Blippar – A $1 Billion Visual Search Company
With all the advancements being made these days in artificial intelligence and computer vision, it’s only a matter of time before you can pull your smartphone out and have it tell you what it sees like a visual search tool. Sure, this might start with simple things like cars, pets, tables, or simple objects, but it could also use the image recognition to identify a brand and then provide an augmented reality experience when you point it at a brand. The first step in achieving real-time recognition or visual search is being able to master image recognition. After all, if you can accurately identify what you see in an image then you should be able to do the same in real time. Real-time visual search should theoretically be easier since everything you are looking at is real. Images, on the other hand, can be modified such that recognition becomes harder. One player in this space that is said to have achieved unicorn status already is Blippar.
Founded in 2011, London based Blippar has taken in $99 million in funding so far from investors that included Qualcomm. Their latest funding round is said to have given Blippar a valuation of over $1 billion which makes them one of the three elite unicorns in the area of augmented reality and virtual reality (the other two are Magic Leap and MindMaze).
Update 09/18/2018: Blippar has taken in an additional $37 million from a funding round led by Candy Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures in hopes that they can reach profitability in the next 12 months. The company has raised more than $137 million so far.
Blippar develops a visual search capability that lets you identify things in real-time by using an app on your smartphone. When an identified object has functionality and content attached to it, we call these “Blipps”. As you can guess, the ability to attach a Blipp to a product logo increases customer interaction and is an attractive value proposition for marketers. In order to make the system easier to adopt for marketing purposes, anyone can create their own “Blipps” with no code or technical know-how required by using their Blipbulder tool. Just upload images of what you want your Blipps attached to and start creating.
This section of Blippar’s business is referred to as Blippar Brands. Brand logos just shouldn’t be that difficult to recognize, so the augmented reality experience being offered by Blippar is less about image recognition and more about content generation. We blipped a few brands ourselves and here’s what we found.
Using Blippar’s Visual Search
We decided to use Heinz as an example because back in 2011 they became the first sauce brand to use Blippar’s visual search technology. If Heinz has been “blipping” for 5 years now then we would expect them to be a good example of what “augmented reality marketing” is capable of. Unfortunately, the experience was underwhelming. First, we tried to “blip” a bottle of Heinz catsup bottle that we bought in Hong Kong and Blippar didn’t recognize it. Does this mean they don’t even have optical character recognition (OCR) in place that could have guessed the brand by the text and context? We’re not really sure, so instead, we just blipped a picture of a Heinz catsup bottle with the traditional logo. Here’s what we saw:
So there’s a menu of things I can choose from but none of these are that appealing frankly. You can only play so many games and read so many recipes before the novelty wears off. While “blipping” the Heinz bottle did enter us into a free drawing, we’re just not that excited about this incentive. The only way we’d “blip” something is if it gave us useful information or saved us money. For example, a brand could offer something like a digital coupon in exchange for the “blippar’s” email address. Still, over 1,000 brands have signed up with Blippar with a total of 65 million people using the app in 170 countries. That’s a lot of people blipping, but none of these metrics say anything about retention. Are people regularly using this app? Some people don’t think so.
Blippar pretty much owns this space given they have established relationships with some of the world’s biggest brands as seen below:
If “augmented reality marketing” is the direction Blippar wants to take, then the actual visual search technology doesn’t become the focus but rather capturing every single brand globally so that “blipping” becomes synonymous with learning more about a product. Blippar is developing one other offering as well, Blippar Education. This platform is primarily targeted at classrooms, educational publishers, cultural institutions and workplaces to make their environments interactive.
Blippar appears to be dominating this space so far and they’ve already shown that they can acquire as needed to expand upon their offering or assimilate a competitive threat. We’d be keen to know when this tool can identify any fruit, plant, flower, or animal that we show it. Maybe then we’d be keen to regularly use it and consequently start to “blipp” other things as well, especially if we see product packaging incenting us to blipp. Extra credit if it can eventually identify fish species while we’re shopping at the fishmonger.
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