Arcade 2021 – A Year In Review

AR showreel

An important note: I’m always cautious about being too positive about Arcade’s recent successes, given the terrible toll the pandemic has taken on so much of society. Please read everything that follows with the caveat that this is a specific perspective from a business that is doing well in an industry that, on balance, has benefited significantly from the societal changes brought about by COVID restrictions.

Happy holidays,

Alex

What a strange, wonderful, challenging and elating year 2021 has been for Arcade.

In hindsight, the defining feature of 2021 had actually begun the year before. During the final few months of 2020 we had started to see a noticeable rise in inbound enquiries. Clients from all kinds of sectors – some known to us already, some sent our way by word of mouth or an internet search – began to get in touch to find out more about “all this immersive stuff” and perhaps dip their toe in the water. More immersive briefs were being launched, with bigger budgets attached.

At the time it was unclear whether this was coincidence – a blip, disconnected from any wider trend – or if what we had been predicting (and hoping for) for some time was finally coming to pass, that organisations were beginning to see immersive experiences as more than gimmicks; core engagement tools rather than peripheral nice-to-haves.

2021 has shown it was very much the latter.

Driven by the necessities of adapting to a COVID world – in which traditional models of audience engagement were breaking down and being replaced (or complemented) by new, tech-led experiences delivered via immersive media – businesses of all shapes and sizes have well and truly woken up to the potential of a spatial future.

It was these experiences that led us to brand Arcade as ‘The Spatial Agency’, a positioning that has served us well and, I think, complements the overarching mission that continues to drive us, of ‘connecting people to place through play’.

2021 saw Arcade putting our mission to work at many places includingThe National Gallery

2021 also showed that our vision for a positive future of physical and digital interactivity is shared by some of the most important players in the tech and cultural space, from Apple to Google to Niantic. And whatever you might think of Facebook Meta, there is no question that they are one of the leading voices in putting immersive technologies – and the experiences they make possible – front and centre of mass public awareness. There may not be a consensus around what ‘The Metaverse’ actually is, but the fact that immersive environments are being talked about in the mainstream press and across dinner tables around the world can only be a positive for us and our industry as a whole.

The result for Arcade was a year packed full of all-time highlights in the agency’s short life to date. From creating a multi-award winning world-first sports fan engagement experience for The Hundred in partnership with Sky and ECB, to building web, social media and connected packaging AR experiences for brands such as Disney, Jim Beam and Lipton Ice Tea, to winning the pitch to design and build a hugely ambitious immersive game for young National Gallery audiences, to exploring new ways to combine AR and AI in immersive storytelling, and working with countless other cultural and heritage organisations to tell their stories in completely new, three-dimensional ways – we will look back on 2021 as the year that Arcade caught fire.

These wonderful projects and so many others also gave us the opportunity to grow the agency, more than doubling in size in both the UK and the Netherlands. We welcomed some incredibly passionate and creative talents to the team, and are building a business of which we can all be very proud.

So we look ahead to 2022 with cautious but deeply-held optimism. Though this dramatic growth in all things immersive could yet prove to be a passing fad, all the signs are that it is here to stay.

Despite our optimism we fully recognise the challenges this brings with it, specifically about the kind of world we are helping to create – one that becomes more reliant on its devices rather than less. Our view, one that is shared by some of the leaders in our industry that we admire the most, is that when done well, immersive experiences can create more meaningful connections with the world around us and each other. Far from isolating us or offering an escape from reality, it enhances our relationship with reality. This is our goal, and one we are committed to achieving in everything we do.

We owe a tremendous thanks to all the clients who have put their faith in us this year. We pride ourselves on delivering beyond expectations (including, often, our own!), and cannot wait to continue to do so in 2022.

From all of us at Arcade, wishing you all health and happiness over the festive period and beyond.

To see how Arcade can help you in 2022, get in touch

How to succeed in a virtual world

During lockdown, organisations of all kinds have been scrambling to virtualise the way they interact with their audiences. From #MuseumsAtHome to VR conferences, online music festivals to virtual product launches, virtual experiences have, by necessity, taken over.

Lockdown conditions may now be easing, but there is little doubt that the world we emerge back into will be far more virtual than it was before. Here’s a brief look at the impact of Coronavirus on the evolution of immersive experiences, and how they can help you succeed in an increasingly virtual world.

