Augmented reality (AR) apps for smartphones and tablets are changing the way we interact with the world around us…at least until our arms get tired. There’s no question that AR technology is one of the fastest growing niche technology markets, outpacing (at least in marketing hype) other enhanced optic advancements like 3D. But as with all niche technologies I have to ask, is it something that the average user will ever utilize on a regular basis, or is it just something cool to look at but soon to be forgotten?
That said, vendors at this year’s annual Augmented Reality Event conference in Santa Clara, CA will undoubtedly be trying to convince us all of the former, that soon augmented reality will be an integral part of our digital existence, hoping that in the very near future we’ll all think the only way to interact with the real world is to cover it all with an expansive digital overlay.
While I can certainly envision a future where AR certainly has a place—applications for education, medicine, and of course entertainment—the current challenges this burgeoning technology faces may in fact be its undoing, its dependence on external devices; leading me to hope, at least, that there will always be certain places where AR simply doesn’t belong.
Here’s how augmented reality applications and technologies currently work: Say, for example, that I’m at an art gallery that has created its own augmented reality app. As I furrow my brow in a vain attempt to understand the meaning behind some blobby figures lying next to a Van Gogh-esque blobby haystack all I have to do is look at the picture through my smartphone and the whole piece comes to life, with developers designing apps that do things from communicate useful information about the artwork to actually making it move and come alive.
But one example of the thousands of current applications for AR, it goes to show the sort of thing those developers, designers, and AR entrepreneurs are going for, the seamless integration of technology into our every day existence. Of course nothing is particularly seamless when you actually have to get your phone out of your pocket, load the app, wait for the app to recognize what you’re looking at and then provide you with the requisite AR experience—in that time I could have taken an entire art history course—but then again our devices are changing as well.
The hot topic at this year’s AR event is, of course, hands-free augmented reality devices, particularly Google’s Project Glass, the new AR eyewear from the search engine giant. But such wearable technology, as I’ve said in the past, comes with its own set of challenges, particularly that the vast majority of technology users have shown an aversion for wearing anything to experience such augmentation—consider that glasses have always been the key obstacle preventing mass adoption of 3D technology.
Of course the technological advancement beyond that could very well be some so9rt of integrated Cyberpunk-esque cybernetic eye, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
In the end, while I think there is a new frontier being discovered for augmented reality applications—consider being able to try on clothes or cars with AR GPS overlays and such—the true reality for this technology is that it doesn’t belong everywhere, meaning that hopefully in fifty years when we’re looking to reconnect with nature, we won’t need some sort of cybernetic AR eyepiece to do so.