I had the delight of attending at this year’s Augmented Reality Summit yesterday, presenting on the findings of our latest AR research and getting the latest insights from a good mix of technical and commercial experts. In general, I’d say that AR is coming of age in the sense that in get-togethers like this you’re starting to hear more commentary and opinions about what sorts of use cases actually make sense in real life. In the industry briefings and discussions I had, for instance, some two years ago, the focus was more about the technical enablement and the applications themselves weren’t really a concern. Being cool and new was enough.
Granted, there’s still quite a lot of AR stuff done where the only value is novelty value, but that’s also because it is attracting so many new developers who (or whose clients) are simply testing the waters and figuring out what might work. At the same time, you can however see many applications being built because the actual idea behind them is just compelling. Some of the winners of the event’s adjacent award ceremony serve as good examples:
- Fuzzy Logic was picked for the Best Developer award, for its portfolio of several extensive mobile games that leverage AR. Note that these are standalone games and not just titles commissioned by brands for marketing campaigns.
- Zappar’s Easter bunny “retail-tainment” campaign with ASDA was selected as the best practical case study, not least because of the metrics it achieved. In one day across 300 stores, the AR-powered bunny hunt got 15,000 customers engaged with a total of 32,000 interactions, with each interaction lasting 90 seconds.
- Apache Solutions, whose Become Iron Man project for Disney was awarded as the most innovative use of AR. I didn’t get to try it once it ran in the UK, but it does look like a pretty engaging use of Augmented (and Virtual) Reality, based on Kinect’s gesture recognition tech.
So on the level of use cases there’s definitely a shift going on from fizzy aperitifs to something more savoury. It may not be long before “AR apps” aren’t discussed any more than “touchscreen apps” or “voice calls”. AR is a very horizontal concept, which can be used in a countless number of ways, so it shouldn’t take that long until the term itself starts fading to the conceptual background.
Finally, smart eyewear – not terribly surprisingly, thanks to Google Glass – was obviously the hottest of yesterday’s events more future-oriented topics. On that front, there was a wide consensus that it’s a product segment that will diffuse through the enterprise space, where it's already seeing traction with players like Vuzix. Logistics, engineering, and healthcare are all areas where the benefits of receiving hands-free, HUD-viewed notifications and information has tangible productivity benefits. In the consumer sector, the same technical inhibitors that we pointed out last year still apply, and besides them there are also serious security and privacy concerns to address.
I, for one, have also become quite vehemently convinced that the issues of information overload and inattentional blindess (both of which are very laudably summed up e.g. in this article) is so fundamental that it’ll take major advances in areas like sensor fusion, contextual awareness, and machine learning before the smart eyewear is a viable proposition in the wild, outside of contained enterprise environments. We’re talking about a user interface that is so intimate, so (concretely) in-your-face that, when unfiltered, it has the potential to get the users fed up with up in record time. That’s why it won’t be a good fit for many environments. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone – for we still send messages when we could have a voice call, and have a voice call when we could have a video call. (And I acknowledge that it hereby took me two paragraphs to contradict my earlier point about the “voice calls”. Happy now?)