Why Saudi Arabia has a head start in augmented-reality tech

An employee of Chinese tech giant JD.com shows an augmented reality system that allows customers to virtually try on clothing at shops. (AFP/File Photo)
An employee of Chinese tech giant JD.com shows an augmented reality system that allows customers to virtually try on clothing at shops. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 18 November 2021

Why Saudi Arabia has a head start in augmented-reality tech

An employee of Chinese tech giant JD.com shows an augmented reality system that allows customers to virtually try on clothing at shops. (AFP/File Photo)
  • To mark Saudi National Day, Snapchat allowed users to explore six of the Kingdom’s hidden cultural gems through AR
  • Smartphone ownership per head is extremely high in Saudi Arabia, making it an ideal place to adopt and market AR

DUBAI: An augmented reality tool that allows users to “visit” many of Saudi Arabia’s historical wonders through their smartphones has been developed by the American camera and social media company Snap — best known for its popular app Snapchat.

Unlike virtual reality (VR), which requires specialist equipment such as sensors, headsets and gloves to provide an immersive experience, augmented reality (AR) requires only a smartphone for users to enhance their physical world with computer-generated inputs.

With almost 90 percent of Snapchat’s daily users in Saudi Arabia already interacting with the company’s AR lenses on average more than 30 times per day, according to the firm’s own data, the AR phenomenon looks set to make a big impact across multiple sectors.

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

“A picture or a video allows you to communicate infinitely more than a word, a simple text or a simple image allows, and that was the idea that led to the understanding that there is more power behind that image and behind an experience that is anchored throughout the camera.”

Snapchat has proven 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, the company says.

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

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




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

“You didn’t have to look at the site through a video — you were actually there at the site, taking pictures of yourself, celebrating Saudi Arabia,” Alhammadi said.

Users were amazed by the experience. “I was randomly going through Snapchat on National Day and saw the AR option,” Saif Abdulrahman, 25, from Riyadh, said.

“It was nice to see how different places were shown. You felt transported to the place itself, and I feel this will help people abroad to see what Saudi Arabia is about.”

These Saudi cultural sites had been entirely reconstructed in digital 3D, allowing users to explore them almost as though they were physically at the location.

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

The company says the immersive tool does far greater justice to the beauty of Saudi Arabia’s historical sites than a mere photo or video clip does. “It allows people to actually sense and feel the experience of being on the site,” he said.

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

READ MORE

Snapchat collaborated with Saudi Arabia’s 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 very strong 5G network make young Saudis the very definition of “digital natives,” says Alhammadi.

Beyond its applications in the tourism industry, AR is also offering potential investors a glimpse of the future, overlaying visual inputs of planned developments and mega-projects such as NEOM — developments aimed at transforming the Saudi economy.

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

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

AR USE BY SAUDI SNAPCHAT BUFFS

* 92% - Communication. 

* 82% - Gaming. 

* 79% - Media & entertainment. 

* 73% - Shopping. 

(Source: Global Deloitte Digital Study, 2021)

According to the company’s own research, 66 percent of Snapchatters say the platform will likely play a bigger role in their shopping habits in the next five years.

Deloitte, the consultancy firm, says AR adoption rate in the Kingdom is in keeping with the mobile usage boom, with almost all of Saudi Arabia’s “millennials” (born between 1981 and 1996) and “zoomers” (born in the late 1990s and early 2000s) expected to be frequent AR users by 2025.

Although many still view the tech as a mere “toy,” the firm says 81 percent of people polled expect and want to use it as a practical tool in their everyday lives.

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

AR’s potential 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 is also offering potential investors a glimpse of the future, overlaying visual inputs of planned developments and mega-projects such as NEOM. (Supplied)

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

It is not just fashion retailers who are jumping on the AR bandwagon. IKEA uses the same technology to allow shoppers to picture furnishings in their homes before they buy them.

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

“This is the interesting part about it — when we open it up to the overall community, whether it’s creators, businesses, 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 objectives and key performance indicators,” Alhammadi said.

