Tech News

Friday, 25 October 2013 | MYT 5:04 PM

Taking reality to new heights

IF YOU think you’ve seen it all when it comes to multimedia content, well, think, or rather, look again.  

WIA Global Technology, a Penang-based augmented reality service provider, has come up with an app called PlayMe which enables you to enjoy an additional layer of multimedia content while viewing real life objects such as a page in a magazine or an advertisement on a billboard.  

For example, positioning a smartphone (with the PlayMe app installed in it) in front of an image on a piece of paper would bring up a 3D view of the same image on your phone, enabling you to see additional things on top of that paper image which you would not be able to view otherwise (as seen in the above picture).  

“We call this the augmented reality layer,” says Alvin Ooi, co-founder of PlayMe. “This gives users an enriched experience beyond what their eyes could see.”  

The term augmented reality is reported to have been first coined by Hong Kong-based author, consultant and motivational speaker, Tomi Ahonen, who also called it the “eighth mass medium” after mobile technology, the Internet, TV, radio, cinema and audio/video recordings.  

According to Ooi, the use of augmented reality technology has already taken off in the Western world, but is still a relatively unknown concept within the local market.  

“We want to present this to the Malaysian market and we also hope to eventually become the pioneers who will bring this technology into the Southeast Asian region,” he says.  

Other examples of how PlayMe’s augmented reality capabilities can be used include playing a video resume when a smartphone is hovered over a business card, or causing cartoon images to appear in a photo taken with the PlayMe app while posing in front of a mural. 

Opportunity for creativity 

Ooi shares that the company plans to market PlayMe, which is currently available on the Android platform, to media and advertising companies as a new avenue for promoting their brands. 

However, Ooi expects that once the augmented reality concept gains more popularity locally, the company may open the service to the public to use as well. For instance, he says, they can use it to design custom made greeting cards that have personalised video or animated content for their loved ones. 

“It allows you to be very flexible and creative,” says Ooi. “It’s a platform where designers and marketers can create a more engaging medium of marketing.” 

“It works a little differently from QR code scanning,” adds Winson Tan, also a co-founder of PlayMe

“With the QR code, you are usually directed to a particular website or YouTube video page. However, with PlayMe, the content plays on the spot (a few seconds after you have placed your smartphone in front of the designated image).” 

As the PlayMe app is still relatively new, Ooi, Tan and a third co-founder, Iz Phang, are still working out ways to make the app unique so that it stands out against any competition that may surface. 

“Right now we’re trying to incorporate a lot more things into the app so that it will become more valuable. This is one of the ways that we feel we can differentiate PlayMe from other single-brand apps. Ours will be a general app that everybody can use,” says Ooi. 

The company has also incorporated social media capabilities into PlayMe. Clients can opt to insert interactive buttons that link viewers straight to Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites through the augmented reality layer. 

For retail businesses, Ooi suggests that the interactive button should be used to point to an online store, where consumers can immediately purchase the advertised items. 

Another advantage that he says clients will enjoy when using PlayMe is that they can easily and quickly update the augmented reality content they are broadcasting without having to change the images displayed via traditional media channels. 

For instance, an existing advertisement at a bus stop need not be replaced, but viewers could be shown a different video each day during a marketing campaign. 

Promising future 

So far, the company, which currently comprises seven employees, has managed to secure several business deals with the Penang government via the Municipal Council of Penang Island (MPPP). 

Images located at a number of public spots around the state already have augmented reality content available to PlayMe users. This includes some of the street murals along the heritage trail on Armenian Street as well as the advertisements on bins around Queensbay Mall area. 

“If they use the app to take a screenshot of what they see, they can save a photo of themselves with the images that appear (in the augmented reality layer),” says Ooi, who adds that the company plans to have a camera function in PlayMe in the near future. 

He also says that the company intends to continue expanding the possibilities of using PlayMe for tourism. In fact, he reveals that the company plans to replicate what it has already achieved in Penang in several popular tourist spots around Kuala Lumpur. 

“We’re also looking into designing a DIY (do-it-yourself) tool for our customers where they can just drag and drop their content in,” says Ooi. The company is targeting to launch this tool by the end of next year. 

Meanwhile, clients would have to pass their media content over to the team at WIA Global Technology for them to work on the layout for the augmented reality layer on their behalf. 

The company is also about release a version of PlayMe for iOS. 

In order to achieve the company’s goals, the three founders are currently on the lookout for more sources of funding. 

“We hope to raise around RM2mil by the end of next year,” he says while adding that they would be keen to get in touch with anyone who is interested to invest in the company. 

Corporate subscription for PlayMe services start at RM300 per month and upwards, but Ooi says it will be cheaper should customers opt to sign up for a yearly plan or buy in bulk. 

“If customers sign up for a yearly contract, they will be given a 15 seconds corporate video and a five seconds motion graphic for free,” he says. 

View the video on PlayMe to understand more about what the app’s augmented reality experience looks like. You can download the app on the Google Play Store or visit http://www.playme.com.my for more details. 

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