Augmented Reality – breaking out of the fun zone.
We all remember the early days of mobile phone apps. Fun, weren’t they? Snake. Super Monkey Ball. Even WAP. Gimmicky, you might say. Then, they were taken seriously and a tidal wave of usefulness enveloped us all. As the big boys of commerce took interest, we all suddenly became connected.
Think of AR – Augmented Reality – as being at the same stage right now. People are exploring it, sampling the fun to be had and testing the water.The perfect example is Pokemon Go. Nobody can deny it’s great fun and there’s still masses of media attention surrounding the game.
But how does AR take advantage of that momentum and place itself at the centre of attention?
Already, Apple is breaking into the retail mainstream with its ARKit for developers. This has allowed IKEA to create an AR system that helps shoppers to ‘place’ a piece of furniture in a room. It goes something like this: point your phone at an empty space in your lounge, select a piece of furniture and see how it would look. Neat, huh?
IKEA’s AR system still errs on the side of gimmicky – watch the advert and you’ll see what I mean – but the potential is clearly there. Expand that to a new car, for example and you’ll be able to see how it looks on your driveway. Still gimmicky? How about you change the colour, add a side skirt or two, then lower the suspension. Phwoar.
But even then, there’s still a feeling that it’s not exactly essential to everyday life.
Hold it right there. Some applications allow a diner to point their phone at a foreign language menu, for example, and have it translated immediately. Now you’ve got my attention. This is where things get serious.
Imagine the safety benefits of a doctor being able to access a patient’s medical details on screen, simply by looking at them through a mobile phone camera lens? Or a driver finding details of the nearest fuel station, just by looking at the car’s windscreen?
These sort of applications, which aren’t too far away in terms of technology, open the door to the mainstream.
So how do we break through that barrier?
Google Glass was on the right track, but was perhaps a touch too ‘techy’ for the mass market. Technology stands still for no man, however, and eyewear is developing to make users look – y’know – normal.
Why stop at eyewear? How about contact lenses that allow people to use AR without eyewear? Some projects are even looking at the possibility of scanning the technology directly onto a user’s retina.
Going back to the good people at Cupertino, Apple’s launch of the new iPhone 8 (and yes, the iPhone X as well) this week has given AR another hefty shove. ARKit is the company’s big bet on bringing AR to mainstream consumers by placing it at the heart of the iPhone and iOS.
A string of lovely-looking demos at the launch showed how AR can be used in games – yes, that’s not exactly a everyday application – but also within sports. The iPhone can overlay player stats over a live basketball game. Again, another step towards the mainstream.
Of course, Google have been ploughing ahead with their own AR applications as well, but could Apple’s launch onto the beast that is iOS steal a march in the inevitable war of formats?
If you want a look at how Augmented Reality could – and probably will – develop, then take the example of Amazon’s Alexa technology. Just a year or so ago, it was firmly in the ‘gimmicky’ category, until people saw it’s potential in the home.
Now, as it becomes increasingly widespread, Alexa is hitting the mainstream and appearing in more and more sitting rooms. It’s part of the furniture.
As we’ve seen, Augmented Reality is now at the stage that Alexa was, just a short while ago.
The tidal wave of usefulness is just around the corner.