Life in our unprecedented times is giving Augmented Reality (AR) an unexpected boost. Businesses and brands are getting in on the action, providing immersive experiences that everyone can access with their smartphone. Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Philip Wogart, co-founder of HEADGEAR and Executive Director DACH for the VR/AR Association, an international organization designed to foster collaboration between companies and brands in VR and AR. Philip shares the benefits of web-based AR and explains how simple it is for brands and businesses to provide consumers rich experiences right through their browser. He also walks us through his latest collaboration with Axel Springer, a leading European publisher (headquartered in Germany) with 100 print titles, over 70 online sites, and more than 200 digital ventures worldwide. The companies have teamed up to bring AR to the masses, starting with a virtual tour of California.
For more information on this project, the VR/AR Association is hosting a deep dive session from Chris & Philip on May 6 for its Travel & Tourism Online Meetup. Interested attendees may reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or directly to email@example.com for an invitation.
And my guest today is Philip Wogart, he is Executive Director of the VR AR Association here in Germany where I’m based, so Germany, Austria, Switzerland – also importantly Co-Founder of HEADGEAR. So, hey, Philip, it’s great to have you here today on Mobile presence.
PW It’s an absolute pleasure, Peggy, been a long time coming that we finally got this podcast interview going.
PAS Absolutely. I mean, under these circumstances also because, hey, let’s face it, it’s unprecedented times, it’s unexpected boost for VR as well because, you know, virtual is now the de facto. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about, well, you’ve got two hats on, to be honest, you’ve got the hat of the VR AR Association, also HEADGEAR we’ll be talking about, but maybe talk a little bit about you and the VR AR Association, what’s going on over there – you’re based in Hamburg, right?
PW Yes, I'm based up here in Hamburg, Germany but as of a year ago now, the Association’s Global Director and Founder asked me to look after the German language speaking countries here in Europe. We have chapters throughout Europe, whether that’s in the Netherlands or Belgium or France, Spain, Italy, we have them all over the UK but we’re a global association. So, it started off out in New York and San Francisco, we got big chapters in Vancouver, Shenzhen, New Delhi, Sydney, so we’re a global, global organisation.
PAS Absolutely, and it’s a global industry as well. I mean, how did you get interested in this, Philip? I mean, I know you personally so I know this is, you know, your zone, you’re into it.
PW This has been a passion of mine for a long time. I mean, okay, the kind of the second wave of this VR AR industry kind of picked up when Oculus got bought back in 2014 and, you know, oddly enough that’s two weeks after Mark Zuckerberg bought them is when I founded my company, HEADGEAR, but actually my history with VR goes back over 15/16 years now when I did my Masters Degree in London in Virtual Environments in architectural school. So back then the headsets costed £20 grand and you had cave environments that you were projected onto, you know, it was very much a university-driven topic for many, many years.
And the technology is much older than that, it goes back, you know, 30-odd years of virtual augmented reality.
PAS Absolutely. And how are you holding up, I mean, yourself, we all have to be virtual, you’re based in Hamburg – what are you doing in these, you know, are challenging times? Are you spending a whole lot more time working with thinking about, maybe been answering some emails and calls of people saying, ‘Hey, AR VR is crossing the chasm, I want to be in on this, what do I do?’
PW Oh, I mean, there’s one big, big hot topic because of all this remote working that’s going on at the moment, all this working from home business and all these Zoom meetings that are happening – the associations and different accelerator groups have been actually, launched a web page called ‘xrcollaboration.com’ where you can actually see over 50 different virtual platforms in which you can collaborate whether that’s with a headset or through your, you know, MacBook or PC or whether through – various headset, whether that’s AR or VR, so there’s a lot of traction at the minute looking at how are we going to work in the future and how does remote working actually happen in a virtual space as opposed to a flat 2D video VC video conference.
PAS That’s amazing, xrcollaboration.com, right? I’ll put those in the show notes, that we would be great also for our listeners, for our audience – not just as businesses but, hey, as people, how to be doing this properly.