For a quick primer on immersive technologies including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) check out our 'What is AR / VR' page

The Lasting Impact of COVID-19

Some of the brightest minds today have described Coronavirus as more of an ‘accelerant’ than a catalyst for true change. For most of the industries we work with this is absolutely the case: its lasting impact will not be to change the course of history but to accelerate the arrival of an ever-more virtual and immersive future.

Arts, culture and heritage, vistor attractions, retail, events, FMCG brands, education, corporate comms, sports and more have all been affected by digital disruption and the new opportunities it has brought for audience engagement, but the past few months have forced them to dramatically accelerate. As a result, the professional and social attitudes to immersive experiences that have been evolving for years have now been supercharged.

Related: read more about virtual galleries here

Interest in shared virtual spaces such as Mozilla Hubs has surged during lockdown

The return to ‘normal’ will of course include going to the shops, visiting museums and enjoying theme parks, but this new normal will also include far more digitally immersive activity that is better integrated into engagement strategies and more readily embraced by post-COVID audiences than ever before.

So the lasting impact of Coronavirus is to force organisations to confront a challenge that has been slowly building for years, by asking the key question: How do I succeed in an increasingly virtual world?

REAL SUCCESS IN A VIRTUAL WORLD

Below are a few important considerations to help you meet this challenge head-on.

Focus on the strategy, not the medium

In many ways, experiences delivered via immersive technologies such as AR and VR are no different to any other types of audience engagement. 

They are fundamentally about telling your stories, expressing your personality, achieving your objectives. As such, they should have the unmistakable stamp of your brand just like any other physical or digital experience would, irrespective of the medium through which they are delivered.

SEA LIFE's Roxy the Ranger amplified their 'Amazing Discovery' brand essence

It's about the experience, not the technology

Similarly, if you want audiences to care about what you’re doing, and perhaps even pay for it, the most important factor of all is the same as it has always been: the quality of the experience. Immersive technology may be new and different, but for an experience to succeed it must be about more than novelty, or audiences will lose interest pretty fast.

The Coronavirus has triggered something of a digital land grab, with organisations suddenly desperate to do ‘something digital’. As a short-term fix this is fine, but today’s audiences are discerning and spoilt for choice; if it’s not worth people’s time, if it fails to be as fun, interesting, challenging, rewarding or generally as ‘good’ as it should be, then audiences won’t engage with it, much less pay for it.

Camden's Music Walk of Fame reveals the artists and music behind the stones

Start with what you've got

Creating new high quality, three-dimensional immersive content remains the easiest way to burn through budgets, so begin by looking at what you have.

Most organisations today are swimming in more digital assets than they can keep track of, and many can be repurposed for immersive experiences, making the process even faster and more affordable.

Even 2D images can be repurposed for exploration in a virtual gallery

It's cheaper than you think

Like any new technology, it has taken time for immersive tech hardware, software and content creation techniques to mature and costs to reduce. The good news is that the ‘early years’ for immersive are well and truly over. 

The industry has grown and the tools we have at our disposal make it easier, quicker and cheaper than ever before to create rewarding experiences for your audiences.

Dippy came back to the Natural History Museum via an inexpensive Snap Lens

Add, don't subtract

Immersive experiences are here to stay, but it would be a mistake to think that they will, or should, replace what has come before. Outside of once-in-a-generation crises such as Covid, traditional audience engagement methods will always have their place.

The very best virtual galleries or museums cannot replicate the experience of standing in front of a physical artefact in an ancient cultural institution, and nor should they try to.

Instead they should complement and enhance, by offering new types of experience that stand alongside those which already exist.

A Vixen's Tale was designed to bring new audiences to Welsh National Opera productions

Business models change

Digital disruption has already forced business models across many sectors to adapt. The disruptive impact of immersive technology has been dramatically magnified by Coronavirus, so more and more commercial models will change over the coming months and years.

People will still pay to park at a gallery, walk through the gates of a visitor attraction, buy food and drink at a heritage site, or be in the same room as interesting contacts at an event, but as the experience economy moves on and becomes more virtual, we all – providers and consumers both – will have to adjust to new commercial relationships. 

