In the balmy summer of 2016, the streets were flooded with men and women of all ages drifting in small groups glued to their phones. Crosswalks, parks and landmarks were especially crowded. Were people just hanging out? Enjoying some street photography? Not exactly; they were transfixed on their phones. Curious passers-by would look confused and shake their heads; after all, they didn’t grow up with Pokémon.
Pokemon Go – seemingly out of nowhere – exploded that summer and let anyone with a smartphone hunt, collect and battle over digital creatures in the real world. YouTube videos popped up with ‘Pokemon Go experts’ teachings ‘newbies’ how to master (or hack) the game. Suddenly, news stories were coming out about people that were so crazy about this game they were wandering into neighbouring yards and busy streets – and wreaking havoc in general. Finally, a game that was encouraging people get get outside (yes, you heard that right, Mom).
What is Augmented Reality?
AR allows your smartphone’s powerful processor to overlay important, useful or interesting information on top of the image produced by a digital camera. In combination with networks, it may even pull information from all over the web to assist the user in various activities.
In the Pokemon game, it overlaid the digital Pokemon characters on top of the real environment as seen through your phone’s camera — as though the characters were really there. Not a mind-blowing effect (not to mention that the AR Mode would famously run down the battery), but a cool technical feat at the time.
Pokemon Go was a huge hit. Over the coming months it expanded from country to country and maintained a devoted following for months after launch. The Pokemon Go fever was obviously a case of an excellent use of technology to breathe new life into a franchise.
As I write this, we’re mere days away from Apple’s 2018 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), and, if their invitation is anything to go by, AR is the new hotness. In addition to updates to ARKit (Apple AR tools for iOS Developers), Apple is rumored to be working on an actual AR headset in the next few years. Perhaps ‘headset’ isn’t the right word. ‘Glasses’ might be better. Similar to how they’re actively marketing a popular watch, Apple would also like to sell you prosumer/luxury glasses that provide you with information about your surroundings.
Let me repeat: this technology will allow you to look up when you’re walking around. That is a hell of a feature.
In interviews last year Tim Cook compared AR to VR (virtual reality): “There are clearly some cool niche things for VR but it’s not profound in my view. AR is profound.” Part of the excitement with AR is that it interacts with the real world rather than isolating us from it. VR has always been a dreamlike experience for video games because it envelops you in the virtual world. Cook went even further of his vocal support for AR, saying that he didn’t want people to spend more time on Apple devices. In other words, he wants people to enjoy their lives and live in the real world, and Apple devices should enhance that, not supplant it.
Who else is working on glasses? Unsurprisingly, Facebook (Oculus), Google (Glass), Snap (Spectacles) and Microsoft (Hololens) are all exploring ways to augment the world around you. There is a wave of AR development coming at us — its only a matter of time before the next Killer App is upon us. One (or a few) of these hardware makers will nail the design and price point and suddenly there will be a race to make more great AR-enabled apps.
So what could we do with an AR enabled app?
We all know Google Maps. This is a fairly straightforward application of AR. When we’re driving, we can already use AR for things like directions (whether that’s better than audio only instructions, we don’t know – whether we’ll still be controlling cars manually in 20 years is another question). In the future that could be built into the windshield or your glasses themselves.
Physicians are famously eager to try any technology that will help them save lives and AR can potentially have the (seemingly magical) ability to see someone’s body/skin/injury and identify irregularities.
Shopping is another obvious one. Amazon will continue to march towards world domination, but what if you’re browsing through one of the remaining retail outlets in 2020? A shirt or dress that you happen to like could easily be searched online for comparison shopping (yes, retailers are going to hate this kind of technology). Imagine seeing custom nutritional/dietary information on a cut of meat, straight from the source. Calorie counters could have a running tally of the food they’re eating that day and use AR to help them make decisions. This isn’t science fiction. This is just a few years away.
In sports, one of the most creative uses of AR, decision makers will see the pitch/field and get advice on the best course of action during the game. Is this cheating? Is it akin to performance enhancing drugs? Will the fans be using AR as well? Does that ruin the sport or make it better — all great questions with no clear answers.
Other cool applications include:
- Military/Police Training and Assistance
- Sightseeing and Tourism for instant information/history
- Languages and Instant on-sight Translation
- Natural 1st person Photography (see: Snap Spectacles)
- Fashion/Clothing pairing without changing rooms
- Makeup,Beauty and Haircuts (see before your buy plus recommendations)
- Buying Furniture for your Home (envisioning how it will look in 3D)
- Architecture/Construction (measurements/envisioning the building in the real world)
- Mechanics/Car Repair and Engineering in General (part numbers, pricing, and measurements while you work)
- Cooking/Recipes (something fun that everyone can try at home)
It’s fun to imagine where technology will take us. Perhaps this means that we won’t be carrying around smartphones anymore, and perhaps it won’t even matter – after all, chip miniaturization could mean that our smartphone is in our glasses. Smartwatches are already replicating most of what smartphones can do. This is another breakthrough technology, like the smartphone itself, that is merely limited by our imagination.
If you’re an optimist, as Tim Cook is, you see this as liberating technology that will allow people to enjoy the world more, rather than isolate themselves from it. If you too are inspired to discuss a new application for AR that could help a lot of people, please get in touch. We at Convergence are looking forward to hearing from you.
Michael is Design Lead at Convergence. From drawing to design to code, he loves the creative problem solving process.