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Winning the race for augmented reality content

Robert Combier
POSTED July 8th, 2021

You may not know it yet, but your enterprise’s critical knowledge is already in a budding content race within the next major content medium: augmented reality. And likely, it will be winner-take-all competition.

If you are running a long-term competitive enterprise, it is extremely serious business now. I’d like to argue that the emerging substantial content race –the one of our professional generation– will be born in augmented reality.

I’ll explain.

If you take a quick look at the history of content and their mediums, you can see that every technological breakthrough in content distribution hardware has been followed by a long, vicious commercial competition to create, convert, amass, and distribute content. 

For the sake of this blog, I’ll refer to each of these swing segments as “paradigms”

Content Race within each Hardware ParadigmPhysical Hardware Paradigm
5000 BCPapyrus
History, Religion
1440 ADThe Printing Press
Paper documentation, Books, Encyclopediae, Mass education
1822 AD, or 1943 ADThe Programmable Computer
Local Software, “The Paperless revolution,” Digital documentation
1995 ADThe Cloud
The Internet, Social media, Video streaming services (Youtube, Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, Disney+), “Digital thread” and “Software is eating the world”
2011 ADHuman Machine Interfaces (AR Hardware)
TBD: The race is on!

There are some repeating takeaways that can be extracted from this cycle of paradigms, and ultimately, they provide a template for setting the right content strategy for the next paradigm: augmented reality.

Takeaway #1: Hardware changes faster than Content 

Think of your latest new smartphone. It probably took you all of 10 minutes to buy, but very likely several hours to copy over your messages, photos, set up your apps, preferences, etc. This is also true at the macro scale — it took roughly a decade after the invention of the MP3 to convert the CD music industry over to the internet streaming services.

The “transition cost” is often driven by the sheer volume of content, and the transition itself bears some risk that the new form factor will not be the long term winner. Remember HD DVD? Or Laserdisc?

Takeaway #2: Content eventually represents most of the value (Content is still King!)

This is easy to see in any of the hardware-to-content market swings. What is the value of all books, in comparison to the value of all printing presses? A billion-to-one?

The last content race worth examining, as I believe it is the closest forecast to the augmented reality revolution we will see in the workplace. It is also the one that Bill Gates forecasted in his landmark essay “Content is King” in 1996. It came true, and has fully bloomed into staggering proportions.

In the debut of the mainstream content race for software around 1995, the hardware side (including physical devices and networking) comprised the lion’s share at 57% of the total IT GDP, while Software and Digital (Content) only had 27%. 

By 2020, the content race had been thoroughly fleshed out, and you can see that the market share flipped dramatically: Content now has approximately 78%, while Hardware only 10%.

Enterprises that win the content race eventually capture the largest market share.

Takeaway #3: Laggards to new Content mediums will lose market share

This is where the real competition in market segments is expressed.

“It’s not about who will have the best-suited AR devices, or AI machine vision gadgetry, it will simply be about who has the most high-quality AR content. This ensures that the beneficial scaling effects will multiply across your value chain and produce an unfair competitive advantage.” – Scott Montgomerie 

The best example of this is Sony. If you were to ask someone in the year 2000 whether or not they would still be music industry titans in 10 years, most people would answer yes. It was the de facto forecast.

And for good reason: Sony dominated the space by full vertical integration. They had their successful record labels, a related cinema production house, a strong distribution network, and a substantial market share in playback hardware (remember the Discman?) 

However, Apple, while successful with the iPods, ultimately was able to greatly upset Sony’s market leadership with iTunes and streaming music distribution. They dove into the new content race medium earlier, and better than Sony, with a big gamble in 2003. Apple launched their “music store,” something that at the time was audacious for a personal computer company to even attempt.

What Sony didn’t have was the right strategy for the next music Content paradigm, and Internet-powered distribution came and obsolesced the CD industry. The reason they struggled was that they were organized into silos — and that’s the problem with new hardware paradigms: the transition costs are real and tend to break established frameworks. In the case of Sony, their digital music player offering uncomfortably straddled two disparate business units: Vaio business and their Music/Label business.

How to buy enterprise augmented reality and prepare for the AR content race

We see this every day in the context of augmented reality. AR is a completely new and paradigm-shifting technology that transforms storage, distribution and consumption of corporate intellectual property. 

As such, our customer’s deployments have recognized that a successful start in the AR content race have these features in common:

  1. Start Early with the right Partner. Begin building your AR content library now! Learning curves and guidance truly matter, as AR really is a different animal than over-the-shoulder training or PDF instructional references. Secondly, the associated change management is very real and takes takes time, so we strongly recommend to start now and get it over with.

2. Delay or avoid device commitments. Instead, migrate or author AR content with a device-agnostic solution
Monocular AR? Binocular AR? Developed for smartphone or tablets only? What we use in 5 years? It is prudent to manage AR device selection risk by skipping a hardware market forecast and instead choose a device insensitive platform (like WorkLink of course.)

3. Balance simplicity and sophistication. Authoring speed matters tremendously, but don’t sacrifice content fidelity. Most initial AR demonstrations are painfully simple experiences, or are painfully slow to develop (usually by seasoned Unity developers). At Scope AR, we built WorkLink Create to achieve this balance perfectly, versus offering a developers-only tool or an authoring platform that’s only good for basic demonstrations (ands not production use cases.) This is why we’ve repeatedly said how important it is to choose the right use cases and initial AR projects. They can’t be innovation showcases alone, nor can they be so overbuilt that they don’t possess a viable ROI. Finding this balance early is key to winning, because you should also be aware that your competitors are probably already authoring content AR.

4. The volume of AR content will become your ultimate differentiator, not the AR hardware. You can’t win the content race against your competitors if you can’t produce enough usable content.

“The only real competitive advantage is that which cannot be copied and cannot be bought.”

– Jason Cohen, WP Engine Founder and CTO

Instead, your competitive differentiation for product or service quality will be on the battlefronts of first-time-right and time-to-solution. These are only effectively enabled when you have a majority coverage of the technical space.
Without enough coverage, your workforce across the value chain won’t build trust and adoption. To enable that broad coverage, AR Authors need to be anyone in your organization (just like users of Powerpoint for internal communication) not just dedicated content creators — or worse: developers. If there is a single barrier to successfully building the critical mass for an AR content library, it is by bottle-necking the creation by a single few authors.

5. AR will affect your long-term human resource planning
AR is perfectly suited to fight the growing IP attrition that arises from expert retirement. It also changes the educational and skill requirements of incoming technicians. These technology advancements will ultimately alter the your company’s hiring and retention practices, and this is also why change management matters.

So are you ready to get started? The race has already begun.

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