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Wonderscope's Apple AR app unfurls new trick: 'Spatial storytelling' with bunnies

Exclusive: The augmented-reality app releases an interactive tale where you antagonize a talking rabbit as a carnival unfolds around you through your phone.


Wonderscope wants to take you down a new rabbit hole. 

Wonderscope, an augmented reality app for Apple devices, has added a new story to its library of immersive, interactive digital miniplays. Called "Wonder's Land Ringmaster Wanted," the story makes the user a central character interacting with an exasperated white bunny known as Wonder. The app and the new story are free. 

The company said that in the coming year, it'll speed up how quickly it releases interactive stories in the app. That's partly thanks to the Storymaker platform that Within, Wonderscope's creator, is building. The goal is for outside creators to jump into AR animation without having to reinvent the wheel. 

Next year may also feature a story starring Blob, Wonderscope's emcee who guides you through the basics of how AR works. 

"We'll still negotiating Blob's contract," Chris Milk, the CEO of Within, said Wednesday. "He has a really powerful agent."

Wonderscope is one of the first companies to tackle storytelling in AR, the buzzy technology that overlays digital images on top of the real world around you. Best known via products like Snapchat filters and Pokemon Go, the format is more than silly face filters and hopping Squirtles. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said AR has the potential to be as important as the iPhone.

To get a sense of Wonderscope, imagine if Snapchat filters or Pokemon Go went to work at Pixar after graduating from Juilliard. It's experimenting with what Milk calls "spatial storytelling," or tales that unfold like a miniature, interactive plays on the floor or table in front of you. Speaking your lines in the script unlocks the action, and the characters look you in the eyes and talk back.  

Wonderscope has frequently ranked as a top 10 iPhone download for US kids ages 6 to 8 -- the age demographic it's shooting for -- since it launched in mid-November, according to data from App Annie.


Wonderscope's augmented-reality storytelling creates the illusion that the tale exists in the world around you. 


Support from Apple helped. Apple invited it to become an early partner of its ARKit program that enables developers to make augmented reality apps for iPhones and iPads. Within debuted an early version of Wonderscope, using a retelling of Goldilocks, at WWDC last year. 

Though the app was designed for kids around the age 7, the company said one of the recurring comments Within gets is that the app appeals as much to adults as it does to grade-schoolers. 

"It's not just for kids," said Samantha Storr, Within's executive producer of original content. "We made this content for kids, but we're getting a lot of comments from people who say 'I'm not a kid and I love it.'"

Milk also noted that the app has been popular for younger children who can't read and their parents, who read the app's scripted lines aloud on their kids' behalf. In that way, Wonderscope is like an evolution on classic storytime where a kid sits on a parent's lap and absorbs the visuals of a story while the adult reads aloud, he said. 

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