by Bill French on 15/06/10 at 5:00 am
Before my trip, I wondered, what would a business person do with an augmented reality (AR) app? To be perfectly candid, I knew little about about AR, had never taken a second look at any AR app, and like many, I viewed this segment as having one foot in the entertainment camp and another in the “soon to be in my shelfware” category. I decided to give it a try in a town that I know well. Vegas has this innate ability to add a 7500 room resort hotel in the blink of an eye, so I knew this might be an interesting exploration.
I'm here covering two conferences, InfoComm and Licensing International Expo. The licensing expo was at Mandalay Bay Hotel and while not staying there, I was attending meetings in the hotels between Flamingo Boulevard and Mandalay Road. Mostly on foot, this provided the perfect opportunity to stress test Vegas Reality. My only regret is I didn't have a second camera to take pictures of my iPhone in the wild while viewing the actual hotels and locations in the AR app. Holding the iPhone upright provides visual queues about the hotels and businesses in or near the frame. Holding it flat provides a birds-eye view of your current location and a viewing area you are looking at with pinned locations that you can inspect.
My first conclusion from this experience…
Augmented reality is most definitely for business.
My play time with Vegas Reality was an AR eye-opener for me. It helped me understand what many people have come to believe is a bright future with enormous opportunities blending information with physical associations. AR is the epitome of a “real world” application. It's the dawn of a new breed of heads-up displays that are likely to reshape how we find and consume products and services online.
While Vegas Reality and other travel-related AR apps are obvious use cases, what isn't so obvious are the innovation possibilities that lay ahead. Imagine pointing your iPhone at Delicate Arch and being presented with details about the forces of nature that conspired to create this natural wonder. Animations overlaid on top of actual real-time views with interleaved UI components will provide incredible educational experiences. Imagine pointing your mobile device at a constellation in the sky and seeing in-depth data and enhanced imagery that reveals insights that are near-impossible to achieve with any other approach. Incidentally, this capability exists today in Star Walk.
Travel, education, and natural sciences are each interesting and obvious uses for AR applications. However, I think we'll soon see some killer applications in business and consumer services. Imagine pointing your iPhone at a food product and receiving instant feedback concerning the product's content, quality, and how compatible it may be in context with your Nutrisystem diet or other known medical conditions. What if a new kind of search system led you, step-by-step and turn-by-turn to the actual item you are looking for in a library. A clever AR app could lead you right to the book, and guide you to a specific chapter or page in the book as well as related books and other reference material that is relevant to your query. Now take this conceptual model to the warehouse, to a manufacturing shop floor, or even to the customer’s home. Service and repair technicians could get a significant leg up on productivity with augmented reality apps that serve up data on machines, appliances, and other equipment artifacts.
With new visual recognition technology and the high-res cameras and improved screen resolution in iPhone 4G, we’ll probably see even greater precision for augmented
reality applications in
late 2010. However, a key success factor in AR is the UI. With existing geo-centric web services and APIs, it’s relatively simple to build functional AR apps. Rendering data and information in concert with views and providing a helpful user experience is not as easy as it looks.
AR may lead to a world without building signage. Consider N-Building in Tokyo – an experiment that makes it possible to see what’s inside a building via a QR code which is part of the building facade. Now fast forward your thinking and imagine an X-ray like app that dissolves walls, revealing the stores and companies that want to be discoverable in a large building.
As a business that is considering generating content and services for your mobile customers, you now have one more thing to put on the development stack. In the near future, your customers will begin to expect AR solutions relevant to your business because your competitors are likely already working on them.