In a world of Pokemon Go, the AR acronym has become very trendy, so it’s worth reminding ourselves that augmented reality is defined as “the interaction of superimposed graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a real-world environment that’s displayed in real time.”
If you clicked on the hyperlink, you would have noticed that this definition was from a piece written in 2009. I mention this only to reinforce how long it takes for some technologies to trend. Even when they become mainstream, avoiding the perception of gimmickry and maintaining a real-life application can be a challenge.
For example, it is reported that Pokemon Go has, as of August lost 15 million of its original users and engagement has dropped by 60% with remaining users. Now that loss is from a base of 45 million users and there are still fanatics that remain loyal. But this reinforces the challenge that AR apps have for keeping their fan base.
In business and government, there is a desire to add AR and VR technologies to product portfolios regardless of the industry. I must admit that I’ve been an offender in the media business, constantly asking my teams to develop something AR largely because of the FOMO I’ve written about in the past. “Just get me something to promote on the website!”
The challenge is that AR is not the reality we live in because it is by definition augmented. The process of coming up with an augmentation that has some long-term business or consumer utility is by no means easy. The most successful attempts have focused on layering geolocation data on top of camera feeds.
In researching this piece, I found a use case in the real estate market. Potential home buyers doing drive-bys could point their mobile cameras at a house and get the listing data and residential history. Most of these real estate AR apps were launched in 2009-2010, though, and I’ve had a very difficult time finding one that still exists.
The majority of the Top 10 lists for AR consistently note Google Goggles and Translate, Pokemon Go with a dozen look-alikes, and others related to star gazing, furniture placement and sightseeing overlays. But that’s really it.
Now I know my AR/VR fanatic friends and colleagues will complain that I simply haven’t looked hard enough to find business-related applications that can be used by someone other than an architect modeling an office space. But if after hours of digging for an app that could serve as an example I come up dry, I see one of two problems: Either there are very few such apps available, or the companies that produce them are absolutely horrible in search engine strategy.
What amazes me most is the lack of AR applications that have a serious social media element to them. Surely there is a social media cult walking trough city parks and backyards, tracking down Bulbasaurs or Butterfrees and sharing their Pokemon Go experiences. But there is little to be found beyond layering Zillow-esque data on a camera feed. Considering the huge numbers of APIs that could provide social insight, I’m wondering why there hasn’t been a serious attempt to integrate social media with AR.
One such product does seem to exist in the form of the do-it-yourself AR platform, Layar. The product enables business users to create their own AR experiences that largely center around bringing print content and advertising to life. This is not totally new as many of the auto companies, including VW and Audi, have used AR to let users “test drive” their vehicles on a magazine page, or to see what their customized car would look like in the driveway.
But the ability to point a camera at a person, place or thing to get social insight is still in its infancy — or, in some cases, past its prime, as the disappearance of Yelp Monocle, launched back in 2010, signals.
There is quite a bit of buzz and speculation of Snapchat moving deeper into AR with extensions of their infamous filters. But defining social augmented reality as sharing a picture of yourself transformed into a fire-breathing dragon only reinforces my point that AR still hinges, largely, on gimmickry and eye candy.
Have you seen any neat business uses of augmented reality that I’ve missed??