Other popular apps, such as Star Walk and Pokemon Go, have long been superimposing data, images, animations and information over live images, allowing their users to explore distant constellations or roam the streets searching for virtual monsters.

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

The technology is growing at a rapid pace too. “Different sources report global AR market growth numbers that range between 40 to 80 percent (annually) in the next five years,” Mina Litvinova, managing director of AR MORE, said.




This picture shows a view of the new purpose-built Maraya (Arabic for “Mirror”) concert hall in the ruins of Al-Ula. (AFP/File Photo)

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

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

“The main thing to understand about AR is that it transformed our smartphone cameras 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 AR and VR market is set 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 world leader of next generation media tech innovation.

Snapchat’s own “Future of Shopping” report, published in July, predicts that in under five years the world will see a 57 percent increase in the proportion of Gen Z shoppers using AR before buying a product — growing from 23 percent in 2021 to 36 percent in 2025.

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE are predicted to be the leading markets when it comes to the percentage of consumers who will have used AR before buying a product online,” Litvinova said.

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

“Our region is ideal for brands to consider as their pilot market for AR-driven campaigns that can be then taken globally.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy

Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy
Updated 44 min 37 sec ago

Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy

Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of Kabul embassy
  • The decision stems from the Kingdom’s keenness to provide all consular services to the Afghan people

RIYADH:  Saudi Arabia reopened the consular section of its embassy in Kabul on Tuesday.

The decision stems from the Kingdom’s keenness to provide all consular services to the Afghan people, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Kingdom has previously called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to urgently convene an extraordinary ministerial meeting to discuss the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and pathways for a humanitarian response.

Pakistan has offered to host this meeting in Islamabad on Dec. 17.


In Jeddah, Italian gastronomic delights whet the Saudi appetite

‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
Updated 30 November 2021

In Jeddah, Italian gastronomic delights whet the Saudi appetite

‘It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before. (Supplied)
  • World Week of Italian Cuisine in Saudi Arabia concludes with feast in Jeddah

JEDDAH: The celebrations in Saudi Arabia for the sixth annual World Week of Italian Cuisine concluded with a showcase of Italian gastronomic delights, accompanied by authentic Italian music, at the country’s consulate general in Jeddah.
A number of Italian food brands, restaurants and catering companies took part in the event on Sunday, which celebrated Italian culinary arts by serving up traditional dishes to representatives of the Italian and Saudi communities.
“It’s great to learn about Italian cuisine, drinks and desserts that we did not know about before,” said Abdulrahman Rammal, one of the Saudi guests. “Our previous knowledge of Italian food was limited to certain meals, such as pizza and pasta, but the Italian Cuisine Week created more-knowledgeable awareness of the world of food.”
He said that a number of Italian sweets companies also presented their latest products, and added that such cultural events encourage Saudis to learn more about other nations and their peoples.
Stefano Stucci, the consul general of Italy in Jeddah, told Arab News: “The event is a worldwide initiative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, with the support of Italian embassies and consulates around the world, aimed at promoting the quality and heritage of Italian cuisine, as distinctive signs of our identity and culture.”
The consulate general in Jeddah said it organizes, with selected partners, a number of events designed to promote Italian cuisine culture, and the uniqueness and diversity of authentic Italian ingredients and products.

Food exports play a vital role in the Italian economy. With an annual turnover of more than $163.4 billion, they represent the second-highest-ranking Italian manufacturing sector and account for 8 percent of national gross domestic product, according to Federalimentare, which protects and promotes the Italian food and beverage industry.


Saudi foreign minister meets Mexican officials

Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle in Mexico City. (SPA)
Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle in Mexico City. (SPA)
Updated 30 November 2021

Saudi foreign minister meets Mexican officials

Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle in Mexico City. (SPA)
  • They discussed enhancing investment opportunities in a number of sectors as well as bilateral efforts in stabilizing energy markets

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with a number of Mexican officials as he visited the country.
He met his counterpart Marcelo Ebrard in Mexico City on Monday.
The pair discussed coordinating efforts to serve the interest of their nations.
They also praised Saudi Arabia and Mexico’s efforts on international security and stopping the spread of weapons that threaten the people across the globe.
Prince Faisal also met Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle.
They discussed enhancing investment opportunities in a number of sectors as well as bilateral efforts in stabilizing energy markets.
Prince Faisal also had meetings with the President of Mexican Council on Foreign Affairs Sergio M. Alcocer and the President of the Mexican Senate Olga Sánchez Cordero.
Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat, on a tour of Latin America, arrived in Brazil on Thursday to meet officials in Brasilia then opened the Kingdom’s new embassy building in the country on Friday.


