Photographer Anna Aiko captures the beauty of the Arabian Peninsula on the back of a camel

DUBAI: An augmented reality tool that allows users to ‘visit’ many of Saudi Arabia’s historic wonders via their smartphones was developed by US camera and social media company Snap, best known for its popular app Snapchat.

Unlike virtual reality (VR), which requires specialized equipment such as sensors, helmets, and gloves to deliver an immersive experience, augmented reality (AR) only requires a smartphone for users to enhance their physical world. with computer generated entries.

With nearly 90% of daily Snapchat users in Saudi Arabia already interacting with company AR goals on average more than 30 times a day, according to the company’s own data, the AR phenomenon is expected to have a big impact. in several sectors.

“We basically believe that the camera is the next mode of communication,” Abdulla Alhammadi, regional business manager for Snap in the MENA region, told Arab News.

“An image or a video allows to communicate infinitely more than a word, a simple text or a simple image, and it is the idea which led to understand that there is more power behind this image and behind a experience that is ingrained. throughout the camera.

Snapchat has proven to be extremely popular among the Saudi population, with a “monthly addressable reach” across the Kingdom of 19.5 million, encompassing more people than Twitter, TikTok, Facebook or Instagram, according to the company.

And with more than 90 percent of 13-34 year olds using the app, the potential applications for AR in the Kingdom in everything from shopping and schooling to navigation and home entertainment are immense.

To mark Saudi Arabia’s National Day on September 23, Snapchat allowed users to explore six of the kingdom’s hidden cultural gems, including Qasr Al-Farid, an archaeological site in Madain Saleh of AlUla in northern Saudi Arabia, Bayt Nassif in Jeddah Al-Balad, Tabuk Castle and Qasr Al-Masmak in Riyadh.

To mark Saudi Arabia’s National Day on September 23, Snapchat allowed users to explore six of the Kingdom’s hidden cultural gems. (Provided)

“You didn’t have to watch the site through a video – you were actually on the site, taking pictures of yourself, celebrating Saudi Arabia,” Alhammadi said.

Users were surprised by the experience. “I happened to drop on Snapchat on National Day and saw the AR option,” said Saif Abdulrahman, 25, of Riyadh.

“It was nice to see how different places were shown. You felt transported to the place itself, and I think it will help people overseas to see what Saudi Arabia is like. “

These Saudi cultural sites had been completely reconstructed in digital 3D, allowing users to explore them almost as if they were physically there.

“We are testing the limits of AR and what we can do to deliver unique experiences that I would say were historically impossible or very difficult to deliver with other mediums,” said Alhammadi.

The company says the immersive tool does much more justice to the beauty of Saudi Arabia’s historic sites than a simple photo or video clip. “It allows people to feel and feel the experience of being on the site,” he said.

“Snap has partnered with the AlUla Royal Commission to create unique experiences where people can visit different regions. It’s important globally because now you can show people and let them experience what it’s like to visit Saudi Arabia, but it’s more important locally because not everyone is not gone to visit these different regions.


Snapchat collaborated with the Saudi Arabian Royal Commission of AlUla to bring the Unesco heritage site Lyihyan Bin Kuza (AlFarid) Al-Farid to life. More here.

The Kingdom’s high rate of smartphone ownership and the very strong 5G network make young Saudis the very definition of “digital natives”, explains Alhammadi.

Beyond its applications in the tourism industry, AR also offers potential investors a glimpse into the future, by overlaying visual inputs from planned developments and mega-projects such as NEOM – developments aimed at transforming the Saudi economy.

“Given the bold ambition we see in Saudi Arabia and the aggressive vision we see when it comes to pushing for change, creativity and development, while promoting culture and staying true to its roots is something that we find very interesting. at Snapchat because it stays true to our community, ”said Alhammadi.

Developers are only scratching the surface of potential AR applications, Alhammadi says, with many untapped opportunities in industries such as retail and even education.


* 92% – Communication.

