Aurasma.com was an augmented reality platform owned by Autonomy, a UK-based software company. Autonomy was later purchased by the New York Stock Exchange-listed Hewlett-Packard (HP) in a deal that led to a significant amount of controversy, with the buyer accusing the seller of misrepresenting facts and overcharging. The fallout from a lawsuit that followed would expose that HP’s executives knew that there were problems, even when they agreed to the deal.
Today, an attempt to find Aurasma.com delivers the message “www.aurasma.com’s server IP address could not be found.” What could have happened to a service that, at one time, said it helped “the world’s leading brands use augmented reality in mobile campaigns to drive real results?” We took some time to find out by following the history of the company and its controversies.
The History of Aurasma.com
Aurasma.com’s owner, Autonomy Corp Ltd, was a technology company founded in Cambridge in 1996. It listed its core business as the distribution of “infrastructure software for enterprises.” Specifically, this means that the company offered cloud computing, business process management, broadcasting monitoring, legal market, records management, social media analytics, multivariate testing, and other solutions.
Writing for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Leo Kelion reports that Autonomy gained momentum in 2011 when it launched Aurasma, an augmented reality technology that allowed mobile phones to embed graphics into real-world content. Aurasma.com was the official website for the technology.
In an article published in the Harvard Business School website, Onaizah Panhwar reports that Aurasma employed the latest technology, such as pattern recognition and advanced image, to improve the user experience with everyday products.
Panhwar reports that Aurasma quickly gained momentum among many firms. She says that a survey showed that emails’ response rate increase from 3% to 7% when companies use augmented reality. This made the technology appealing to different industries, including fashion, sports, education, and entertainment.
An analysis of Aurasma.com shows that the company targeted four groups of users. Marketers and agencies could use augmented reality to boost their mobile campaigns’ efficiency in areas that covered social engagement, merchandise sales, and landing page visits. Similar services were provided to agencies. Developers were encouraged to expand virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) markets. Finally, Aurasma targeted a broader user base, including students, educators, and others. The company’s AR could create interactive worlds for practical purposes and also for the sole purpose of having fun.
Aurasma engaged with numerous world-leading companies to provide interactive augmented reality services to customers. For instance, Office Depot (an American office supply retailing company) created a back-to-school campaign using Aurasma. This campaign is reported to have increased the company’s app usage by 300%. Aurasma’s collaboration with Tesco allowed customers to download recipes by hovering their mobile phones over the retailer’s ad.
Aurasma’s innovations received numerous accolades. The world’s first visual browser earned the title of DEMOgod, and won the People’s Choice Award after it demonstrated its 3D interactive technologies at a DEMO conference in Silicon Valley.
Reacting to the accolade, Aurasma’s Director of Sales, Matt Mills, is quoted in a press release saying, “Aurasma is about to change the way we see and interact with the world by merging the physical with the virtual world.”
The software won several other awards, including the CNET’s Best of CES awards in 2012, the AR Summit’s Best Overall AR Award in 2012, and the Best Delivery Platform for Mobile at the Mobile Excellence Awards in 2014.
HP Acquires Autonomy, Including Aurasma
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), commonly known as HP, acquired Autonomy and, subsequently, Aurasma in October 2011. The deal valued the company at $11.7 billion (£7.4 billion). Reuters, reporting about the lawsuit that ensued after the deal was signed, described the transaction as the “ill-fated Autonomy deal.”
The Drama Following the Deal
This acquisition of Autonomy by HP attracted public attention, with several commentators saying that it was overpriced. These are allegations that were given credence because HP would later write down the company value to $8.8 billion. According to Reuters, HP said that it had discovered “accounting improprieties, misrepresentations, and disclosure failures,” which it blamed on the Autonomy executives.
The case ended up in court where the Autonomy founder, Mike Lynch, placed the mess on HP’s doorstep. HP had gone to court asking the judges to rule that Lynch and Sushovan Hussain, his former finance officer, should pay more than $5 billion in damages. According to Reuters, in court, HP told the judges that Lynch had told “lie after lie.”
Reuters reports that in defending himself and his former finance officer, Lynch told the court that HP was suffering from a case of “buyer’s remorse.” He is reported to have argued that it would not have made sense for him to lie because he was a rich man who didn’t need to steal from anyone. He argued that it would be stupid for him to lie, considering that he would continue to lead the company after it was purchased.
Hussain was convicted and given a five-year prison sentence for his role in the debacle. Reuters’ August 2020 article says judgment for the $5 billion in damages case is pending. It’s also reported that Lynch submitted himself for arrest in February in the UK, where he was released on bail and could be extradited to the US to face criminal charges.
“A Homecoming of Sorts”
In a deal that the tech website Silicon Angle calls a “homecoming of sorts for Autonomy Corp. Plc.,” HP Autonomy decided to merge with Micro Focus, a UK Software and IT business. On September 1, 2017, HPE Chief Executive, Meg Whitman, announced the acquisition. The amount involved was $8.8 billion.
Regardless of these controversies, the Aurasma app continued to improve throughout the years, while appealing to a much larger customer base, especially with its third version.
Evidence of updates on the app continues throughout 2013. In 2015, it passes the 100,000 customers milestone. Finally, it was announced that HP Aurasma doubled its customer base in 2016 and improved its services.
What Then Happened to Aurasma.com?
An analysis of Aurasma’s website shows that its last update was in 2017. HP Aurasma was marketed as HP Reveal one year later.
In February 2020, HP made an official announcement that it had decided to discontinue HP Reveal: “We regret to inform you that after two years of helping people discover and share augmented reality experiences, we are shutting down the business and all of HP Reveal’s products.” The announcement continues, “HP is proud of the community that has been built around Reveal and have been inspired by its use across the world.”