By following the approaches above you will be well placed to create experiences that offer real value to your audiences, to the point that they become an important part of your commercial plans. Don’t be the last to embrace the change.

Marvellous Missenden offers a way for audiences to engage with the Roald Dahl Museum outside of its walls

GET STARTED TODAY

To discuss how the increasingly virtual world is going to impact on you and your sector, and explore the role that immersive technologies can play in helping you adapt, get in touch.

To find out more about success in an increasingly virtual world

Coronavirus: Keeping audiences engaged when the doors are shut

It’s time to reverse the location-based entertainment model. If audiences can no longer come to you, why not go to them?

TO EXPLORE HOW IMMERSIVE TECH CAN HELP, GET IN TOUCH

An existential threat

In COVID-19 and the provisions being put in place to minimise its impact, the location-based entertainment industry is facing a challenge unlike any it has ever faced before. Organisations under the ‘LBE’ label may be incredibly varied, from museums to crazy golf, theme parks to shopping centres, but their business models all share a fundamental characteristic: large volumes of people arriving physically at their premises to spend time and, in most cases, money. As the Coronavirus crisis forces one after another to close their doors, they face a genuinely existential threat.
Despite all of the sensible, sober official communications that share lines like ‘abundance of caution’, ‘factors beyond our control’ and ‘closed for the foreseeable future’, behind the scenes there is, understandably, panic. The reality is that no one knows when they will be able to open again, how long it will take for public confidence to be restored, and whether or not this could spell the end, for some locations at least.
But is shutting up shop the only option? Physically, yes. But digitally? Perhaps not.
The undeniable fact for LBE is that people can no longer come to you. So why not go to them?

Reverse the model

Technology has reached a point where it can enable the kinds of experiences that were unimaginable only a few years ago. More than 95% of UK households now have at least one smart device, and organisations with a dash of creative ingenuity can harness this to deliver immersive experiences in the home that maintain – or even deepen – the relationships we have with LBE organisations at a time when we are unable to visit them in person.

The so-called experience economy is characterised by the increasing desire to get out, go to places and enjoy doing more, all of which is ideal for LBE. That desire hasn’t gone away, but for the next few weeks and months – at least – we won’t be able to physically act on it. Instead there will be parents whose kids are climbing the walls; child-free housemates, couples and empty-nesters watching their 10th box-set of the day; all crying out for interesting ways to occupy their time and scratch that ‘experiential’ itch. Which is where the LBE organisations we know and love could step in, with a little help from immersive tech – the most experiential digital technologies around.

Museums and other heritage organisations could develop experiences that entertain families with their astonishing stories from history. Visitor attractions could design fun, on-brand digital experiences that put smiles on faces when they are needed the most. Sports teams and administrators could create and promote next generation e-sports that keep fans engaged by moving beyond the 2D screens of consoles and PCs and into the three-dimensional environments of their homes and local areas.
Resigning to the fact that no visitors equals no business is understandable for LBE but it is premature and, quite possibly, wrong. Necessity is the mother of invention, and it is just possible that, with a bit of vision, creativity and determination, the biggest crisis in memory could offer an opportunity to create greater levels of audience engagement than ever before.

If you’re interested in exploring how immersive technology can help your organisation to weather the Coronavirus storm, get in touch.

Why ‘Augmented Reality’ is dangerous

Scary Face with Glowing Eyes

What does ‘augmented reality’ mean?

I’m not talking about what it is, I’m talking about what it means. That phrase. Those words.

I ask, because we tend to use them without much thought. Most of us who are familiar with the technology are aware that there is a gap between those who know AR and those who don’t, yet we still throw the phrase ‘augmented reality’ around without stopping to think about its impact. It’s just AR, isn’t it?

But language matters, especially when we are describing something unfamiliar. As an example, let’s take one of my favourite words: skyscraper. We all know what this is. It’s a big, tall building. Of course it is.

Buildings that scrape the sky

But look again: Skyscraper. Skyscraper! Sky! Scraper! When people first heard it in the 1880s, referring to a building taller than ten stories (!), it must have been a stunning and slightly terrifying concept: a building that scrapes the sky?! But over time, as it became just another noun like all the rest, we no longer saw the concept or its scary connotations — just the thing it described. What it gained in clarity, it lost in emotion. Simultaneously established and eroded by familiarity. But where ‘skyscraper’ was coined to evoke a sense of wonder, ‘augmented reality’ seems to be far less benign.

