Quartz is finding there’s reader appetite for augmented reality. In the week following Apple’s Sept. 19 iOS 11 update that included augmented reality capabilities, the Quartz app was downloaded 10,000 times, according to the publisher, which claims a total of nearly 780,000 app downloads across devices.
The Quartz app, which launched in February 2016, takes inspiration from messaging apps with a bot delivering roughly half a dozen daily news stories from its own site and elsewhere around the web. Since the update, news items are now interspersed with AR objects that users can interact with. So far, the app has featured AR objects like the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, an image of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, the Rosetta Stone, the Tesla Model 3 and the Berlin Wall. Not all of Quartz’s news stories warrant the AR treatment, but showing readers the size and scale of the Cassini-Huygens probe or an analog Roland drum machine adds to the in-app experience.
“AR can be really good, or it can be absolutely horrible,” said Quartz creative director Michael Dolan. “If it serves the story, then it’s an interesting place to experiment. It’s an addition to the app, so it’s not interrupting the experience.”
After figuring out whether a story calls for AR, the object receiving the treatment must be identified, then scanned. In some cases, the scan already exists, like the one of the Cassini-Huygens probe, which was obtained via NASA. Part of the process is striking the balance between making an object look real while also making it look good.
Two-thirds of people who’ve had the opportunity to view an AR object in the app have continued through to the AR viewer, according to a Quartz spokesperson. Quartz was unable to specify absolute figures but did share that on average, daily active users check the Quartz app twice a day, spending about three minutes inside the app. By comparison, Bleacher Report gets people to spend five minutes in its app each day. According to Quartz, 35 percent of the app’s daily active users get to the end of the app, reading all of the content available to them.
As with all new technologies, the metrics for AR need to improve. Quartz can track the number of object rotations, when people pinch to zoom and AR interactions, but it’s still understanding how useful this information is to brands.
Dolan said Apple’s update has interested brands, particularly in the luxury and auto space. “We’re seeing a lot of interest from the U.S. and [Europe, the Middle East and Africa],” he said. “We’re talking to clients about what would be a good AR experience; we’re at the stage where we’re integrating brand work into this.”
Joy Robins, Quartz’s svp of global revenue and strategy, said it’s advising clients on what makes a good AR experience and helping to train agencies on the tech. Quartz adopted this role as an adviser on bots, too, running client tours and speaking at events about how brands can use bots. “AR gives us the opportunity to have the same level of authority,” said Robins.
Two developers built Quartz’s AR capabilities, with additional support from designers, testers, researchers and product managers, as well as the editorial team. By the end of 2017, the company head count will be 200.
Quartz is among one the first apps to use Apple’s ARKit tech. The Washington Post is running an AR series as well. Publishers have devoted more attention to virtual reality, which, when creating experiences for VR headsets, is more costly, requires more development work than AR to create experiences and reaches a smaller subset of people. “We see them as two very different experiences: AR enhances the story, whereas VR is the entire story,” said Dolan. “We haven’t yet had any conversations about doing VR.”
Images: courtesy of Quartz.