Apple’s Acquisition of Metaio Raises the Stakes for Augmented Reality

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Just a couple of days ago, I read an interesting article over at AugmentedRealityTrends.com speculating as to whether Metaio was in the process of closing down its business. This year’s InsideAR event, which is organized and supported by Metaio, was canceled abruptly and the lack of information on the company’s website only added to the mystery. On the product support section, we’re informed that Metaio products and subscriptions are no longer available for purchase with email support ceasing after June 30, 2015.

However, all became clear yesterday when it was revealed that Apple had acquired the Munich-based firm. Late last year, a mere job posting by Apple indicating that it was looking for engineers experienced in 3D graphics, VR, and AR set tech blogs into fits of chatter. We were told then that the successful candidate would “create high performance apps that integrate with virtual reality systems for prototyping and user testing”. Since then, we’ve learned that Apple has been awarded a patent for a head-mounted VR set that uses an iPhone as the display and computing component, while an AR interface is making its way into the company’s Maps application.

Here is an excerpt from our recently published report on Augmented Reality for Mobile Devices that provides a background on who Apple has purchased:

“Founded in 2003, Metaio considers itself the leader in AR software, research, and technology. The company is headquartered in Munich, Germany and has subsidiaries in San Francisco, Dallas, and New York. Metaio initially began by offering AR solutions to industrial and automotive sectors for product design and factory planning, a result of its origins as an internal project within car manufacturer, Volkswagen. Today, the company serves over 100,000 developers, 30 million customers, and has published over 1,000 applications. Metaio is a privately-held company, so its revenues are undisclosed. The employee count is estimated to be somewhere between 51 and 200.

The company straddles a number of different areas within the AR market, but is primarily known as a provider of tools that enable simple or advanced AR experiences. Metaio Creator is a software solution that allows users to create a complete AR scenario without specialized programming knowledge through a drag and drop interface. Metaio SDK, on the other hand, is a more powerful solution aimed at programmers wanting to track 2D images or 3D objects and environments. The SDK is currently supported on Android, iOS and Windows with an additional plugin for development in Unity3D for Android, iOS, Windows, and OS X platforms. Both products are available with either a free license or a paid license. The former allows apps to be published with a watermark bearing the words “powered by Metaio,” while the latter essentially means apps can be white labeled in return for a one-off fee.

Apps created with Metaio Creator or the Metaio SDK can also be published through Junaio, which is Metaio’s own AR browser designed for 3G and 4G mobile devices. Junaio organizes all content into channels that are uploaded to server infrastructure behind the app called Metaio Cloud. The app is currently free to use and allows people to play AR games, scan and discover virtual AR content, and look around the real world through a smartphone or tablet camera to discover nearby POIs. Junaio is also available for smart glasses like the Epson Moverio BT-200, Vuzix M100, and Google Glass as a variant called Junaio Mirage.”

And why is Apple acquiring Metaio? Simply put, AR is going to be huge. Though analyst projections vary wildly, Tractica is betting on there being some 1.2 billion downloads of mobile AR apps alone in 2019. That’s up from just over 272 million in 2014. Furthermore, shipments of smart AR glasses are projected to surpass 12 million units between 2015 and 2020. The development of HoloLens tells you all you need to know about where Microsoft sees the AR market heading, while Google’s Project Tango and its internal startup Niantic Labs, as well as its investment in the mysterious Magic Leap, provides a few clues on the inner thinking taking place at Mountain View’s Googleplex.

Even though some are already speculating that AR will one day replace searching the web, it is important to state that there is still a long way to go before it can become part of the mainstream. There is still a perception that AR is just a gimmick, while hardware is not yet mature enough to always offer a compelling experience. Nevertheless, the building blocks that will one day see mobile AR realize its undoubted potential are in place. Smartphone and tablet PC ownership is rising, huge names are entering and with them with major funds, and a variety of actionable use cases are beginning to emerge. 2015 is proving to be the turning point when AR will start to really gain traction.

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