PW Yes, yes. I mean, it’s a real exciting time for us to be exploring these things and we’re giving a lot of guidance to people like just stepping into VR or AR for the first time, so there’s lots of tour guides because there’s so many different platforms out there that do very different types of things. But, you know, we also have with the VR AR Association, I’d be remiss to say if we didn’t have the – if I promoted the global online summit that we’re having on June 1st, 2nd & 3rd. You can check it out through thevaar.com and we have a whole global summit, three days, some of it will be video conferences and webinars but some will happen in virtual spaces too, so be a big industry event that we should promote a little bit here too.
PAS Absolutely, I’m happy to do that, I’m flying the flag for everyone who’s doing what they can to keep everything going in these times. I mean, virtual summit, let’s face it, that’s what it is, I'm doing a series of virtual chats and fireside chats, also some other summits, I think you’re a speaker on a couple of them as well. What would you say – it’s obvious that businesses are getting into the action, you’re reading about, you know, ASICS doing a virtual reality shoe launch, we’ve got Google, right, bringing animals into your office in case you were bored, you know, there you go, virtual tigers, leopards, cats, just to keep us going, keep us entertained…
PW And even Volkswagen has just launched a virtual car showroom here in Germany so you can actually go and try out all the various different models, you know, switch colors for cars as you go around and actually, you know, get a feel for the car and some really nice high definition virtual environments.
PAS So that’s really interesting, Philip, and that’s why I have you on the show, you know, you have your finger on the pulse, you’re passionate about this area. You brought up Volkswagen, I didn’t know that one even though I'm based in Germany, can’t know everything, so I appreciate that, thank you for sharing that one. Why don’t you run me through a couple more that are sort of top of mind with you simply because they’ve done something really cool or it’s just a company coming into the space using this really well.
PW Yes, I mean, I think we’ll talk more about, you know, our project that HEADGEAR had launched recently but I think for the VR and AR space, there are a lot of different options out there for brands to be looking at. So, mobile AR is a very hot topic because it has the kind of reach that you would want for your audience. Anyone can access it whether it’s via an app or whether you embed it inside a Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram, or even if you now – what we did with our project is web AR so you don’t need to download an app and you can go straight through the browser, Safari or Chrome, to launch a little AR experience.
And it’s great for interacted advertising, whether that’s actually in retail or on billboards with codes or scans or just simply sharing on digital content, it’s a great way to interact with your customer base whether that’s a young target market that you maybe want to attract with embedded Snapchat lens or whether that’s a wider reach stuff that we can talk about later.
But in the VR sense, VR has always been my passion, I think there’s a lot of opportunity in terms for brands to explore ways of getting – I mean, a lot of these activations are event market driven, so it’s a little bit difficult to be doing that in this point in time but I think there’s a lot of potential for 360 video access to get people to try on and buy these very cheap headsets like the Oculus Go for $200 or a Pico Neo for a couple of hundred more, and then people can actually get, you know, immersed into your product that you want to create - as long as you’ve got that interactive element, then you can really build something engaging with your audience.
PAS I think a real point here, and we’ll talk about this right after the break which we’re going to shortly, but a real point, you know, listeners note this and write it down, you know, web-based means you’re side tracking, you’re bypassing a lot of that friction – it’s not download an app, it’s just experience it. And Philip, we’ll be talking about that indepth and also about your company as well, so nobody, no-one go anywhere, we’ll be right back after the break.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Sal. We have Philip Wogart, he is Executive Director for the VR AR Association, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and also more importantly co-founder of HEADGEAR, we’re going to be talking about that company as well in the space. And Philip, we’re talking about the unexpected boost and the great opportunity to use VR AR for brands, for marketers and that’s exactly what you’re doing at HEADGEAR as well.