* 82% – Games.

* 79% – Media and entertainment.

* 73% – Purchases.

(Source: Deloitte Global Digital Survey, 2021)

According to the company’s own research, 66% of Snapchatters say the platform is likely to play a bigger role in their buying habits over the next five years.

Deloitte, the consulting firm, says the Kingdom’s AR adoption rate is in step with the boom in mobile use, with nearly all of Saudi Arabia’s “millennials” (born 1981). and 1996) and “zoomers” (born in the late 1990s and early 1990s). 2000s) are expected to be frequent users of augmented reality by 2025.

Although many still see the technology as just a “toy,” the company says 81% of respondents expect and want to use it as a practical tool in their day-to-day lives.

The 2021 Global Deloitte Digital Study commissioned by Snap found that 92% of Snapchat users currently use AR at home for communication, 79% for media and entertainment, 82% for games and 73% for shopping.

The potential of AR in the retail industry was field tested at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when retailers were forced to close their stores and move sales entirely online.

Beyond its applications in the tourism industry, AR also offers potential investors a glimpse into the future, overlaying visual inputs from planned developments and mega-projects such as NEOM. (Provided)

From trying on jewelry at Cartier to finding the right size at Dior, online shopping is revolutionized by Snapchat’s AR features. “And these are just apps that we are currently testing,” Alhammadi said.

It’s not just fashion retailers who are jumping on the AR bandwagon. IKEA uses the same technology to allow buyers to imagine the furniture in their home before purchasing it.

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to digitalization, with many more students accessing their classrooms remotely and workers attending meetings virtually. Incidentally, the Zoom video conferencing platform has long offered filters to hide unwanted backgrounds and recently added an AR facial effects tool called Studio Effects.

“That’s the interesting part about it – when we open it up to the whole community, whether it’s creators, companies, brands or different entities across the world, it’s interesting to see how different contributors interpret this technology and how they use it to deliver their goals and key performance indicators, ”said Alhammadi.

Other popular apps, such as Star Walk and Pokemon Go, have a long history of superimposing data, images, animations, and information on live images, allowing their users to explore distant constellations or roam around them. streets in search of virtual monsters.

Google Maps also uses technology to help users navigate the streets, overlaying directions and details.

Technology is also developing at a rapid pace. “Different sources report growth figures for the global AR market of between 40% and 80% (annually) over the next five years,” said Mina Litvinova, CEO of AR MORE.

This photo shows a view of the purpose-built new Maraya (Arabic for “Mirror”) Concert Hall in the ruins of Al-Ula. (AFP / photo file)

“The reason for this AR boom is the research, development and investments that tech giants like Facebook, Apple, Google and Snapchat have made in AR in previous years.

“A lot of us already use AR every day and we don’t even know we are using it. For example, every time you apply a face filter on Instagram or Snapchat, you are using AR seamlessly.

“The main thing to understand about AR is that it has transformed the cameras on our smartphones from devices that simply captured our physical reality into devices that can augment and expand our physical reality in unlimited ways. There is literally unlimited potential with AR and therefore unlimited growth. “

The global augmented reality and virtual reality market is expected to be valued at $ 570 billion by 2025, according to Saudi Arabia’s smart city mega-project NEOM, which hopes to position itself as a global leader in next-generation media technological innovation.

Snapchat’s “Future of Shopping” report, released in July, predicts that in less than five years, the world will see a 57% increase in the proportion of Gen Z shoppers using AR before purchasing a product, rising from 23% in 2021 to 36%. in 2025.

“Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are expected to be the top markets for the percentage of consumers who will have used AR before purchasing a product online,” Litvinova said.

“Our region, the world’s highest smartphone penetration, is well positioned to be a global leader in consumer AR adoption and therefore has the potential to become the global leader in AR marketing.

“Our region is ideal for brands to see as their pilot market for AR-based campaigns that can then be rolled out around the world. “


Twitter: @CalineMalek

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