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At the 2018 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the smartphone industry's preeminent launch- and schmooze-fest, Apple and Google's Android were doing what they do best: competing with each other over incremental improvements. In this case, the two smartphone operating system giants were fighting over augmented reality.

Today, AR is mainly the province of smartphones and specialized devices like the Microsoft HoloLens. (In the near future, it could include projecting images onto tabletops, windshieldsanything with a flat-ish surface.) Apple and Android headset manufacturers like Samsung and HTC love AR because it's tech-intensive; customers with older phones need to buy newer, more expensive models if they want to download decent AR experiences from the app store. Platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat also like AR for a more obvious reason: Addictive AR translates into obsessive engagement. And both Google and Apple are courting advertisers, agencies and developers with tool kits to build AR products in the feverish hope that some form of AR advertising grabs a pop-culture moment like "Pokmon Go" did.

Getting to scale

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