As you all can imagine, augmented reality has been given a speed boost thanks to Apple. Apple’s release of ARkit has a number of their competitors scrambling to come up with a competitive strategy on a timeline that will keep them from falling too far behind. This is going to be a challenge, as Android is going to struggle as an AR development platform. Understanding this point is central to the argument I am going to make for Apple/iOS in China.
Android’s fragmentation is going to hurt the platforms AR efforts more than it hurt the app efforts. It is no secret, and now a well understood industry reality, that all the latest software/app innovation happens on iOS. Many great apps come to iOS and never make it to Android. The ones that do are often poorly designed clones with sub-par user experiences. Even big companies have struggled with this as they try to bring their flagship iOS apps to Android. The root of this issue is the hardware, mainly at the component level, in the Android ecosystem. Because Android is now in two billion people’s hands, and the vast majority of those two billion devices being mid-low end CPU, GPU, camera sensors, etc., developers are forced to make sure their apps work on the lowest common denominator performance and spec wise. That is, after all, what most people have on an Android device, is a mid-tier device performance wise. This was an issue in software and remains a development problem, but the problem will be exacerbated when it comes to augmented reality due to the demands in CPU, GPU, and most importantly camera sensor technology. The key takeaway, is the mid-tier spec AR experience will not just be terrible, it may not even work. Roadmap wise, it will be years before mid-tier and low-tier components can even resemble a decent AR experience.
So if we believe, ARkit will usher in a new wave of app/software innovation as I do, then it stands to reason iOS is going to only widen the gap for the foreseeable future over Android from an app/software development standpoint. Apple’s lead will be at a minimum 12-18 months, but in all likely hood, it will be much longer.
Following my logic, there will be a significant and objective difference in the software experience and evolution of apps around AR on iOS than Android. This will peak the interest of a lot of consumers who see all the interesting, valuable, useful, and entertaining, things AR will bring to our mobile devices and the stark observation will be made that you can only do these things on iOS. Every market will see this. However, I feel it will make the biggest impact in China.
First, you have to understand Chinese consumers are all about experiences. They save, scrimp, and go to great length’s to pay for anything that is a unique experience. This is evident in the typical Chinese consumer’s travel strategy to go to places in the world and stay in modest (low-priced) hotels, eat low-cost food, but then on one day or maybe two, of their trip, they plan their luxury day. They then splurge on that one day to stay in the nicest hotel, eat the most delightful food, and do a unique local experience they can in that one luxury day. Time and time again, we see overwhelming evidence of this behavior in Chinese culture to splurge on unique experiences.
Not only will the iPhone 8 lineup be a form factor change, that by itself, will ignite the Chinese market for iPhones but pair that with innovative, unique AR experiences only found on iOS and we are setting the stage for Apple to make a big run in China.
The other key factor here is that these new AR experiences can be found in a range of new apps. This reality alone can break the “WeChat is the only app consumers use in China” narrative. While I’m certain WeChat will remain a key platform and maintain heavy usage, a plethora of new apps will hit the scene that gives Chinese consumers reasons to try and use other apps than WeChat. However, going even further, ARKit will even give WeChat some incredible new capabilities that will be found only on iOS. Imagine WeChat adding ARKit capabilities to its platform and enabling a WeChat AR experience that is only found on iOS.
Chinese consumers are also the closest ones regarding behavior to AR behaviors today thanks to QR codes. I’m not saying QR codes is augmented reality, even in some cases a QR code does launch and AR like experience, but that the behavior is similar.
Scan a code in the real world and get information about it digitally. Imagine QR codes being taken to a new level with ARKit in the Chinese market by not just taking them to a digital page, or app, but bringing product information or the overall experience to life right in front of their eyes.
Perhaps more than any other market, the Chinese market is poised for rapid adoption of augmented reality experiences. Put all of this together and Apple is in a perfect place competitively.