Augmented reality gathering momentum in Thailand

Given the perennial struggle for 3G in Thailand, the suggestion that augmented reality applications are already popular in Thailand might well be dismissed out of hand by most, however a recent article from the Bangkok Post suggests the statement may be true sooner than you think.

Kasikorn Bank is fast gaining a reputation as an early digital mover in Thailand, as shown by its estimated 50 million baht digital budget and recent use of Foursquare, and the bank, alongside, mobile operator AIS and property developer Sansiri are picked out by the Post as three big names leading the charge for augmented reality (AR) apps building upon Layar.

AR remain in its infancy, even in the US, but let’s not forget that there is one particular market in Asia renowned not only for mobile innovation but AR itself. In case you haven’t guessed it is Japan.

A few examples come from the Japan Times blog (as written last year):

The Red Cross is using face-recognition software and anime hair to attract blood donors in Akihabara, and the pin@clip application is now being tested in Shibuya, allowing iPhone users to get real-time information on shopping and entertainment options in the buildings that users pass by.

AR technology has significant potential in retail and the creative industries. For example, the Mitsuo Aida Museum now has its own AR guide. The ¥800 price tag may sound steep for an iPhone application, but with it you get the guide, maps and free admission to the exhibit.

Japanese advertising giant, Hakuhodo, has teamed up with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper for an application that allows you to point your phone at ads in its pages and instantly receive extra video content. What makes this unique is that it doesn’t require a QR code, those grid-like squares that are slowly replacing the conventional barcodes.

Given the interest in smartphones and technology in Thailand AR is coming along as AIS’ assistant CEO outlines:

“The Layar app adoption in Thailand is at quite an early stage. It is in the beginning, but it is expected to jump up very fast due to the huge growth of the smart-phone market”

AIS itself is working to develop solutions for its enterprise customers, one which is Kasikorn whose app “allows customers to access information such as the locations of bank branches and ATMs, and the exchange counter services at different branches”.

While that Kasikorn initiative is useful, developer Sansiri has really hit a niche with its app, which has reportedly attracted 11,000 users, according to the article.

The company launched its Layar app in October last year, to allow people to access information about 40 property projects, including houses, townhouses, condos and office building. The app tells users what the projects are, where they are, and how to get there.

While there is also a role for customers – and thus potential monetisation…

The company has also integrated its business partners’ special offers to Sansiri’s customers into the Layar app. At present, it gives details of 40 brands with a total of 200 outlets that are offering special deals for Sansiri’s customers.

Clearly the option of viewing  a property virtually is a feature many would, and seemingly are, interested in making use of. With smartphone ownership continuing to rise in Thailand, other businesses may well emerge using AR apps to help promotion amongst customers.

The only concern remains whether the apps stay useful or become technology used for the sake of technology.

For example, over in the digital publishing space, iPads and other tablet PCs are plotting a revolution in the printing industry. Many esteemed magazines and printing houses have ‘gone digital’ and innovated in the process, delivering a high quality, tailored experience to readers. As Andrew at the Bangkok Bugle points out it is unlikely that Thai publishers are ready to migrate their content over to digital, while there are also price issues, alongside quality that may affect the potential of iPad publishing much in the same way as AR apps.

Trail blazers like Kasikorn and Sansiri are showing the potential of AR in Thailand, but arguably without 3G, greater ownership and increase digital-savviness within firms, quality AR apps are likely to number just a few.