Auckland-based augmented reality firm Holonize is creating modern-day science fiction. Co-founder Liam Pool explains how this type of business is set to become the way of the future.
A brief description of the business?
We are an augmented reality company who has created Holonize [an app] which is effectively a web browser for holograms.
What inspired you to start the business?
One of the co-founders Bruce saw a video from Microsoft on the HoloLens headset and became really excited about it. He kept on badgering everyone about it for a while, eventually we began to listen and realised the potential for it.
I was sitting at home surrounded by four screens on my crowded desk and realised I wouldn't need those anymore if I had that headset, so we got together and started working.
We eventually came to the same set of ideas and conclusion about what product we needed in augmented reality.
How long have you been operating and how big is your team?
We began in June last year. We've got 2 founders, and 4 part time staff on retainer.
How does Holonize work?
Holonize is an augmented reality viewer that lets you watch a number of discreet pieces of content - like a web browser.
It relies on 'launch pads' which are like files - they store content.
Users view a launch pad by using Holonize, which tells it what to display as well as where to display it. It can then update the content stored on the launch pad for future sessions.
One thing I like about the system is that while we can share content via a URL, this card based system allows us to share content in a physical way again.
Who is your product designed for?
Holonize itself is a generic product so it doesn't have any particular user base in mind. It's a vehicle for viewing 3D objects and holograms.
It's a functional programme and designed to fade in to the background - it's meant to let users see the forms other people have created. Third parties, including ourselves, produce interesting content for it.
For example we are doing 3D scanning, so the focus isn't on Holonize itself, it's on other programmes.
How long did it take to create the product?
We managed to put out an initial release within three months, but only really now - a year later - can we call it a complete product. We've had several successive releases where we've added small but critical features such as animations and interactivity, uploading Snapshots and support for Google Cardboard.
How much potential do you see in the AR and VR market?
There is massive potential for it. Imagine taking your cellphone and your desktop and your laptop and bundling it all up in to a pair of glasses - it's science fiction - but it is coming.
It's going to be a long journey to get to that point but even now you see applications like Pokemon Go and Countdown's Cosmic Shells, things like that which provide entertainment that uses this technology.
Once you start to get in to the productivity applications that use this technology it becomes amazing really.
Are you facing much competition in the market?
The AR market is just opening up now, and while there are other companies in the space, we have no direct competitors.
At the moment everyone is pretty much on the same level.
We have two camps - Microsoft and Google - who have their massive divisions making headsets and then you have a lot of small companies like ours that are doing something in augmented reality but they're not doing anything with large reach or which is very versatile - they're not doing anything for the average consumer.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
A big but diminishing barrier is teaching the general public what AR is.
Not only do we need to sell a product or service, but we also need to teach people what it is at a conceptual level. This is usually difficult to do using media, like describing a personal experience, so people first need to experience AR before we can tell them why they need AR.
We've had technical challenges but the key thing that will be our challenge going forward is marketing and reaching a large audience. We can have the best product in the world but if no one knows it exists then it doesn't do anything.
What advice would you give to other small business operators thinking about getting in to the same industry?
Make as many contacts as you can and use every resource available.
If I had any advice to give someone, and I look back at what I have done in the past year six years, is that anyone can have an idea but the difference between having an idea and having something great is just getting out and having a go at doing it.
Are holograms the way of the future?
I am certain holograms will become the way of the future.
We think they will be six to ten years - it's a relatively long period but also in the scheme of things its a very short amount of time.
What has been the best thing to come from your business?
Seeing things which cannot reasonably exist and seeing impossible objects in places they can't possibly be.
It's science fiction, and frankly just a trick, but interactive AR using both physical and virtual elements is something that's hard to come back from.
My entire life virtual things have been confined to the virtual world, but for fleeting moments they can become as real as you or I.
How was your debut at Armageddon?
Armageddon was spectacular.
It gave us great exposure, put us in contact with a lot of interesting businesses, and we managed to get through several hundred 3DMe scans using prototype hardware.
What are the long-term plans for the business?
Augmented reality is in its infancy. Like software development, a business has a life cycle it goes through before reaching maturity.
We have come through our technology and innovation stage and are now entering a marketing and branding stage. We will continue to develop as the AR scene develops and expand revenue as we expand the boundaries of what AR can do.