Augmented. Reality. Aug. Men. Ted. Re. Al. I. Ty.

To many coming across these seven syllables for the first time, it’s not just a mouthful, it’s intimidating. “I understand ‘augmented’”, someone might think, (although I couldn’t tell you the last time I heard anyone use it in everyday speech), “and I understand ‘reality’ – but put them together and it sounds…unfamiliar. Complicated. Maybe even dangerous. A threat. You’re doing what to reality? Ahh, it’s for techies, isn’t it, and maybe kids? Either way, I don’t think it’s for me.”

“I don’t know what augmented reality is, but I don’t think it’s for me…”

This represents a genuine threat, at least to those of us who believe passionately in its potential to fundamentally change the way we live. That’s why it always amazes me that there are some who seem to revel in the barrier this creates. I guess it offers them a sense of superiority, a feeling that they have ascended to a higher plane of existence reserved for the initiated. The enlightened.

But that’s crazy: underneath the intimidating label lies a technology whose very existence is pure inclusivity. It is the next phase of the democratisation of information, knowledge and experience. Untethered at last from 2D screens and set free in 3D environments — or ‘the world’, as we tend to call it.

What happens now?

I see three options from here. Either ‘augmented reality’ follows ‘skyscraper’ in being accepted and integrated into everyday language, losing along the way the scary, veiled menace contained in the language of its name. Or it remains, lurking, looming, leering and generally getting in the way of the thing so many of us want, which is widespread normalisation and mass uptake of this thing we call AR.

Or we find a better alternative.

I can live with the first, I pray we avoid the second, but my vote is for the third.

I’ve mentioned before that ‘digital reality’ — as a complementary partner to ‘physical reality’ — has some appeal. It doesn’t distinguish between AR and VR, but that distinction is starting to lose its relevance anyway. If I step through a portal in AR into a fully virtual environment does it become VR? If there’s a hole in a VR environment than allows a glimpse of a user’s surroundings is it AR? Frankly: who cares?!

Digital reality: Welcoming, inclusive and democratic

Today, I would argue that ‘augmented reality’ doesn’t mean what we want it to. We need something welcoming, inclusive and democratic, just like the technology itself. And AR, right now, doesn’t do that job.

Mass uptake of immersive technologies is agreed by most to be inevitable; it’s a question of when, not if. But for that to happen, the barriers we have almost wilfully erected around the technology have to be pulled down. And what better place to start than with the words we use to describe it.


This article originally appeared on Medium.

Alex is Chief Strategy Officer at Arcade. Contact him on alex@arcade.ltd.

Do you like wearing glasses? Soon you’ll have no choice…

Man wearing Nreal glasses

Do you like wearing glasses?

You may already wear them. You may occasionally wear them, like sunglasses or reading glasses. Or, like me, you may no longer wear them.

I wore prescription glasses for a few years but never got on with them. I didn’t like how they felt. I was forever forgetting them. I was worried about losing or breaking them. If I was hot they would keep sliding down my nose. I tried contact lenses, which were better but also caused irritation and discomfort, and were a hassle. So in the end I went for laser eye surgery and never looked back.

Man Wearing Spectacles That Are Too Tight
Some people find wearing glasses uncomfortable

But as someone working in the immersive technology space, I have long been aware that my glasses-free lifestyle may be under threat. Amongst technologists there is a near-universal vision for the future that positions glasses as the centrepiece of immersive living, itself now seen as an inevitability rather than a prediction.

Abstract Swirly Pattern

(For more on that, see Kevin Kelly’s must-read primer on the ‘Mirrorworld’ in WIRED Magazine: https://www.wired.com/story/mirrorworld-ar-next-big-tech-platform/)

The ‘wearables’ arms race has been underway for many years, and the majority is focused on glasses — or at least objects you can wear on your head. Augmented reality is, surprisingly for many, a decades-old concept, with mid-late 20th century AR hardware almost exclusively taking the form of unsexily-monikered ‘Head Mounted Displays’.

