Augmented Reality: Renewed Optimism for AR Across the Asia-Pacific

Image: Michelangelo Buonarroti via Pexels
The acceleration of technology over the past year has created a massive ripple effect, permanently shifting consumer lifestyles, expectations, and behaviors to a future-ready state. In response, UM APAC created the Asia-Pacific Innovation Annual – taking a deep dive into the cutting-edge advancements in entertainment, commerce, digital health, and connectivity, that are catapulting the region and providing new opportunities for brands.

Bringing together the physical and digital world to offer immersive visual and audio experiences unique to the user, augmented reality (AR) has been heralded as a game-changer in the personal technology field.

However, despite growing accessibility in hardware and adoption of AR software across digital platforms such as Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and TikTok, AR has so far failed to hit any of the highs that many analysts initially predicted.

But advancements in technology have rejuvenated the industry, bringing a new wave of optimism around AR, especially across APAC. IDC forecasts that in the Asia Pacific alone, the AR/VR industry will grow rapidly, experiencing a compound annual growth rate of 47.7%, and reach $28.8 billion by 2024. Most of it will come from China, which is forecast to account for roughly 90% share of the spending on AR and VR in APAC, and will exceed $20 billion by 2024.


Unsurprisingly, it’s China where AR has taken the fastest mainstream adoption among consumers across APAC. In 2020, 72% of Chinese consumers reported that AR influenced them to purchase items they hadn’t planned on buying. Strikingly, this data was from before the pandemic, boosting the usage of already-high rates of mobile shopping.

Two of China’s biggest tech companies Alibaba and Tencent are responsible for driving the rapid adoption of AR. Launching AR games in 2017, the technology has been slowly adapted across their ecosystem of digital products such as mobile payments and shopping. In 2018, the “find hongbao” (red envelopes) campaign run every Chinese New Year by Alipay incorporated mobile AR, where users scanned objects that had the Chinese character Fu (meaning prosperity) to win cash.

The COVID-19 outbreak also boosted the use of AR, as the government turned to smart glasses to monitor and contain the virus. Chinese startup Rokid repurposed its Rokid Glass 1, originally designed to detect overheating machinery, for security staff at Hangzhou’s Xixi National Wetland Park, who used the glasses to conduct body temperature screening of visitors within a one-meter distance.

Sectors such as retail, entertainment, and healthcare now account for almost 50% of the commercial use of AR in China. Coupled with the prioritizing of investment in new technology infrastructure such as 5G and AI from the Chinese government’s latest Five Year Plan, China is paving the way for greater AR adoption in the APAC region.


IDC forecasts that in the Asia Pacific alone, the AR/VR industry will grow rapidly, experiencing a compound annual growth rate of 47.7%, and reach $28.8 billion by 2024.

Gen Z has been another key driver in the demand and adoption of AR. Like their global peers, APAC Gen Zs grew up with a wealth of on-demand content available at their fingertips and increasingly shorter attention spans.

A December 2020 survey conducted by Snapchat found that Gen Z in APAC favors communicating with photos (78%), emojis or emoticons, (75%), and video and video messages (59%). The strong desire and familiarity to use visual stimuli may explain why they gravitate toward immersive video and gaming. With the stage set, it’s no surprise that members of Gen Z in APAC are three times more likely to use AR to try on products than they were just 12 months ago.

South Korean brands, hailed as one of the pioneers at adopting new technologies, have accelerated the adoption of VR, AR, and AI across the home shopping and retail industry. Local cosmetics powerhouse Amorepacific installed an AR mirror at its newest flagship boutique in Seoul where consumers could digitally test lipstick or long-lash mascara – even while wearing a face mask. The AR mirror integrates AI tech to recommend Amorepacific’s products based on a consumer’s unique skin texture, blemishes, wrinkles, or dark circles. It then offers a 3D rendering of what they look like using such products.

With the stage set, it’s no surprise that members of Gen Z in APAC are three times more likely to use AR to try on products than they were just 12 months ago.

In Japan, AR was leveraged to bring spectators closer to the Olympics. With spectators unable to attend events due to the pandemic, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games turned to VR and AR to bring this year’s event to fans who couldn’t attend. Working with NTT Docomo, one of Japan’s largest network providers, spectators were able to experience a live, digital, and immersive version of the events. Using 5G enabled headsets, 3D projections of swimming, cycling, and rowing events made up the first-ever Olympic Virtual series.

In the future, the hope is that AR headsets will be available to every spectator. Data such as lap times, position of each athlete, player records, and other stats could be overlayed in the display to create stronger, more immersive viewing experiences that will bridge the gap between spectators and athletes.

Indonesian start-ups are also forming a promising hub for AR developments in Southeast Asia. Before the pandemic, Indonesia, considered to be the largest digital economy in Southeast Asia, was home to some of the most exciting start-ups in Asia. With support from a healthy start-up ecosystem, it is projected to be worth more than US $130 billion by 2024.

Since 2018, ARKids Studio and JENIUSVR have been offering AR solutions in educational content in the form of virtual classrooms for preschool and kindergarten children. One of the most celebrated companies is the award-winning Octagon Studio, which has sold more than 1 million units of its educational and entertainment-based AR products.

After years of being a quirky and niche technology associated with gamers, Instagram filters, and other trivial experiences, AR may be on the cusp of fulfilling the hype of being the next big thing. The reduced costs in hardware, the advancements in software, and the integration of AI and 5G have enabled companies to create more practical ways for AR to be utilized. In the next year, we may see AR finally kick in and change the way we see and experience the everyday world.

Featured Image: Michelangelo Buonarroti via Pexels

This is the third in a six-part series

  1. Retail Transformation – The Future of Retail in APAC
  2. Digital Health – APAC is Paving the Way for Digital Health Ecosystems
  3. Augmented Reality: Renewed Optimism for AR Across the Asia-Pacific
  4. Podcasts See Widespread Adoption Across APAC
  5. 5G is Driving the Digital Transformation in China
  6. Wearables Unlock IoT Potential for APAC Consumers


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