AR Weekly Dive — Zappar

Welcome to the first post in my series of commentaries on the AR industry. My goal with this series is to give an inside look into the field, from the basics of the technology and the math behind it to the startups turning AR into a reality for consumers.

This week, I’m diving into Zappar, an Augmented Reality startup helping to create AR marketing experiences and games for clients in all industries.

Quick Facts:

Founders: Caspar Thykier, Connell Gauld, Simon Taylor

Funding: $3.75 Million

Investors: You & Mr Jones Brandtech Ventures, iDreamsky Technology
Hargreave Hale (now Canaccord Genuity Wealth Limited)

Mission: “Zappar is a clever little app that can see and recognise
images and objects in the world around us.” “We make Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality experiences for some of the world’s biggest brands.”

Employee Count: 11 to 50

Focus: Creating AR experiences for clients and creating platforms which democratize the creation of AR experiences

Zappar has created one of the premier mobile platforms for AR experiences. The Zappar app allows users to scan any “zapcode” (a proprietary QR code), and jump into an AR experience (a “Zap”) on their device. Zappar also acts as a consultant for companies who want to create a Zap to advertise their brand/product, such as Angry Birds, One Direction, and General Mills.

An example BMW ad made with the ZapWorks Studio tool

In a previous piece, I wrote how “when the main medium of information dispersion moved from newspapers to radios, the initial advertisements were simply newspapers advertisements read aloud. A similar thing happened in the early stages of the transition from radio to TV. It takes a while for advertising methods to catch up to the new medium and fully take advantage of it.” Zappar is embracing the new advertising medium, and in the process, will be one of the first firms to know what works/doesn’t work in AR marketing.

An example “Zapcode”

But Zappar isn’t just some AR consulting firm. In addition to creating client experiences, Zappar has also been working on platforms so that developers can easily create their own Zaps. By having easy drag-and-drop tools for creating AR experiences, Zappar is successfully building up the content library available on its platform, moving towards the goal of making Zappar the go-to AR experience platform. If the Zappar app contains all of the best AR experiences, then users will have no reason to download any other AR platforms onto their devices.

When talking about Zappar, one competitor cannot be ignored: Blippar. The two companies are following the same development path. Just like Zappar, Blippar specializes in creating AR marketing experiences for clients (such as PepsiCo, Nestlé, Heinz, and Coca-Cola). In addition, Blippar also provides a suite of tools for creating AR experiences that run on its platform. The large difference between the companies is size: compared to Blippar’s $99 million in funding, Zappar’s $3.75 million is negligible.

The race is on to create the de-facto AR platform for mobile.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeremy Yates, a Senior Business Development Manager at Zappar, regarding the company and the future of the AR industry in general.

Ed: Is the main focus of the Zappar platform marketing for 3P clients right now? Or are there plans to expand into other industries, such as first-party games?

Jeremy: It’s not a focus for us right now but not something we’d rule out. I’ve no doubt that AR will become a large part of first-party games in the coming years but for now, I feel full AR games are waiting for a piece of AR/MR hardware that is robust and affordable — something that isn’t quite there yet. Pokemon GO cleverly used AR as a very small part of a much wider maps-based game and it was, perhaps mistakenly, labelled an AR-game rather than a game with AR.

At Zappar we have developed mini-games for a wide range of clients and have worked closely with Rovio on developing an augmented reality strategy to connect their game app, movie and brand partnerships (more here). We say ‘mini-games’ because we need to keep these experiences small so they can be accessed on the fly and work across as many devices as possible. We are not trying to compete with fully fledged games.

Our mission from the beginning has always been to democratise augmented reality by making it as accessible and affordable as possible and we strive to help our partners and end users capture value using this amazing technology. We try to ensure that any zaps (our word for AR experience) can be accessed quickly and easily through the device that matters most to people — the smartphone. By and large, we are a B2B2C business in the sense that we work with brands & agencies to develop experiences for their end users, or they use our tools to create AR activations for their clients.

Part of this mission has been to put the power in the hands of the content creators and over the last seven years, we’ve developed the most complete publishing and authoring tool made specifically for AR on mobile: ZapWorks.

Ed: Zappar has been very generous to schools and students with large pricing discounts. In what other ways is the company trying to democratize AR?

Jeremy: Aside from ZapWorks and ZapBox, the other area of democratisation is our exciting partnership with Shazam. We’ve worked closely with the amazing team at Shazam to launch their visual recognition element to the Shazam app. Working with Shazam we can take AR on mobile devices to a whole new level and bring AR discovery to their hundreds of millions of active users.

Ed: You recently wrote an article “Overcoming the challenges of using augmented reality in education.” What do you believe are the best methods for convincing schools to adopt such a new technology, when many schools still use outdated technologies to begin with?

Jeremy: For me, the first part has to be offering an affordable solution. Budgets in schools and universities are becoming increasingly constrained and we worked closely with a number of educators to ensure our offering was a viable option for schools interested in the technology. We offer a discount on ZapWorks seats of over 70% to educational institutions and have seen a huge amount of interest from the educational community and offer annual access to students for just $2.

The second challenge is to ensure you’re catering for a wide range of technical capability. We’ve had kids as young nine develop AR posters using ZapWorks Designer and on the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had game-design students prototype 3D models using ZapWorks Studio.

Ed: Are there any plans for bringing the Zappar platform onto other devices, such as some of the upcoming AR/Mixed Reality headsets?

Jeremy: It’s an area we’ve had an eye on from the beginning but the issue with additional AR hardware was always going to be the price tag. Microsoft Hololens was extremely exciting but what was less exciting was the $3,000 price tag. We’d definitely be open to exploring support of new headsets but for now, nothing has interested us more than Google Cardboard, simply because of its affordability.

Inspired by Google Cardboard’s achievements in VR, we took on the challenge of democratising mixed reality at an affordable price and that was really how ZapBox came about, which again leverages the device everyone has (the smartphone) using pieces of cardboard or ‘cardware’ as we’ve called them and it’s priced at $30. It’s been an extremely exciting area of the business for us and I’ve had the chance to work on some fantastic projects. We’ve developed some experiences that anyone can use through ZapBox but we’ve been extremely excited to see the developer community begin to build experiences for these.

Ed: What are your personal favorite zaps?

Jeremy: My favourite zap has been the zaps we developed with Accuray. We have always encouraged our partners not to use AR for AR’s sake but instead to develop a strategy that solves problems and/or creates opportunity, with the Accuray project I feel we did both of those things.

Accuray and Zappar in action

Accuray, an oncology company, needed to show potential buyers all over the world their products in order to generate sales but when your products are machines the size of MRI scanners, the task of transporting them is not easy — and, moreover, takes the items out of action from hospitals.

2017 at Zappar

Go follow Jeremy on LinkedIn, he’s got some great views on the direction of the AR industry as a whole.

Want to chat more about AR? Follow me on Twitter