For the past 20 years, Rohith Bhat has stood at the forefront of the highly competitive world of product and app development. Bhat proved he was a visionary when he founded Robosoft Technologies in 1996 as a development center for Macintosh’s OS. Today, this may seem like a no-brainer, but 20 years ago, Apple was on its last legs, and there were real doubts whether the company would dissolve.
But Bhat saw something valuable in the way Steve Jobs’ company did business, and this willingness to take a left turn when most other entrepreneurs turn right has been a hallmark of his business philosophy, especially in the sustained success of Robosoft – his pride and joy.
Robosoft – based in Udupi, India – has built high-end software under the mantra of, “Made in India, for the world,” and in 2008, it became one of the first app development companies in the world. To date, Robosoft has built more than 1,500 apps across multiple domains and for major brands throughout the world such as McDonalds, WalmartLabs, JCPenney, Disney, Viacom18 and Pearson. The company has a team of 500 in Udupi, all inspired by Bhat’s three core principles: emotion, engineering and great design.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Bhat founded 99Games and Global Delight, Robosoft subsidiaries that are focused on creating mobile games, as well as audio, video and imaging apps for web-based, desktop and mobile-based platforms.
By 2011, Robosoft had released some of the most successful in-house desktop apps in the industry including Boom (an audio enhancer), Camera Plus (augmented camera with unique features), and Game Your Video (a video-making app). Boom won the “Best of Show 2011” award at Macworld Expo 2011, and Game Your Video won the “Best of Show 2012” award at Macworld Expo 2012.
Despite his success, Bhat will always retain a visionary spirit when it comes to emerging technologies, so it’s no surprise that he has now turned his attention to the exciting field of augmented reality, where he hopes to provide consumers with immersive experiences in a number of different scenarios. We spoke to Bhat about mobile apps for virtual reality and augmented reality, and his plans for the future.
Q: Before we proceed, can you just define the differences between virtual reality and augmented reality?
Rohith Bhat: That’s an excellent question. Well, augmented reality, also known as AR, is sort of a combination of virtual reality and things you would see in real life. These days, developers have become proficient at coming up with sounds and images that seamlessly fit into the real world. But enhancing the audio-visual experience so that the mobile interaction becomes more realistic, exciting and entertaining- that’s where Augmented Reality comes into play. So in a nutshell, Augmented Reality is really focused on keeping the user-experience based in real-world dynamics, even though the overall experience is augmented through creative images, graphics and sounds built within a mobile application.
On the other hand, virtual reality is all about creating or recreating a simulated world in its entirety. In the last 3-5 years, Virtual Reality was mostly tied to the gaming experience. But we’re already seeing a mental shift in the business world with true leaders experimenting with different VR environments that have real life applications. Imagine watching a concert from the comfort of your couch which is being broadcasted live from Carnegie Hall while you’re in San Francisco. Or the ability to actually to visit an apartment you want to rent / buy without ever stepping foot in the building (just “see” it all through your VR headset). However, at least for now, the biggest downside for VR is the high barrier to entry, for instance, purchasing an oculus device.
But both AR and VR are still viable in terms of app creation?
Rohith Bhat: Absolutely. I think we’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to the possibilities of both of these versions of “reality,” so to speak. But what’s exciting is that we’ve seen hints of where it can go. One simple example: Last year, Stub Hub announced they are working on a virtual reality prototype that will allow buyers to “see” where they will be sitting in relation to the stage, before actually purchasing their seat.
But where things are getting very exciting is in the healthcare space. One doctor reportedly used an app called Sketchfab to create a virtual reality modeling of a patient’s heart before operating on her. Virtual reality is also used to cure patients of their phobias by exposing them, in a virtual and safe environment to what they are afraid of. Mindmaze has already developed and deployed various digital treatments for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
These are incredibly useful tools for consumers that provide real value, care treatment and entertainment. But most importantly they provide instant gratification and convenience while dissolving spacial differences.
Also, when it comes to AR, the best example to date is Pokémon Go. This game has really put AR on the map encouraging folks to think where AR can go in the future. Before Pokémon Go, AR was more of a niche market that was most applicable to smaller industries such as educational mobile app games. But after Pokémon Go, and their $600 million in revenue in one year, business executives are eager to tap into this market while wowing their user base.
Can you explain why you think Pokemon go has redefined how businesses are thinking about VR?
Rohith Bhat: Well, certainly you have to look at how local businesses used Pokéstops to attract new customers. Brick-and-mortar businesses found that they could time their marketing campaigns based on how close they were to a Pokéstop, and that helped them generate awareness to consumers who otherwise would not have frequented their stores.
But more importantly, Pokémon Go was what I call the ultimate “proof of concept” which showed businesses how they could use AR technology to lure consumers with promotions that are fun and challenging in the same way as the game. The most exciting aspect of the Pokémon Go phenomenon was that it made AR so much more accessible to the public and gave business owners the first hint of what the technology could do to boost their sales.