Then came the smartphone with its evolving array of cameras, and the focus shifted, at least in the short-term. The industry now had a viable means of delivering AR experiences that was free of many of the issues dogging wearables — some technical such as field-of-view, some aesthetic (the primary stumbling block for Google Glass), some commercial (a Magic Leap One headset starts at well over $2000), but mostly about distribution; there are 3.3 BILLION smartphones in the world (at the last count) not including AR-enabled tablets and other devices.

Evolution of AR. Clockwise from top left: Ivan Sutherland’s ‘Sword of Damocles’, 1968; Google Glass, 2013; Pokemon GO, 2016; Magic Leap One, 2018

Smartphones remain the most democratic and effective hardware for AR, but are seen as a stepping stone in the natural evolution of Kelly’s ‘Mirrorworld’; the best we have today, but edging ever closer to obsolescence once AR glasses reach maturity and take over.

So how long have we got before it’s glasses all the way?

The indications are that it’s not far away. Every digital expo puts its immersive wearables front-and-centre, as a vision of the tantalisingly-near future. Magic Leap, Microsoft’s HoloLens and even Google Glass are aimed primarily at the enterprise landscape from warehouses to operating theatres to battlefields, where looks aren’t as important as function. NorthVuzixNrealBoseAmazonSnap and many others are exploring a more fashion-led, consumer-focused approach.

AR x Fasion. Clockwise from top left: Nreal Light, Vuzix Blade, North Focals, Bose AR

But the biggest excitement is continuing to build around Apple’s long-anticipated AR glasses launch (latest best guess: sometime next year). The theory is that if Apple does what Apple always does (come late to market but blow everyone else away with unassailable form AND function), then that will be the tipping point: a ‘normalised’ lifestyle choice that opens up mass, globalised access to immersive living.

As someone working in immersive technology this is incredibly exciting. As someone who has gone to relatively extreme lengths to avoid wearing glasses (actual lasers shooting into my eyeballs), I am left wondering if I’m the only one with a mild sense of unease as we move towards a world where we all have to wear them in order to be a part of modern society, or if others feel it too?

Either way, it’s coming. So we’d better get used to it.


This article originally appeared on Medium.

Alex is Chief Strategy Officer at Arcade. Contact him on alex@arcade.ltd.

WebAR is on its way – and it’s going to change everything

The most common way for people to experience Augmented Reality (AR) today is via their mobile phones as opposed to wearable devices like glasses or even device-free AR. For a variety of reasons including cost, availability and social norms, most agree this is likely to remain the status quo for the foreseeable future.

One thing that does look set to change is the way the phones themselves access AR content. To date, downloadable apps have been the main source but this creates a challenge: not only do we have to make the experience itself appealing, we also have to motivate people to download an app in order view it.

A now-infamous 2017 study in the US confirmed that, on average, the majority of consumers download zero apps per month. This created a bit of a panic for mobile immersive tech businesses – what are we going to do if no-one is downloading apps?!

Smartphone Users - Number of App Downloads per Month
More than half of US consumers download ZERO apps per month...what are we going to do?!
Google AR Panda
There's a panda in our office. Thanks, Google!

Well, let’s not panic just yet. First, once you get beyond the headline the data actually showed that many people do download apps given sufficient reason to do so. And second, another potentially more powerful answer lies in the emergent space of app-less AR experiences, or what has been coined ‘WebAR’.

This is the growing ability of the web browsers in our phones to recognise, position and serve up AR content, without the need for any app downloads. An example comes from Google, who are using WebAR to add AR search results to certain objects, including many animals (left).

Here, Arcade CEO Jon Meggitt and MD of Arcade Netherlands, Sten Duindam, about the rise of WebAR, what it means for the industry and, most importantly, the impact it could have on the role of AR in everyday life.

What is Web AR and why does it matter?

Jon Meggitt: WebAR is the catch-all term for describing the provision of augmented reality experiences via the mobile web browser. It is being driven forward by individual developers and large technology companies alike, who have all understood why it’s going to be such a game-changer when the public can access AR just as easily as they do a website today.

What are the biggest benefits that WebAR offers?

