Xconomy Q&A: Vuforia, Pokémon Go, and Augmented Reality

Talk about auspicious timing. It’s been less than a year since Needham, MA-based PTC (NASDAQ: PTC) shelled out $65 million to acquire Vuforia, the augmented reality technology created by San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM).

Qualcomm had worked to develop its Vuforia technology for at least five years before a maturing smartphone market and new economic realities led to the sale. Of course, as Xconomy noted last year, there also were precious few examples of mobile games or ads that became a runaway success because of the way they used augmented technology.

But now there is an exceptional example.

Last week, the mobile app market research firm Sensor Tower estimated that Pokémon Go has generated over $200 million in worldwide net revenue for its creators since July 6, when the free mobile game was launched. As mobile marketing executive Eric Mugnier recently observed in VentureBeat, “Pokémon Go has amassed more downloads, headlines, revenue, and memes than anyone could have predicted.”

Under the circumstances, it seemed like an apt time to check in with former Qualcomm vice president Jay Wright—who is now president of PTC’s Vuforia business—to see how the augmented reality business is going and how Pokémon Go is reshaping the industry.

Vuforia President Jay Wright

Jay Wright

PTC completed its Vuforia purchase last November as part of a broader initiative to build a new platforms business through a series of acquisitions and organic investments., Wright said. Among other things, PTC has invested nearly a $1 billion on Kepware for industrial connectivity, ThingWorx for IoT, and Vuforia for augmented reality. He described them as “natural extensions” of PTC’s already successful CAD, Product Lifecycle Management, Application Lifecycle Management, and Service Lifecycle Management businesses.

Vuforia’s headquarters has remained in San Diego, and Vuforia continues to operate four offices in Europe and Israel, Wright said. His e-mail responses to my questions have been edited for readability.

Xconomy: Did you know Niantic was working on Pokémon Go when PTC acquired Vuforia?

Jay Wright: I was familiar with the company and their success with Ingress [Niantic’s augmented-reality massive multiplayer online location-based video game], but was as surprised as everyone with the incredible Pokémon Go phenomenon. It has created a new wave of interest in AR, and has certainly spurred additional growth in the Vuforia ecosystem.

X: Has PTC’s vision for Vuforia and augmented reality changed as a result?

JW: Vuforia’s mission is to democratize augmented reality development.  As part of that mission, we focus on solving the really hard problems, and making simple solutions available that everyone can use.  Prior to the acquisition, we focused primarily on computer vision.  Computer vision gives devices the ability to “see” things.

JW: Now that we’re at PTC, the mission … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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