My Thoughts on Augmented Reality: It’s for More Than Videogames

UPDATE TO ARTICLE: I just found a new article on IGN detailing augmented reality in Sony’s NGP, Sony NGP: Augmented Reality Done Right. It talks, very clearly, about the limitations of AR on the Nintendo 3DS and what Sony has learned from that, and how they’ve improved upon integrating augmented reality in their new handheld.

While killing time between facilitating sessions, I ventured over to the Playstation Blog. They have an older article there (read: April 2011) I just found that details the history of augmented reality in Sony gaming products: From EyeToy to NGP: PlayStation’s Augmented Reality Legacy.

One particular quote from the article really stood out to me: “There’s a popular misconception that augmented reality is just “kid’s stuff,” but with more than eight years of experience under our belt, we’ve found there’s a wide variety of compelling and cool AR experiences that everyone can enjoy.”

This statement left me wondering: How much of this misconception stems from a lack of understanding, and how much of it stems from hardware not supporting the technology? Thinking about it, I’d have to say that the latter fostered the former. Augmented reality was really made popular first on mobile devices, but until things like gyroscopes were included in phones, augmented reality was a bit sluggish and buggy. These recent advancements in mobile devices has led to augmented reality becoming quite a useful tool. For example, over the past two years several cities in France started incorporating augmented reality into tourism and transportation information related to their cities. In Denmark there were companies developing apps for smartphones that leveraged augmented reality for similar purposes. And in the US, you can use apps to learn more about well-known landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty.

Sadly, not many people know about how great augmented reality is–even those who think of themselves as ‘techy’ have limited awareness of augmented reality. Essentially, augmented reality allows people to receive an overlay of information on the screen of their device that is relevant to their current location. In many wayfinding apps, users receive information about nearby landmarks or restaurants they have previously indicated interest in finding. That is an extremely useful, and grown up, way of using augmented reality. However, in keeping with the perception that augmented reality is part of kids’ toys, the next major item to incorporate it that got a fair amount of attention is the Nintendo 3DS.  As the proud owner of an aqua 3DS, I can tell you it’s pretty nifty. I think that,  given the purpose of the device and the hardware limitations, Nintendo did a fine job working in 3D and augmented reality as major features. But, the augmented reality feature is limited to built-in games (‘face raiders’), and AR cards that users can place on a flat surface to play minigames and boss battles with really angry dragons. And–as an added bonus–one man even tatooed an AR card on his arm and can get images to pop out of it using his 3DS. So there’s a little bit of added mileage onto augmented reality there. That being said, augmented reality is not the feature that is most-talked about by consumers or that is being played up by Nintendo–they’re all talking about the 3D image capability.

I would certainly like to see more awareness of apps like ‘AR USA’ by presslite, even though I know that walking around and using your phone as a viewfinder is a good way of slamming into things or getting robbed. (Read: People won’t do it.) But I think a very nice use of it would be in the form of in-store shopping assistants that direct you to sales by department or brand. Some retailers out there are already developing things like this, and having done research on different consumer segments, I think it would definitely appeal to the younger, more wired crowd as well as men (in general). Younger consumers have always been a group willing to try out the newest nifty tech feature offered by businesses, and men (who tend to be harder to entice to shop in stores) might find such apps can take the boring out of a shopping session.

These are all just part of my $0.02. Next I’ll likely be wondering about applying augmented reality to things like finding in-game secrets (L.A. Noire with augmented reality to guide you to clues? Meh.), or use in large financial institutions for quick updates on trends.