April 20, 2010

Augmented reality is experimental at best and that’s a good thing.

Posted in Articles at 1:34 pm by siddey

Jeremiah Owyang called it, “at best experimental.” I see “it” as evolving faster than any mobile technology sector before. I’m referring, of course, to the mobile Augmented Reality (AR) market.  Owyang, the well regarded ex-Forrester social media industry analyst, now charting a course on his own experimental waters, must surely see similarities to the origins of social media. The tools, technologies and real world applications Jeremiah has written about over the years are arguably still very much experimental in their own right but that doesn’t mean real world, robust use cases cannot be identified.  It does, however, mean that currently there are numerous streams of innovation with the usual rush for world domination. Augmented reality is evolving at a relatively rapid pace. As with other online services, it’s still firmly all about you, I and the world around us, not brand names but the likes of 4square and Gowalla are clearly in the process of changing that with their local business centric model.

Experimental by definition implies something that is evolving based upon learning from past experience. Sounds like a similar story to a number of online and mobile industries that are currently re-inventing themselves.

With the daily hype surrounding twitter, we all should be forgiven for overlooking that social media began life as a genre where people interacted with other people online without influence or oversight from commercial interests. So too, current augmented reality applications are focused on exploring, learning and having fun for individuals as they move towards mainstream critical mass and the logical eventuality that large corporates will jump in to fund the next level of innovation.

In the meantime I’m happy just being able to view re-hashed web data in an AR view, thanks. It’s already adding value to my life with regular usage of apps such as Layar and Wikitude. I can find good watering holes on-the-go, take an ad-hoc history lesson and navigate my way around the city or suburbs.

As this recent article points out, AR’s next big challenge will be to establish a form of single source of data, rather than every company creating and often re-creating location based information in their own proprietary databases.

Sound familiar? Seems similar to the world of social media and the challenges of mobile social profile information but on an even shorter timescale. I’m personally hoping to see greater re-use of existing datasets in future, obviously with appropriate location and orientation content included, which hopefully will become an RDFa extension mandated by some form of standards body. The Open AR consortium may play a part, though I note that it’s homepage hasn’t been updated since January 2010.

More AR applications such as SREngine will soon add 2d scene recognition capabilities to AR applications. The pace of innovation is amazing but realistically all of this is simply a mobile version of what has been researched and applied for many years in the offline world and mobile devices are only now sporting enough processing power to deliver them on the road.

So before we see a raft of social media experts jumping on the AR bandwagon, let’s all plan to spend some time outdoors and enjoy the iphone and Android AR apps we have.

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