London-based mobile augmented reality experience company Zappar is celebrating 10 years. To mark the occasion, the company held a two-day online event full of talks, and product and platform announcements. In the weeks leading up to the “AR Pioneers” event, the company also rolled out some huge experiences with some big-name clients all worth celebrating.
CEO Caspar Thykier Reflects on 10 Years of Zappar
“We’ve always joked about putting on ‘ZapparCon’ or, indeed, Zappar the Musical,” CEO Caspar Thykier said in his welcome address. “We are absolutely delighted with the response that we’ve seen. Last check there were almost two thousand people registered to participate.”
Thykier’s welcome address included a look back at the last 10 years of the company’s triumphs and failures, including augmented reality clothing – “Zapparel.” Much of the rest of the event would focus on their promising future.
“We live in a time of rapid change and the rules of immersive storytelling are still being written,” said Thykier. “If we are honest, they have been for the last 10 years and they probably will be for the next 10 years.”
In addition to talks and announcements, a series of “fireside chats” included partners that have been involved in changing the rules of immersive storytelling, including outdoor media company Darabase and the digital agency Byte.
Byte may be changing how we think about the ownership and value of scarce digital assets and Darabase might be writing the book on digital property rights. However, some of Zappar’s recent clients have been bigger names with brighter colors.
Looking at Recent Big-Brand Experiences
Recently, QR codes have been printed on Burger King items in participating locations. These QR codes have brought users to a Zappar-enabled Angry Birds experience made by Rovio Entertainment. The experience is a tower defense-style game that also gives users the opportunity to take an easily shareable selfie within the experience, all without an app.
“We’re thrilled to partner with Zappar and Burger King to create this unique AR experience for Angry Birds fans,” Rovio Entertainment Director of Brand Licensing Katri Chacona said in a release. “The accessibility of WebAR and wide availability across thousands of Burger King restaurants make this an incredible opportunity to connect with consumers in new ways.”
In recent weeks, Zappar also helped LEGO launch a new experience at their LEGOLAND at Windsor Resort location. Launched within the Windsor Resort app, it lets users collect digital cards, immerse themselves in a fantastic world, and take selfies with mythical beasts. They can then take the magic with them by opening “portals” to the magic land from anywhere.
Both of these big partners share a common theme: inherently physical spaces and objects getting a digital makeover. More importantly, they’re both location-based experiences, which have suffered during the last eighteen months of the pandemic. In a fireside chat with Thykier, Darabase Co-Founder and CEO Dominic Collins said that we may need these experiences.
“Blending the digital onto the physical in a way that you can really only do something physically gives people the reigns to be able to go from a digital life back to a physical life,” said Collins. “There’s a great opportunity for outdoor AR generally to really create that connection between the physical and the digital.”
At the AR Pioneer event, Zappar didn’t announce new experiences but it did announce new ways to make and explore experiences. These took the shape of both software announcements for developers and hardware announcements for consumers.
Unpacking Software Announcements
Most readers experience Zappar through the experiences created by others. However, the company does have developers and a developer community. The company has long promoted the democratization of XR content. That means democratization of experience as well as democratization of creation. That has taken the shape of ZapWorks Designer.
ZapWorks Designer is the company’s no-code, drag-and-drop interface for creating XR content. The last major update was in 2019. In an AR Pioneers talk announcing the updates, Design Lead Joe Brazão and Head of Product Chris Holton explained that this is possible because the platform hasn’t required updates in order to be a huge success with users.
The platform updates announced Wednesday include reimagined menus and interfaces, but they also explore allowing collaborative content creation and matching data rates to connection strength for smoother experiences on less-stable networks.
Updates are also coming to Zappar’s computer vision libraries to make experiences more friendly to web content, more stable, and less reliant on things like surface detection. A beta should be available in the coming weeks, but no hard dates were given.
“We would much rather be woolly around a date than commit to a date and then underperform on what we give you,” said CTO Connell Gauld in a talk announcing the updates.
ZapBox Goes to Pre-Order
In his welcome address, Thykier described ZapBox as the company’s five-year journey “to make MagicLeap magic cheap.” Indeed, the first iterations were similar to Google Cardboard and subsequent editions weren’t much better. Still, they gave Zappar claim to the cheapest six-degree-of-freedom dual-hand-tracking rig on the market.
We got our first look at the next generation of ZapBox when it launched on Kickstarter in October. But as of Wednesday, it’s off of Kickstarter and onto pre-order. That’s not the only announcement: ZapBox has changed a lot since we last saw it.
The mobile adapter now has remodeled phone grips to accommodate larger devices. It also has seriously industrious-looking re-imagined controllers modeled after the Quest controllers. This is both because Quest controllers are user-friendly but it also promotes carryover from content on other platforms.
The new ZapBox is scheduled to begin shipping in October, but Thykier warned that Zappar is “wrangling with supply chains.”
Here’s to Another 10 Years
These are mad times we’re living in, and the folks at Zappar are living for it. We at ARPost have enjoyed covering them and we join them in looking forward to the next 10 years.