New technologies start with a premium price and then become more affordable as the adoption rate goes up. However, the market for augmented reality headsets continues to revolve around the premium tier. From Microsoft HoloLens to Magic Leap One, AR headsets have a price in the range of thousands of dollars. For a group of Dutch university researchers, this was an opportunity: a gap in the market that they could fill with an affordable AR headset that uses the computing power of smartphones to create immersive experiences.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Aryzon’s CFO and co-founder, Alexander Ceha. Aryzon is an augmented reality company that has developed one of the first high quality, low-cost AR headsets and seeks to increase the accessibility of augmented reality experiences to everyday people and developers of all skill levels.
During the interview, Alex provided valuable insight on the gaps in the current market for augmented reality experiences and headsets.
ALEX: There are 5 co-founders. It’s a big team. Our CEO is a guy named Maarten Slaa, and he actually came up with the idea. He was working on a project at our University, which was the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The project was for something augmented reality-esque, but the university didn’t have a HoloLens. They had backordered one, but it was taking its time arriving. He said “I could perhaps get the same effect with my phone.” Then he quickly decided that it would be interesting to use the phone and pieces of glass to create stereoscopic images. It worked. He approached us and pitched his idea. AR was on the rise at that time, so it was super interesting to us. So, we took the idea further and designed a headset out of it. Originally actually, we didn’t know if there would be market demand for it. So we started a kickstarter. We did it all ourselves – video, content, designs, graphics. It was a lot of work. In the end we raised over $100,000. That’s where this whole journey started.
ALEX: I think the main thing that we do really well is cost-effectiveness. If you want to jump into AR and explore the concept, the Aryzon headset is extremely nice because of its price point. It’s open SDK and runs through Unity, which means anyone, with no additional costs besides the price of the headset, can develop apps for the headset. Making the development for AR that accessible is one of our most unique strengths. Let’s say you’re a hobby developer and you want to eventually develop for HoloLens and Magic Leap? You’re gonna have to buy developer kits and learn a bunch of other extra headset specific skills to even begin to develop. With Aryzon, the process is much simpler because it takes much of the work out of it, as all developers need to do is develop their AR projects for the iPhone while the headset brings that 2D AR experience into a stereoscopic AR space.
If you want to jump into AR and explore the concept, the Aryzon headset is extremely nice because of its price point. It’s open SDK and runs through Unity, which means anyone, with no additional costs besides the price of the headset, can develop apps for the headset.
ALEX: I don’t know if disrupting is the right word. There is a gap in that market. The market is only high-end. We’re not really competing with the likes of HoloLens or Magic Leap. They’re different devices with different aims. I guess the disruptions will come when the smartphones can compete with likes of the higher-end devices. When they begin to put those sensors into smartphones – which you’re already startin
g to see with the iPhone X – and when smartphones can start reliably doing the same thing as the expensive headsets, we could see Aryzon disrupting the market.
In terms of different age-groups, we’re already seeing a lot of interest from educational book publishers, and products aimed at younger age groups. They’re aimed at increasing the engagement of younger kids with their products, using augmented reality to keep them entertained. Also, kids can borrow their parent’s smartphone, so the expensive purchase is already made. I think we’re going to reach that adoption across different ages through using people like the publishers–people who already make the content for that age group who want to add a new dimension.
ALEX: Interestingly, we’re launching a second headset, also cardboard, but even lower cost than the current headset. We’re aiming to sell it at $15 and call it the Aryzon Pop-Up. Your phone goes in it and you’ll have similar experiences as with our headset, but with lower comfort. In terms of meeting our goal of democratization of the AR experience, I think we’ll need about 5 to 10 years. AR is still budding, and to be honest, once it becomes less invasive, we won’t see much mass adoption. Right now, we’re learning the basics on what’s useful and what isn’t (for the AR experience). We’re treating it as a learning experience overall.