If you’re a marketer thinking about virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), an Israeli startup is today making an offer you might not be able to refuse.
The company, WakingApp, is officially launching its ENTiTi VR/AR creation platform in an open beta, following six months of testing with agencies, architects, studios, and others.
Founder and President Alon Melchner gave me a brief, remote demo of the cloud-based platform, emphasizing that it allows VR/AR experiences to be created relatively quickly by non-technical users. A project that used to take developers two months or so to code, he told me, can now be generated with the platform’s tools in a couple of days, without programming.
And you can’t beat the current price: free.
Melchner said the platform will remain free for some months, in order to build up an ecosystem of users. After that, it will have a monthly subscription.
Coinciding with today’s opening of the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, WakingApp is also announcing that PPI Worldwide, which supplies loyalty promotions and collectible toys for such brands as Coke and Unilver, will be utilizing the platform to create VR and AR content to accompany its offerings.
For those not clear about the difference: virtual reality creates a navigable, 3D scene that you can turn your head around and see, when you use a VR viewer. ENTiTi supports the Google Cardboard viewer and Gear VR, both of which employ a smartphone, and Melchner says the platform will soon support the higher-end Oculus Rift VR viewer.
Augmented reality, in this case, is seen through a smartphone screen, without using any kind of goggles or special viewer. It places figures and objects, sometimes animated, as overlays on actual surfaces seen through the smartphone’s screen. In ENTiTi’s implementation, the software first recognizes a predetermined target image, such as a card included in a pack of toys or a printout. The image is then treated as a surface on which the generated characters or objects stand and move.
PPI is not yet releasing any specific VR/AR interactive content for its products, although Melchner showed me an AR teaser demo.
After installing and opening the free ENTiTi viewer app in an iOS or Android smartphone, a customer points the camera at an illustrated card that comes with PPI’s small figurine characters, such as Abatons and Star Wars Wikkeez.
The app recognizes the card, treats it as the plane of a surface, and then 3D versions of the characters appear standing on the surface of that card in the phone’s screen.
Melchner showed me that touching the elephant character on the screen makes it become animated, as it walks around the surface of the card. The characters could also be part of an interactive AR or VR game.
The ENTiTi viewer app and VR/AR examples are available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play. One other VR example I viewed was a a VR apartment, which, when downloaded onto my iPhone and viewed through a Google Cardboard-like viewer, shows a navigable 3D apartment — complete with a wall screen showing video ads for a company called American Freight, which appears to be selling furniture.
“If You’re Not Adding AR…”
Melchner said that he wasn’t aware of any other platform “that lets you create cars to move freely on top of a [scanned] newspaper ad,” or similar experiences, without programming. Non-artist creators, he noted, can buy inexpensive 3D illustrated models of elephants, cars, and other recognizable objects at other sites, and import them into ENTiTi.
“I’m saying to agencies, if you’re not adding AR, you’re not serving your clients,” he told me, adding that he has a background in agency work. In the case of AR/VR added experiences, I asked, at what point do they become more interesting to the children who buy the toys, than the toys themselves?
Melchner said that the AR or VR experiences, such as those for the PPI toys, expand the experience so that, for instance, the “stickers come to life.” He compared them to the cartoon series that toy companies have created in the past, as a way to expand the experience and the branding.
But the relative value of the AR/VR experience is up to the agencies and brands, he said, since ENTiTi sees itself only as the tool.
As for more marketing-specific applications, Melcher suggested that brands could use AR overlays, or VR experiences, to demonstrate how their products work. For instance, you could see overlaid, interactive, step-by-step instructions on top of a washing machine, when you look at the appliance in your smartphone in a store or in a still image.
VR and AR is becoming one of the hot topics in marketing tech, with a growing range of uses. Melchner suggested such implementations as products shown in their actual environment, like how a particular sofa might look in your living room; a print or online ad that attracts attention by having an VR/AR version; or, like the American Freight pitch on the video screen in VR Apartment, actual ads inside environments.