Riyadh Season: Groves offers relaxing spa, shopping, entertainment, culinary experience

The zone contains several open spaces including an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can discover its various activities. (AN photos by Saleh Al-Ghanim)
The zone contains several open spaces including an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can discover its various activities. (AN photos by Saleh Al-Ghanim)
Updated 30 November 2021

Riyadh Season: Groves offers relaxing spa, shopping, entertainment, culinary experience

The zone contains several open spaces including an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can discover its various activities. (AN photos by Saleh Al-Ghanim)
  • This place is ‘all about nature, relaxation, and quietness, so each zone has its flavor’

RIYADH: One of Riyadh Season’s 14 zones, the Groves, has opened its doors for visitors to experience its spa, restaurants, shops, and shows.

The Groves has combined work and relaxation through an area called The House, which consists of business meeting rooms in a luxurious environment.
Siham Hassanain, general manager of the Groves, told Arab News that the zone was a garden that reflected its name, meaning field of trees.
She said: “Visitors can hear the sound of fountains, water, and birds ... the place also has a special scent. The logo of the Groves contains the four elements of life which are water, air, fire, and earth.
“So, I used these four elements of life in the Groves. The water resembles the relaxation of the place, fire means action and attractions, earth means food, and air means memories.”
The zone contains several open spaces including Al-Jalsa, an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can view the site and discover its various activities.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Groves has combined work and relaxation through an area called The House, which consists of business meeting rooms in a luxurious environment.

• People can enjoy a number of attractions while at the Groves, including birds of Eden, an afternoon high tea experience where a selection of the finest teas are served in an aviary filled with classical live music.

People can enjoy a number of attractions while at the Groves, including birds of Eden, an afternoon high tea experience where a selection of the finest teas are served in an aviary filled with classical live music. Other restaurants such as GEM.IN.I and El Lechazo offer a range culinary delights.
Followers of fashion can buy from local designers showcasing their latest collections, and dog owners and their pets can meet in Riyadh’s first-ever canine park, Lucaland.

Dog owners and their pets can meet in Riyadh’s first- ever canine park, Lucaland.

Hassanain, founder of Siham International Trading Co., a Saudi firm operating in the hospitality, food, and beverage industry, noted that the Groves was located in the city’s Diplomatic Quarter with commanding views of Wadi Hanifah.
“Nature and trees are all around. Wadi Hanifah offers a unique experience ... a place to relax.
“Each zone in Riyadh Season has its own unique experience. If you want a vibrant area, go to Boulevard Riyadh City. Visit Al-Murabaa to try international restaurants. If you are looking for an Arabian night experience in the desert, Riyadh Oasis is the place.
“But the Groves is all about nature, relaxation, and quietness, so each zone has its flavor,” she added.


Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books

Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books. (SPA)
Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books. (SPA)
Updated 30 November 2021

Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books

Madinah Library offers visitors 180,000 books. (SPA)
  • The library houses around 180,000 books and 71 classifications, most of which are books on the prophetic biography with 86 titles, and other specialist administrations and departments

MADINAH: The Prophet’s Mosque Library in Madinah is seeking to enrich visitor knowledge through its 180,000 books.

The library, which is affiliated with the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, is considered one of the most important places that visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque are keen to visit.

It aims to offer people the opportunity to acquire skills and expertise, as well as enrich their knowledge, through its diverse range of books in more than 21 languages.

The library houses around 180,000 books and 71 classifications, most of which are books on the prophetic biography with 86 titles, and other specialist administrations and departments.

It also includes a smart digital library offering computers with e-books.

Authorities have allocated a location for the library on the northwestern roof of the second expansion of the mosque.