Effects of Apple buying Metaio
Well it’s official, Apple bought Metaio. So what could happen? In order to understand better the whole thing is important to know what Metaio (and other SDKs) does.
To enable augmented reality (AR) in any app there are three paths to chose:
- Develop the AR code yourself. Unless the developing of this code improves the AR experience somehow compared to the other existent options, doing it is just reinventing the wheel.
- Using AR open source code. Useful if the platform doesn’t have formal support of other AR SDKs, this is the path we chose for Terra Icons for Windows Phone 8. Generally, open source are free to use somehow. A very important fact.
- Use third party AR SDKs. SDK stands for: Software Development Kit. SDKs greatly simplifies the developing process as the SDK developers took care of that. As such, using an SDK specially facilitates deploying on different platforms. This is the path we chose for Terra Icons for iOS and Android, which uses Wikitude SDK. By using the SDK one doesn’t have to worry about the AR experience and tweaking it on each platform, as it will/should behave the same on all of them. Of course, this facility doesn’t come for free. Using AR SDKs, will come with a cost in an specific form, could be license, pay per use, downloads, etc.
Available AR SDKs
Up until last week, these were the major and more popular AR SDKs:
Qualcomm’s Vuforia: Qualcom is one of the biggest mobile chips manufacturers on the world. Vuforia is the platform to promote the use of these chipsets. Up until recently, Vuforia was free to use. Not anymore. That said, Vuforia has good support and is pretty powerful.
Layar: One of the original and popular mobile AR SDKs, currently is focused on enabling AR for printing media, but that’s about it.
Wikitude: The one we use. It provides a fairly amount of power and low cost which makes it ideal.
Metaio: The 500 pound gorilla. This company is one of the oldest on the AR ecosystem, founded in 2003, it has many patents and its founders and employees has very good knowledge of AR. They are on the cutting edge of developing new experiments for AR use cases. Theirs SDK is well supported, is very powerful and it was priced fairly. From the outside, Metaio appeared to be financially stable, generated and managed well their own ecosystem, which in turn made a lot of developers used the platform.
Big companies tend to buy smaller companies in order to Acqui-hire. Metaio is no exception and Apple decided to grab it. With it, Apple can focus on enabling AR on their devices at the OS level, which is what they’ll probably do. It won’t happen now, but it will happen. Maybe in a year’s time. Maybe. Also, as Apple did with the buyout of P. A. Semi, on which they made their on CPU for mobile, maybe this will enable Apple to have also their own AR chip, a project that it didn’t see the light of day under Metaio alone.
Couldn’t Apple made AR by itself? Sure! However bringing Metaio’s experience with them gives them more and faster knowledge than doing it by their own.
What about the rest of the AR world?
Here’s where things get interesting. One of the strengths of Metaio was its support for iOS, Android and Windows (yes, the desktop platform). On top of that, Metaio supported many glass wearables. It’s no secret that Apple makes their stuff to improve their platform experience, so when Apple buys a company, if this company offered support to other platforms, this one will be shut down almost immediately. Which is exactly what has happened. This means, hundred if not thousands of mobile apps suddenly are left out of support. These mobile apps must immediately move to use other SDKs, which depending on the complexity of the AR experience, can be a quick or a long process.
To some extent everybody wins! Metaio got its money for all these years of effort, and their previous market will be shared (consolidated?) mainly by Wikitude and Vuforia. Finally, this acquisition from Apple’s part certifies once again, AR is here to stay, and that’s a good thing!