Pure Hype or Next Big Thing?

Graphical representation of technologies involved in AR as per GeoVector

Howard Wen writes in Computerworld about the evolution of augmented reality to date and whether the reality will be as big as the hype predicts.

While AR appears to be more useful than virtual worlds (and therefore more likely to succeed), it remains to be seen how the technology will be developed and adopted in real-world use. In particular, those in the business world would like to know if, and when, their operations could somehow benefit from using AR.

This is critical for the success of AR.  Whilst everyone is excited by the possibilities of AR for social media and gaming, I think the real proof of the concept will be as businesses develop the technology to improve their operations.  We are some way from that stage in the evolution of the technology but there are promising signs.  Layar and Wikitude and others have opened up their platforms to allow businesses to present their own content.  AR is currently being used for marketing, navigation, and in vertical markets like real estate.  We’ve seen concepts for AR’s use in engineering and other applications, but usable systems have yet to emerge.

World Surfer, Wikitude World Browser and Yelp’s iPhone 3GS app are typical of today’s mobile AR apps. They let people use smartphones to search for information about nearby restaurants, businesses and landmarks. Users can contribute comments and reviews about such places, and those reviews will be available to others, who you can access them by clicking on links that appear over the images captured on their smartphones.

I think these apps prove that the technology is definitely more than hype.

The potential market for AR products leans toward mobile devices, but, as mentioned above, current smartphones have technological limitations that curb their ability to support AR software. For one thing, their batteries don’t hold a charge long enough; any app that makes heavy use of graphics, GPS technology and networking components uses a lot of juice. But the biggest problem is that the GPS technology used in smartphones needs to be improved.

I would add that compass interference is also an issue for accuracy.

As for overcoming the stigma that it’s nothing more than marketing hype, AR might succeed where virtual worlds faltered because it’s grounded in real life. Becker muses that AR could become accepted as a natural extension of our perception of, and interaction with, everyday surroundings.

“Humans are driven to augment our reality, and to augment our own capabilities. From the earliest cave paintings to modern-day urban graffiti, we overlay our world with expressions of our inner selves,” he says. “Architecture, street signs, billboards, fashions — these are all visual and functional augmentations of the physical world.”

When people starting using augmented reality without even thinking about the fact that they are using the technology, I think we can then say it’s not hype.  Of course, by then, the question of whether AR is hype or not will be irrelevant.

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