Sten Duindam: In many ways WebAR is just much less hassle for the user. That’s for two reasons: it removes the barrier of app download and it works on older devices.

JM: Exactly, those two advantages over app-based AR combine to create a much higher chance of mass user adoption, which means the value and potential reach of an AR experience that we create goes through the roof.

What limitations are there in using WebAR vs native apps?

JM: Well, it is true that the mass accessibility of WebAR does come with a few compromises, for now at least.

SD: When you develop apps for a specific operating system like iOS or Android, you can leverage the most efficient practices and functionalities to that operating system. But you can’t do that with WebAR, where it’s one experience for everyone. You also don’t get full access to a device’s computing power. Native apps use the processors of the device, whereas web applications are limited by the processing speed of the various browsers.

JM: Which is why the industry typically estimates that WebAR functionality is around 12 months behind what can be achieved in native apps, so you do have to take that into account when designing for WebAR. But firstly that gap is closing as more of the big players recognise the importance and value that WebAR offers, and second it’s not always a bad thing to be a bit conservative in the AR features you use – they tend to be more reliable!

How would you advise organisations interested in AR to choose which method to pursue – native apps or WebAR?

JM: One of the biggest considerations for almost every project we work on is: “how many people will use it?”. If we’re working with native apps, as we have been for much of our work with Merlin’s SEA LIFE and Madame Tussauds for example, then a big part of the challenge is to work out how to promote the app and motivate people to download it. We can help with marketing, and we’ve got plenty of experience in what works and what doesn’t, but it inevitably puts more responsibility on the client and their marketing teams, which may not always have the resources to give it the focus it needs.

Roxy the Ranger, an app-based experience created by Arcade for SEA LIFE

SD: The right approach is to first focus on the concept and only then decide on a technology. But I totally agree with Jon, it is becoming gradually easier to create WebAR experiences that have enough of the AR ‘wow factor’ to deliver against more and more of the briefs we receive, and the seamless access it gives people is incredibly valuable. So it should almost always be part of the consideration.

What are your predictions for the future of mobile AR and what impact is WebAR going to have on the way we use AR in general?

JM: We are living through what our CSO, Alex Book, calls the ‘normalisation’ of AR. With WebAR making it easier and easier for people to access and use AR as a part of their everyday lives, it is undoubtedly one of the big factors that is going to help AR fulfil its potential, and justify the excitement that’s been surrounding it for so many years.

SD: Exactly. We all know wearables are going to become the norm at some point, but when that is is still anyone’s guess. But in my view the biggest step towards wearables isn’t necessarily technology; the audience needs to play with AR some more and get accustomed to it. Once it is normalised, the mass adoption of AR that follows is going to be the thing that finally makes wearables normal too – and WebAR is going to have a huge part to play.


If you’re interested in the effect of WebAR or would like to discuss a potential project, please contact Jon at our London office on jon@arcade.ltd, or Sten at Arcade Netherlands on sten@arcade.ltd.

Jon Meggitt, Arcade CEO
Sten Duindam, MD Arcade Netherlands


[AR]T Walk with Apple – Review

Arcade Team at Apple Covent Garden

BREAKING NEWS: Chaos descends across the city of London. An unknown creature soars over Trafalgar Square. A giant leaps off a roof at Covent Garden, then disintegrates into dust. Ordinary people transform into comic-book characters, follow multi-coloured roads and stop to watch folktales being told in the trees. 

It’s pure madness, yet total entertainment. 

The [AR]T Walk by Apple superimposed colour and creativity onto a drizzly Friday morning.

We set off on the 1.5k walk, with ‘Beats’ headphones around our necks and the latest iPhone XR in our pockets, curious as to how the tech-giant Apple ‘does AR’.

Here are the four lessons for AR experiences.

1. Not everything needs an explanation

The meaning of art is tricky to pinpoint and often artists strive to create work that’s ambiguous. Add the fact that AR is relatively new to society and can prove tricky to get to grips with – art and AR combined is a challenging mix. But somehow, it worked, and I praise Apple for taking the risk.

As stand-alone digital art installations, we had little idea of what to expect. We were given a brief introduction to the artist and the name of the piece – for example Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’ – then that’s it, we’re left to our own devices, quite literally.                                                    

We all hold up the phones and stand waiting for something to happen.