What are some real world applications for Augmented Reality?
Rohith Bhat: The strength of AR lies in the fact that you’re not trying to create a new world, but you are in fact enhancing an existing world through the creation of images and sounds that can manipulate the natural environment. So one example I alluded to before of a real-world application is the real estate market. Let’s say you are interested in renting or buying a property, but you have compiled a big list, and you don’t have the inclination or the time to visit each property.
With the proper AR application, you would be able to “visit” some of these properties as if you were actually there, but you wouldn’t have to leave your home. You would experience it as if you were on a physical tour, and you could quickly make some decisions about which properties to put on your “to see” list in a short period of time.
And real estate augmented reality examples don’t stop here. Imagine looking at a real estate catalog, or walking by a real estate business which shows printouts of the available properties on their windows. You could pull up your app and face it towards the window. And an augmented reality real estate application could simply pick up the email address of the agent, the phone number or even locate a video of the house you’re interested in touring. All that by tapping into the camera function of a smartphone.
Or to combine the two use cases, in the future you can actually walk around a property you may be interested in buying simply by walking around with your phone in your house while actually seeing the rooms and layout of the house you want to buy or rent.
Augmented Reality could also transform how we search for information online…
What do you mean by that?
Rohith Bhat: Well we know that 95 percent of all information humans consume is visual. AR is about experience and consuming information in real time, which is really the next logical progression from something as pervasive as the Google search engine. AR removes the part of the current process of searching for information on Google, which is that you have to know what to search for…and then sort through information to find it.
So think of it this way: instead of seeing a flower you’re not familiar with and trying to go on Google to figure out what it is, with AR, you would see the flower, and technology would be able to tell you what it is. It’s Google Goggles – but smarter, better and more accurate. And Google just announced launching this product at their recent Google I/O conference last month. Meanwhile, Facebook is already working on augmented reality image filters inside Facebook’s camera feature.
This is not a far-fetched futuristic VR/AR hypothesis. It is already happening.
What does Artificial Intelligence mean for companies in 2017 and beyond?
Rohith Bhat: It means a new channel. It’s not just a technology; it’s a channel that executives should invest in to help better connect consumers, businesses and services. Everyone is talking about AR and VR, but people don’t know what to do with it. From a development standpoint, companies need to create innovation labs to start testing ideas. Ask yourself this question: How do you use AR to bring information to the people who consume your products?
In the immediate future, mobile apps as we know them will still exist. But there is going to be a massive shift that is going to take place due to increasing app saturation, and what I mean by that is that a lot of people are apprehensive about downloading more and more apps, especially with limited storage on their phones. So companies need to start moving away from thinking about traditional apps and more about omnichannel experiences. We really think Augmented Reality can become its own channel to attract and retain customers.
Can you talk a bit about the future outlook of AR-based apps?
The new phase of development is going to be “smarter systems,” such as Alexa and Siri, but better. Ten years from now, we won’t believe how rudimentary these systems were in hindsight, and in fact, changes are already on the horizon.
In 10 years, we should be able to quickly disseminate information without ever lifting a finger. In fact, Google recently filed a patent for a cyborg eye implant that can help fix vision problems such as being nearsighted, and also wirelessly send information to a mobile phone, tablet or laptop. That information could be relayed to an eye doctor’s office so that they could analyze the programming of the cyborg eye and upload any updates to account for changes in vision.
There are incredible and exciting things on the horizon, and we intend to develop our own applications as the opportunities present themselves.
How does Robosoft, an agency that primarily builds mobile apps, plan on staying relevant if your predictions here become a reality?
Robosoft may be primarily in the business of building apps today. But we’re also in the business of innovation. Twenty years ago, we saw a tremendous opportunity in the Macintosh world – so we started as a development center around Apple’s core product at the time. Today, there is still a great potential for companies to build powerful mobile apps that wow their customers. But we have already dipped our toes in technologies that are not 100% app related. We have clients we work with on deploying enterprise grade chatbots which, as we all know, are UI-less
My point is – and this applies to both Robosoft and every company in the world – you need to constantly adapt to new realities if you want to stay relevant and produce value for your customers.
There is a famous saying: “The only thing that doesn’t change, is change itself.” My advice to all business executives out there: don’t be afraid to experiment. When you run a business, it’s natural to take a conservative approach to new ideas. But great and disruptive innovation comes from experimentation. Don’t be afraid to fail. Some of the greatest lessons in life come out of failure. For the fearless, the bold and the dreamers out there, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality may be small today, but their future is exceptionally exciting. All this to say, if Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality or Artificial Intelligence were to completely change how customers and businesses interact with each other – Robosoft will be ready for that shift. You should be too!