Augmented Reality: Are we there yet?

From my trawling on the net this week, trying to kick my head back into the reality of January drizzle, the many predictions and speculations of what 2012 could bring seemed, even for a normal January, to be particularly excitable. Aside from the fact we are all heading towards the next apocalypse, the past year’s rash of start-ups and technology buzz seem to have the whole industry in a tizzy.

Augmented Reality was one subject that kept cropping up again and again. Moving Brands have been talking about and playing with AR for quite a while, the capabilities for story telling and engagement have always been intriguing. However up until very recently, the technology has rarely ventured outside the role of a gimmick.

According to Mashable and Innovation excellence, 2012 could be the year that this all changes. The cynic in me says that the year was also 2011, 2010 and even 2009. However, with the leaps ahead in digital technology in the last 3 years, what the average digital consumer now carries round in their pocket has more than caught up with AR capabilities; potentially lending weight to these new claims.

ARE, the augmented reality event  (once host to MB’s Camilla) released details for its 2012 offering over Christmas. Their key topic areas are telling of how AR stands in today’s digital landscape and where those instrumental in getting it to this point, want it to go; ‘The augmented reality market today and in the future’ and ‘How to leverage augmented reality to advance your brand’ seem particularly potent topics.

Leveraging of AR is key here, for as we have seen time and again, without a practical and social purpose, technology will never become more than a bit of fun.

Lynx, Disney and Lego have all put forward examples of such fun that can be had, particularly with a younger audience. The next generation of interactive play is prevalent; a delightful use of technology yes, but one that could be easily be supplanted by future innovations.

To examine how AR could ever make it mainstream, it is critical to look to other, recent examples of practical applications of technology. It has been these past 24 months that brands have started using social media successfully and with purpose; to build relationships with consumers, rather than the odd ‘socially aware’ campaign. It is here that the medium came into it’s own, outside that of friends connecting with friends.

There is no reason these same principles could not be implanted for use of AR.

Predictions made last year by Keven Bonsor and Andrew Girdwood identify the possible pitfalls ahead. To become a truly worthwhile and immersive experience, pioneers have to consider whether the limitations of wifi hotspots, a generation who just wont wait for a download and even the issue of compact portable screens, could stall the wider usage of AR indefinitely

However, there seems to be hope. Hidden Creative released a far more practical vision of the future over a year ago and continue to put forward every day solutions. Existing applications like Layar and new contenders such as Aurasma are finally looking to the achievable. It’s no dancing with Micky Mouse I admit, but this does, finally, give the impression that designers are beginning to look past the gimmick with applications that could be put to real use.

Whether we begin to point our iphones to the sky for a weather forecast this year, or if we’ll even want to, is yet to be seen. But starting to use the new capabilities already in existence for change, now that is exciting.


are2012 is to be held on May 8-9 at The Santa Clara Convention Center