But just to understand that, because I think we all sort of lost track of it a little bit thinking it was way too complex, there was way too many hurdles, you know, it was making people download the app, for example, to start. You still need some sort of gear but you don’t always need gear because when we’re talking about web-based, you know, it’s just your phone. So why don’t you tell me a little bit about how a marketer can get into this, like, right now – what is required and what is the difficulty because I think it’s not that difficult anymore.
PW No, no, I mean, to get into mobile AR especially this Web XR stuff is very, very easy now. I mean, in comparison to like generally building a website, there are tools now that have this templateable format you can actually just create an AR experience. Really, the only two parts that are important when you consider using AR experiences is that you need a 3D designer. So instead of a graphic designer or UX designer, you need someone that’s going to create a 3D model, a digital 3D model that you want to show off a product or if you want them to interact in some kind of way, you need these kind of expertise. And that is no different than hiring a graphic designer nowadays, I wouldn’t say they’re a dime a dozen but they’re around and there’s a lot of great talent out there when it comes to 3D design.
That’s one important part. The other part that is special for building an app or building a web AR experience, you need of course some kind of programming knowledge because of course for building an html page, you need to have the skill to write a bit of Java script code. But at the same time that you need a bit of, you know, native experience to build an app for augment reality as well.
So you’ll have these kind of, you know, people available already but I think what’s really exciting is that there are platforms out there for web AR as well as creating apps that you can use, simple software toolkits whether that’s Zappar or 8thwall.com, these are mobile specific platforms where you can actually launch applications without any coding expertise and you just – it accesses, again, all you need is a 3D designer or even if you don’t want to do 3D design, if you want to just launch a video through an image tracker, that is also possible – a lot of companies like Ikea here in Germany are using that on their products to simply give additional information on top of their products and that doesn’t require getting a 3D programmer. It’s just being able to access the phone’s camera and then launching an experience.
PAS So very, very straightforward and that’s what you’re doing in one of your own projects that I wrote about actually recently because you’re working with Spring, which is part of Axel Springer, major publisher in Germany with, I think, 300 titles, something like that – immense, huge, big deal. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what you’ve done there.
PW Yes, I started working with Axel Springer just over a year ago to bring them into the folder with possibilities of augmented reality and we got very excited about the web AR side of things because, as a print publisher and a digital publisher, they were not so excited about what – the effort they would have to do to build an individual AR app and they wanted something accessible that is quick and interactive that their consumers and readers could use.
So in the first case, the team at Spring got on board the Sunday newspapers here in Germany and they did a whole travel section piece on California. So in these, you know, times, there’s a massive travel ban, they created an AR experience that would be on
AR portal – it basically means it’s a 3D doorway that appears on your camera phone, you walk literally through the doorway into a 360° video of the California coast, whether that was, you know, on Pacific Highway One or Venice Beach or what have you, just to give their Sunday readers a little bit of something to do whilst at home.
And the traction was very good for an audience that is not AR-savvy at all, we’re talking about print media, Sunday newspapers, 40+ years old for readership and, you know, over 20,000 views from a print article that actually launched all 1 or 3 of the applications that they could go visit.
PAS That’s something you did as HEADGEAR. What else are you doing as HEADGEAR with brands, companies, marketers because you made the point, I need someone who can do 3D modelling, I need some programming, that is talent that is out there – so the barrier to entry for companies is very low and the need to engage is very high because virtual is our new collective default state. So what are you doing with maybe some smaller companies or what are some projects that you’re involved in there?
PW To be honest, HEADGEAR started off as actually a game studio to explore VR gaming and of course our backgrounds are actually in mobile development, even before the smartphone was out, we were building applications in Java and games importing things like that, so these were the WAP times, the GSM times. We are mobile experts and that’s why we always stayed that way and when they launched the Gear VR on Samsung, we launched games on that platform as well as some 360 advertising.
Then when mobile AR took off back in, end of 2017 with Google and Apple launching their AR kit, AR core software development kits, we started building apps for – I can’t say the German shopping retailer because it hasn’t come out yet but we’ve built a whole product catalogue for an AR application that, you know, for home decoration items that you could see a cushion or a table or stool, a vase, a candle holder, any kind of actual like product and see the actual size, doesn’t fit in my environment.