All of a sudden, a screeching bubble-like creature shoots upwards and we all try desperately to follow it.  The creature seems directionless – even the audio is purposefully distorted so we can barely make sense of the words. Nobody knows what it is, or exactly what it’s saying, and that was all part of the joyful, if slightly unsettling experience.

When developing an AR application, it’s important to distinguish between what the user can be allowed to interpret on their own, and what they have to know before they start. The  multiple functions and symbols of an AR application can be difficult for the public to comprehend – and Apple knows it.

Play Video

Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’, in London’s Trafalgar Square

Play Video

Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’, in London’s Trafalgar Square

2. Tell me only what I need to know

Before we set off, our guides provided a briefing session to familiarise us with the technology. 

The first skill we needed to practise: anchoring. We were asked to stand in a line and hold out our phones at eye level. We then opened the app and practised, one by one, turning our devices – slowly – towards a designated spot on the wall. 

This was a key function throughout the experience and each anchor activated the next digital art installation. However, it became tedious needing to constantly stop and anchor at a random point.

How could this be solved? Make the ‘anchoring’ motion more relevant to the artwork. 

The artwork was full of make-believe creatures and it would be interesting if, between art pieces, the users follow one of the creatures with their devices – moving at the same pace and direction. These movements of our device could automatically anchor the user. This would keep us within the digital art world and make the overall experience more seamless. 

The second skill: taking pictures and recording video. Our guides asked us to capture a photograph and a video using the buttons – a feature that we constantly used during the experience. 

These buttons were a faded white at the bottom of the screen and therefore quite discreet. 

Without the guide explaining what they were/what they are used for, we may have only noticed them halfway through the experience when photo opportunities would have passed or worse, not noticed the buttons at all. So it was worth getting clued-up before setting off.

3. The outdoors aren’t always great

As we walked through parts of London full of famous landmarks, the crowds became an issue. I found myself bumping into strangers and avoiding people who were trying to get a glimpse of what I was watching on my device.

So, could we put this experience indoors? Well, not without lessening the effect. Some installations relied on features from the outdoors. In Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg’s installation ‘This is it’, for example, we all needed access to tree trunks. When we held our devices up, the trees turned hollow to reveal a fairy-tale being told inside.

Just as we were all settling in, typical British weather kicked in and raindrops were falling onto our devices. We immediately had to put the phones away to protect it.

The darkening sky was the perfect canvas for Pippaloti’s screaming creature to fly around but whenever the sun came out, I couldn’t look up into the device because it was too bright. 

Unless Apple ensured that everyone was equipped with umbrellas and sunglasses before we set off – which is impractical to hold and store – the weather determined if we could have our devices out and held up.

To avoid user frustration, AR should work rain or shine. But for now, however all-powerful Apple are, they can’t control the weather. Not yet, anyway.

Play Video

Pipilotti Rist, ‘International Liquid Finger Prayer’, in London’s Trafalgar Square

4. My arm hurts

An AR app depends on user interaction, but that doesn’t mean you can ask too much of them. Designers need to be aware that users need moments for the phone to come down, or even go away – and the interaction still needs to flow with those breaks included.

For any AR designers, it’s worth testing: how long you can hold out a phone in front you at eye-level or above? For me it was around 30 seconds, and my fellow walkers seemed to agree. The final two experiences both asked us to hold our phones up high for up to two minutes, which necessitated switching hands, propping up our elbows or employing other tricks to make it more comfortable.

How to ensure the experience is ache-free? Either place breaks into the experience, or cut down the length of time we need to hold our phones in an upwards position. Otherwise you’ll have some pretty uncomfortable users.


I had little exposure to AR before joining Arcade – but experiences like this make clear that AR is already far more widespread than most people realise, and the exciting reality is that society will very soon be using it on a regular basis. And not just for [AR]T Walks.

Digital Reality: Welcome to the new normal?

Girl Playing Wizards Unite

I’ve always had a bit of an issue with names like ‘augmented reality’, ‘virtual reality’, ‘immersive technology’ and the like. They sound exactly what they are: dreamed up by technology geeks, inspired by science fiction, designed to sound futuristic and literally unbelievable. The result is a lexicon that makes some salivate – you know who you are – but puts many others to sleep. Some in my industry will find this hard to believe, but this type of language, for some, is eye-rollingly dull, off-putting and maybe even a bit intimidating. “This isn’t for you” is the perceived message – in most cases the very opposite of what it is trying to achieve.

