Augmented reality has been around the corner for a very long time now, but with leaders like Microsoft's Satya Nadella, Google's Sundar Pichai, and Apple's Tim Cook all backing AR as the next big thing, it looks like we could finally be rounding the bend. At the recent iPhone launch event, Apple took the time to showcase an AR game built using ARKit, and then Google did the same at the Pixel launch event, showing its ARCore tech. Before all this though, there were two phones already released that allowed you to experience AR to the fullest - the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and Asus ZenFone AR. Both these AR smartphones are powered by Google’s Project Tango. Now, Asus is going to make more AR bets, said Dinesh Sharma, Director for Mobile Products at Asus India.
Talking on the sidelines of the Asus ZenFone 4 series smartphones launch in India, Sharma spoke to Gadgets 360 about Asus' plans with ARCore, and also how the company sees the market here.
"ARCore could emerge as a very important need,” he said, stressing that augmented reality could be the next big thing for Asus and also other OEMs. “My input [to our planning team] would be that we should certainly adopt that technology because we believe in the story for augmented reality big time," Sharma said, adding, "I think it will make a big difference to the life of consumers much bigger than VR."
All brands will have to move towards AR
According to a report by market research firm, TechSci Research, the adoption of augmented reality in the India context is projected to register a growth of 55.3 percent during 2016 - 2021. "Rising adoption of AR and VR based products such as head-up display, head-mounted display, etc, among various end users including defence, automotive, consumer electronics, etc, is anticipated to drive the growth in the country's AR and VR market over the next five years," the report states.
That's a market Asus is not ignoring. "We have a very deep partnership with Google, and if you saw the recent Google event [Google I/O 2017], it featured probably only two [AR] products, one of them was ZenFone AR," Sharma said. "We do work very very closely with Google and if you see we already have a head-start in AR with Google as compared to other brands in the market. We actually believe that AR is going to be [a] very critical use case for the consumer, we launched ZenFone AR and we did that kind of a development with Google."
Of course, the technology isn't cheap. Launched in India starting at Rs. 49,999, the Asus ZenFone AR (Review) is priced in the premium bracket, and Asus won't reveal what sales have been like. Asked about it, Sharma instead said that the product gets sold out very fast.
"You can regularly check Flipkart, and you will see that the product is running out of stock very fast," he said. "And it’s been already multiple cycles, so you can just imagine the kind of response that is there for that kind of a product in the market." He added that the people who are buying the phone are the ones who are aware of the latest technology trends, and said that AR is a trend that all brands will have to move towards.
"We are pretty much with the trends in the market, so if the market is gonna move in that direction, forget Asus, I believe all the brands will have to move in that direction, especially [when] Google is making a big ecosystem," said Sharma.
It's Selfie time in India
Sharma said that the future is AR, but the present appears to be selfies. At the ZenFone series launch, it launched three phones, the ZenFone 4 Selfie, ZenFone 4 Selfie (Dual Front Camera version), and ZenFone 4 Selfie Pro. While the Asus ZenFone 4 Selfie with a single camera has been exclusively made for the Indian market, it is also worth mentioning that Asus has a three more models in the same series outside India - ZenFone 4, ZenFone 4 Pro, and ZenFone 4 Max.
So, why is India only getting the selfie phones in the series, including an exclusive selfie phone? "It’s not like that we are out of the [ZenFone] Max segment, but this particular segment, which is the Selfie segment, is a really big [and] fast-growing segment, which we were missing out on so far," said Sharma. "So, we prioritised this particular segment and launch of models in the Selfie segment because we clearly see that the consumer’s need for selfies is very high."
"This [Selfie] space is too critical to be out of, and we needed to enter it the fastest. Therefore, we prioritised the launch of ZenFone 4 Selfies in India," he added, without ruling out the other phones' entry into the Indian market.