So the utility behind augment reality is fantastic for the, you know, whether that’s Ikea places where you can actually put in their own furniture or your own furniture to see if it fits in your home or whether that’s the Otto Group, another big retailer here that does furniture designs. So, there’s a lot of ways you can use AR applications to create great utility, utility apps and to be able to showcase a product in 3D and allow people to interact with that 3D model essentially, look behind it, look around it, rotate it as opposed to just taking a photograph and plopping it in a web store.
PAS And you got a point there because sometimes, you know, and we’ll see that more and more, that advertising isn’t advertising the way we know it, these are different times and sometimes just being genuine, being helpful, you know, those are the things that matter the most. So, to your point, if AR is going to help me make a choice and make a purchase, that’s also a reason I would gravitate to a brand. So marketers shouldn’t just be looking at the bells and whistles, I guess.
PW No, I think, you know, one of the, what is the name of the eyeglasses brand out of New York – sorry, I can give you it later in the show notes but there’s even like actually using your phone to try on a pair of eyewear that actually using face tracking you can actually see what the model of the glasses would like before having to try on 20 different pairs at a store which even for sanitary reasons is not the greatest idea either, you can actually stay at home and try on various looks and shapes and glasses and colors and all that using face tracking technology with AR.
Or indeed if you want to get even more simple, online shops now offer the ability to view stuff in AR using your browser, nothing special, you just need the model and then you stick that in your shopify store and you can launch an AR experience on your mobile browser, also an option. There’s just so much tech out there that people, you know, are overwhelmed, they can’t even decide on an email platform but they don’t even think of what they’re going to be adding real benefit to their customers.
PAS And just curious, just a quick one for people listening because I know that there’s a great interest in this, I wrote the article where I interviewed you recently over at Digital Content Next because people are saying this has to be booming, we’re digital, this has to be booming, we’re virtual. Could you just give me an idea in a quick nutshell nugget, what kinds of budgets would we be talking about if a marketer says, you know, I’m a mid-size marketer, I want to do this, I want to get started – just so they can think about this in the back of their mind because I think that it’s a lot more in reach than people think it is.
PW I guess of course it’s all about scale, if we’re talking about building, you know, an embedded Snapchat lens or a Facebook Instagram filter that is just there to entertain some of your customers, that can be done in a couple of days by, you know, a talented programmer that knows the software that Facebook and Snap deliver to the developing community, they can build that in a couple of days and you shouldn’t be charged more than, you know, I don’t know, a couple of grand for something like that VR.
But if we talk about scale, if you’re talking about like a web AR experience where you need to additionally hook into another platform whether that’s Zappar or 8th Wall or any number of other ones, Wikitude is another great platform, by the way all three are members of our association… and these guys have been going on for – mobile AR has been around for quite a while since the iPhone 2 was launched, AR has been around but these web AR experiences, you can pay up to… pay for the platform fees, that can go up to like a grand just for a month of having a campaign online without the views and they do a pay per view-type scenario so it really is hard to say. I’d say building a whole interactive animated web AR experience could run you, like, round the 10K mark.
PAS That’s still, it’s still doable and has a great deal of benefit as well. We do have to go to a break right now, last time, Philip, but when we come back we’ll talk about some how tos, some great advice for our listeners as they move in, break on through to the other side as I might say. So listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we are back to the final segment of Mobile Presence. I’m Peggy Anne Salz, we have Philip Wogart, he’s been our guest today from the VR AR Association, also co-founder of HEADGEAR. And Philip, it’s been great to have you on the show above all because you share freely your information, your sort of inside track from so many years in the industry. What would you say to someone who’s saying okay, you’ve got us excited, the first two segments we get them very excited about the opportunities here but we also want to save them a little bit of the grief, right? So, rather than say the dos, I’d like you to focus in on the don’ts, so they’re excited about getting into VR AR because this is the time – what should they avoid?
