Seeing the whole picture

Seeing the whole picture

Colin Strong
Colin Strong

3D on the mobile phone with Colin Strong, managing director of GfK Business and Technology.

When I was a child I was desperate for a ‘Viewmaster’, a toy that allowed you to slot in a themed cardboard disc into what looked like a large pair of binoculars and then gaze for hours at pictures of cartoons and countryside scenes. I never managed to acquire one but technology has moved on since then with James Cameron’s Avatar proving to be a watershed for 3D entertainment.

3D success

In fact, in a recent GfK survey we found that nearly a third (33%) of the UK online population had watched a 3D movie in the last 12 months. This is not limited to cinemas, with a significant minority of 16-24 year olds also having watched a 3D sporting event in a pub (7%) or played a 3D video game (8%).

It is undeniable that the success of 3D movies has paved the way for TV manufacturers with two in five UK adults expressing an interest in buying a 3D TV. But what is the opportunity for mobile device manufacturers?


There is certainly a lot of market activity in anticipation of consumer demand. One of the highest profile developments has been the unveiling by Sharp of a 3D mobile phone display that does not require the viewer to wear special glasses. This is a big move forward in terms of consumer acceptance as our research showed that glasses are the single largest barrier to take-up of 3D entertainment.

And a trawl of the web quickly finds evidence of all mobile handset manufacturers announcing plans, showing prototypes or lodging patents for 3D technology. Outside of mobile phones, the much-touted Nintendo 3DS will offer 3D gaming as the successor in this hugely popular console range.


Exciting opportunities

All of these developments suggest companies are excited about the opportunity that 3D represents; however will the consumer enthusiasm we have seen actually migrate to mobile phone devices?

We quizzed consumers about their interest in using applications on their mobile phone in 3D. We found that 12% of mobile phone users were interested in 3D photos and 8% were interested in gaming. When we analysed the data further we found this increased to 19% and 13% respectively among those who currently use multimedia applications on their mobile phone. Plus, a further 16% were interested in using it for other applications, for example sports highlights and music videos. 

A key question is what applications will drive the market, at least in the short term?  Gaming is the most likely candidate, not only because most games are already set up in 3D and, therefore, easier to adapt but also because this is exactly the type of innovation that gamers, who are typically early adopters, will lap up. 

3D on mobile could also be a great sales medium, particularly when integrated with augmented reality (AR). 

A new iPhone app called ‘Furnish your room’ is a good example of AR, although of course the screen is not currently 3D.  The app allows people to use their phone to take a picture, say of their room, and layers on top a 3D visualisation technology to give the user a simple but useful ‘augmented reality’ experience.


Potential boon

As well as gaming and AR, the opportunity to enhance user generated content could also be a potential boon. More than a quarter of consumers we surveyed expressed interest in creating their own 3D photos on their mobile phones, indicating there is a definite opportunity for mobile manufacturers. Whether or not this materialises is really open to debate; remember the speculation over the way in which MMS would transform picture postcards?

Right now it’s a difficult call as to whether 3D on mobile will really drive the market.  On the plus side, in the same way that colour screens changed consumer expectations and became the default standard even for consumers not using multimedia applications, there may be a similarly unstoppable momentum behind 3D. Adding to the argument in favour is fact that users don’t have to wear glasses and the apparent low hanging opportunity that the gaming market represents.

A key stumbling block could be the hype not really living up to the execution; a place the mobile industry is no stranger to of course. This could be driven by handsets not really delivering a great 3D experience, or a shortage of content which pushes this into a niche activity with insufficient impact on the majority of activities for consumers to consider it a worthwhile investment. 

At this stage the UK market at least seems well disposed, so the ball is now in the handset manufacturers’ court.

The GfK Group offers the fundamental knowledge that industry, retailers, services companies and the media need to make market decisions.

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