So I, for one, am delighted by recent developments where the tech is being relegated to its rightful place in the narrative – i.e. almost invisible. The tech industry often gets a bit carried away and forgets that the experience is king, not the technology.

Google to the fore

Google is leading the way, first with the introduction of its 3D search functionality. Without any big fanfare, it has added a ‘View in 3D’ option to its mobile search. No app download, an incredibly simple interface and within seconds you can be face to face with a giant panda, amongst many other animals (the range of 3D objects is due to expand dramatically). There is still an ‘AR’ tab, but it is a pleasantly understated presence. The result is an experience that makes it seem as if occupying the same physical space as a digital giant panda were the most normal thing in the world – which, as it turns out, it sort of is.

They followed up by announcing that AR functionality is being embedded directly into YouTube, so users can seamlessly engage with content they are watching, such as trying on cosmetics during a YouTube tutorial. Early screenshots show that the focus is on the experience – ‘AR’ is nowhere to be seen.

And Google’s good work is set to be compounded by the arrival of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the latest ‘planet-scale’ offering from Niantic (by absolutely no coincidence at all, an ex-Google company). Niantic’s monster hit, Pokemon GO, is often cited as the game that introduced AR to the mainstream but, as anyone who’s played it knows, the AR elements are far from integral to the gameplay. Harry Potter appears to be different – AR-driven gaming is fundamental. But like the Google examples above, the important bit is the experience and how good it is, not how ‘AR’ it is.

THE RISE OF THE ‘DIGITAL REALITY’ TOOLKIT

A recent Deloitte report on immersive storytelling uses the phrase ‘digital reality’ to describe immersive experiences, as distinct from ‘physical reality’. I like it. It might only be a small nuance to some, but the world is already so familiar with the notion of ‘digital’ – and a sense of familiarity is exactly what the immersive tech industry needs from the audiences it seeks to engage.

It seems to me that we are gradually realising the truth: AR and other immersive tech are simply new creative tools that we can use to solve old creative challenges. Incredible, mind-blowing tools, but still just tools. Tools for digital reality. How very normal.

Google AR Panda
Hello, Panda
MAC Cosmetics Try On App
MAC Cosmetics 'Try On', coming this summer. Image: Google
Harry Potter Wizards Unite
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite by Niantic

When it comes to immersive, get your strategy right and the rest will follow

Right now, one thing immersive technology tends to do pretty well is make headlines. It’s new, different, unusual – a shiny plaything for marketing departments, artists and tech geeks to mess about with, creating content and experiences designed to make editors see clickbait and readers obligingly click. But where’s the depth?

The last couple of days alone have seen the iconic Marina Abramović’s MR-enhanced The Life exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries dismissed by at least one prominent art critic as a pointless perversion that hurts your eyes in a one-star review, and, separately, Magic Leap offer an AR experience for a very small portion of the crowd at a London Fashion Week show. The ten lucky (?) punters got to experience – well, what really? A bit of distracting CGI fluff hovering above the catwalk? None of this is to denigrate the technical excellence of either Tin Drum or REWIND, respectively, but to ask the key question: why?

Pioneers, in technology and elsewhere, are duty-bound to applaud innovative exploration of any kind. But we have to ask at what point the experiment is ready to emerge from the lab – at the moment much of this just feels too early, and risks fixing in people’s minds a perception of immersive technology as nothing more than peripheral gimmickry. The reason is because too many immersive experiences fail to answer the ‘why?’ question with much more than ‘because we can’. 

Gerrit Jacob, London Fashion Week

As with all work in the commercially-driven creative industries, immersive tech must, to borrow Simon Sinek’s oft-repeated mantra, start with whyWhy are we doing this? Why does the world need it? Why us? Why here? Why now? Why in this way, rather than any other? Only with those questions clearly and satisfactorily answered can you create an immersive experience that goes deeper than an eye-catching headline. 

Get your strategy right, and the rest will follow – headlines and all.