It’s lights out for the Torch AR app

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Focals maker North joins Google—and now the Torch AR app is no more. AR is growing, but not without some pains

Quick read

➨ The Torch AR developer app is being discontinued from 1 September, striking a blow to experience and app developers who rely on the service
➨ Torch co-founders Torch Tony Falco, Paul Reynolds and Josh Faust, who launched the platform to give developers an easy means of designing, building and sharing AR apps, blamed a “combination of macroeconomic and industry factors” on its closure
➨ Google snapped up Canada-based Focals maker North in June

The story

The Torch AR developer app is being discontinued from 1 September, striking a blow to experience and app developers who rely on the service.

Torch co-founders Torch Tony Falco, Paul Reynolds and Josh Faust, who launched the platform to give developers an easy means of designing, building and sharing AR apps, blamed a “combination of macroeconomic and industry factors” on its closure.

They have spent six months searching for sources of funding or acquisition partners without success, suggesting that Torch’s struggles pre-date the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Developers who use Torch AR can generate a download and link to save their current projects. This will include the assets used and a simple JSON file describing the scenes.

Web AR projects and viewer links, however, will no longer work as of 1 September.

There was no word on what will happen to the Torch team. The company may offer advice to developers on tools and contractors to turn to for AR services, but only on a limited basis.

The co-founders said in a message to users: “We wish we were delivering better news. The team poured their energy and creativity into building something that would stand out in a field dominated by massive companies by putting the needs of creators like you first. On behalf of the team, thanks for being our most important supporters.”

The demise of Torch, particularly when AR is arguably on the rise, is a sad result of an increasingly competitive landscape.

Google and Apple both offer strong AR development toolkits underpinned by tried and tested hardware platforms and blunt but effective brand power.

Specialists such as 8th Wall are also capturing a significant portion of the enterprise market for web AR. Its past clients include Red Bull and Toyota.

8th Wall’s platform is also capable of producing immersive web AR experiences that work on every mobile device without the need for an app, bridging that development gap between Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

As Charlie Fink, writing for Forbes, put it in 2018: “The tyranny of the app is crushing the soul of XR.”

Commenting on the release of 8th Wall’s platform, he wrote: “[W]ith the introduction of 8th Wall’s new ‘8th Wall Web’ interactive AR content that could previously only be experienced by downloading an app can now run directly on any existing website. The importance of this development cannot be understated.”

An AR hardware developer that has struggled to gain traction, smart glasses maker North, has been acquired. 

Google snapped up Canada-based Focals maker North in June. The acquisition was first reported by The Globe and Mail.

Focals by North
Focals by North

The initial focus of North (then Thalmic Labs) was on new forms of interaction with Myo, a gesture-based input device that directly coupled neuro-muscular impulses into signals computers could understand.

The company then shifted focus to Focals, billed as everyday smart glasses with direct retinal projection and prescription compatibility.

But Focals 1.0 were expensive, had to be fitted and did not support a full range of prescription lenses, limiting their appeal to consumers, according to TechCrunch.

North is winding down support for Focals 1.0 and will no longer be shipping Focals 2.0.

Google saw potential in North. Its work in ambient computing was highlighted as a key driver behind the acquisition, and it’s team will contribute to Google’s hardware efforts and ambient computing future.

North co-founders Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant said: “[I]t became clear that aligning with Google would significantly advance our shared vision. This acquisition is a terrific fit for North and, importantly, we’re staying here in Kitchener-Waterloo [where the company is based in Canada].”

AR’s future will be shaped as much by its failures as its successes. Where did Torch and North go wrong, and what lessons can we learn from their demise?

Let VRWorldTech know via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or editor@vrworldtech.com.

Main image: The Torch AR app
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