PW Well, okay, like I said, AR has been actually around since 2007, since smartphone pretty much came out. As soon as they had the opportunity to use the camera, AR was available and it just hasn’t taken off. So, I would say the reason why AR is now of such importance is okay, you’ve got, you know, a generation that has now been growing up with Snapchat and Instagram lenses and all that, you have a particular target market that you can access there. But what you’ve got to be careful about with AR is that if you build an AR app by itself, you’ve got to have a really good reason to build a dedicated AR app.
I mean, you could maybe add AR on top of your existing app, you know, get an SDK and plug it into your app to make AR available within your existing app, I would not – I’d be very, very careful if you’re going to go down the app route to build a standalone one…
PAS Yes, right, you’ve got to get them to download it, you have to get found – I hear you here.
PW Because AR is, you know, is such a great add on, it’s not, you know, as a technology, it really works in conjunction with three key principles – either you want to educate someone by informing them about what a thing looks like, or you want to use it for educational purposes to give it the spatial relationship between objects in your room or you want it as entertainment for now, you want to get them excited to, you know, activate the brand whether it’s a soft drink or a pair of shoes or what have you. You can get people to start sharing this kind of content.
The other thing I’d be very careful with is what kind of AR technology you’re using. This is a bit techy but I promise to be very straightforward. There’s two technologies with AR, there is image-based tracking and SLAM-based tracking. So, image-based tracking is that old AR technology where you needed like a marker or some kind of print-out and then the model would be glued to that thing so if you wanted to show a coffee machine pop out of your counter, you would have a marker on the table.
PAS Got it.
PW Those ones are – they still kind of work really nicely with billboards but, you know, now the technology’s advanced so far that the camera’s actually scanning your room, it knows practically every surface where you can place something and you can move it on that surface and you’re not tied to a marker anymore. So, be very careful with the technology that you want to be using, that’s why for our project we use 8th Wall because they have their own SLAM tracking library that is used for the web AR experience.
PAS I mean, this is some great advice and I am sure, one, I’m sure Philip that you’re going to be back because I’m going to bring you back on our show, but in the meantime, I can imagine that our listeners are saying, hey, this is the first time I’m getting like layman’s terms around this tech. How do they stay in touch with you, how do they stay up to date with what you’re doing because you’ve got some events coming up?
PW Yes, yes. Well, because of the article that you wrote, it gave me quite a lot of traction. We’re actually going to do a deep dive session about how we built the project with the publisher and my CTO, my co-Founder – they’re going to give a deep dive session on May 6th for the Travel & Tourism Committee for the VR AR Association and I can send you those links so you can put them in the show notes as well. So if you really want to get, you know, what the publisher thought about it and what, you know, what were the challenges and learnings from our point of view, anyone’s more than welcome to join the Association online meet-up on May 6th.
And of course I did mention there’s a VR AR global online summit, we have a great executive producer that brings amazing speakers from the likes of, you know, Google and Apple and Niantic, the guys that built Pokemon Go. We have like all these amazing speakers for three days, whether you’re looking at virtual or mobile or AR or any immersive technology. It’s also worth a free online conference, yet another one, that will be on 1st, 2nd & 3rd June.
If you want to reach out to me, you can reach out to, well, I’d say let’s do my HEADGEAR email, it’s just firstname.lastname@example.org and headgear.io is our website and you can also just reach out through that. We’re on Twitter and Facebook as well if you want to come find us.
PAS Great, Philip, I want to thank you so much for sharing that, for being on the show today and as I said, you will be back. So listeners, it’s not our last time with Philip, we will get deep dives into AR and VR going forward.
And of course if you want to keep up with me throughout the week, find out how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, email@example.com, mobilegroove.com is where you can find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
And as always, earlier episodes of our show, you can find them at wmr.fm. You can also find the shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time – remember - every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Keep well, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.