How Brands Should Be Thinking About Spatial Technology and the Mixed-Reality Future

3 things you can do today to create new experiences

With the launch of Apple Vision Pro earlier this year, the start of the spatial computing era has begun in earnest. The $3,499 device initially sold 200,000 units, not exactly at the same pace as the iPhone when it was introduced in 2007 (1.39 million units sold that first year). However, like the iPhone, the Apple Vision Pro has a ways to go in terms of improving its feature set and the commensurate app, branding and business market impact.

According to Apple, “the App Store ecosystem facilitated $1.1 trillion in developer billings and sales in 2022” with more than 90% of those billings and sales going directly to developers and businesses, so even a fraction of that action on Vision Pro will be significant.

And Apple is not alone. Meta has been building its own mixed-reality platform with the Meta Quest 3. It started as a VR-only device, but with the third generation last fall, Meta Quest 3 became a mixed-reality device. Because Meta and Apple support passthrough video, digital content can appear to exist in the physical world. This is the secret to good augmented-reality experiences: the blending of the atoms and the bits in believable ways, like Niantic’s Pokémon GO.

So, what’s a brand to do with this new class of devices? Is this another take on the metaverse of 2022 or a precursor to one of Hollywood’s dystopian depictions of the future where people see life-sized digital content everywhere they go in some dark realization of the technology? Or is this something closer to the early days of an iOS-sized market opportunity? Nothing is definite at the moment, but this is the time for brands to start making decisions about how they want to leverage spatial technology.

Create a mixed-reality plan

There are three things brands can and should do today when thinking about mixed reality.

Develop a strategy. Consider what you need to do to allow your brand to expand and live in the future via mixed reality. What do you want your brand to mean to your audience? How do you engage natively? How do you not miss the next TikTok?

Think holistically. What is the expression of your brand that can live natively on these new devices? We’ve seen this play out with social media apps, especially those focused on video. Campaigns and content that are successful on YouTube may or may not translate well to Instagram or TikTok and vice-versa. Consumers know the difference between the different platforms even though the content can all be related. A single viral video on one platform may not gain the same traction on others because it’s not about the medium as much as it is the nuances of the platform that showcase that medium.

Consider cross-platform capabilities. Can you live cross-platform? In the mobile app world, many apps can exist as both downloadable apps and as web pages optimized for mobile devices and desktops. The features of each both take advantage of the respective devices while rewarding customers with unified user experiences. When that is broken or disjointed, customers notice.

It’s hard to overstate the impact that smartphones have had on business and human behavior since they became touchscreen devices. Apple and Android-based smartphone makers and the legions of developers who build mobile apps and services for the billions of smartphones in use today have arguably perfected something that has people looking down, entranced and distracted from the world around them.

Tap into new experiences

It’s still early but the mixed-reality headsets now available are starting to get people’s heads up. While their hands aren’t quite free, these users are learning new behaviors to manipulate the digital world they see superimposed before them when wearing one. That means as people learn to use these devices, they will learn new modes of productivity, entertainment and interaction, likely between users of both headsets and the people around them using mobile phones. How will these individuals interact?

Early work on the Meta Quest 3 and Apple Vision Pro starts to provide signs. Bee Quest, for instance, is a new experience on Meta Quest 3 that allows users to enter a beehive when wearing a headset and forage the world for pollen on a mobile phone.

Anyone who has used an iPhone to collect spatial video and then entered that space via the Apple Vision Pro has experienced something that can be highly emotional, such as reliving memories. Users aren’t watching the video of sitting at the table with family or friends, they’re back at the table, virtually. That kind of powerful moment will likely spur many Apple users to try that experience.

The world is rich in information and every place people go tells stories of all who have been there. Imagine if those stories were sharable and could be relived. And that is just one possible feature; the rest are to be created.

Greg Chiemingo leads developer and technology communications at Niantic. He’s launched hundreds of consumer electronic and technical products and services on behalf of leading global brands for the last 25-plus years.