A day doesn’t pass without a new augmented reality application for the iPhone 3GS making its tour of Twitter and the web. A recent example is the great London Tube app below. It’s utility can’t be denied. You simply hold up your phone wherever you are and the location, direction and distance to the nearest tube stop is displayed on the screen of your phone. It’s simplicity is wonderful. You can see a demonstration here.
Obviously this is the tip of the iceberg. To get a glimpse of the untapped potential of AR applications watch this new launch video for the Sekai Camera from Tonchidot in Tokyo. Here, the same geotagging technology is applied to malls, transit maps, shopping aisles, museums, restaurants and just about every facet of daily living. You can even save information at specific ‘airspots’ using your GPS location rather than keywords.
Yet the catch cry of the Japanese presentation, “Look Up”, is also a cause for concern. If you look at the impact of computers and video games on our children’s generation, its amazing to see how much time they already spend away from the real world and online. In fact, the presenters declare that the real world is “our new frontier” and this should give us pause. But let’s keep going…
The next video shows the the first beta version of TwittARound – an augmented reality Twitter viewer on the iPhone 3GS. It shows live tweets around your location on the horizon from total strangers. Thanks to the video see-through effect you see where the tweet comes from and even how far away it is.
Now let’s apply that same technology to the workplace. This video features TAT Augmented ID technology that lets you set your public profile that can then be viewed by colleagues through their iPhones. That information can include your business card, presentation or any personal data you wish to publicly share.
It’s amazing how it transforms the ‘oh so familiar’ conference room experience. Participants literally become the aggregates of information like they are inside their phones and online.
And when work is done, you can put away your business ‘game face’ and switch back to your ‘party animal’ persona. Here’s how it works…
The same technology can be used to identify an object using a recent Apple patent called ID App. It recognizes an object based on visuals (through the iPhone’s camera), a RFID reader or through GPS, and then fetches the data from related databases.
Similar technology from Layar is already being used in Amsterdam. Using GPS and the phone’s compass, the phone can guess what the user is seeing and then provides information about points of interest in the line of sight that are then overlaid on their camera screens.
As incredible and transformative as this already seems, the next stage of development that integrates this technology into eyewear is already underway.
Even Apple has been awarded a technical patent for an AR solution of their own, so you know its going to be a crowded marketplace very quickly. Here’s a demo of what you might see through the Vizux glasses (apologies for the sprightly piano music! All hail the Mute button.)
So here’s the rub. If you’re always looking through a camera, are you enhancing your deaily experience of life or compromising it?
Desktop computers were the first to take our attention from the real world and focus it on the screen on our desks. Laptops then had us tapping away in parks, on holidays and (horror of horrors) even at the beach. These augmented reality applications take things one step further by putting the screen or video lens through which you view life in the palm of your hand as you move about.
From desktops to laptops and now mobile phones, the online, screen-driven experience has overwhelmed our direct experience of the real world. And while the rationale is exhilarating to some, it’s rightly disconcerting to others. Here’s how Daniel Sanchez-Crespo, a project leader at the Barcelona firm, Novarama, put it: “The real world is too boring for many people. By making the real world a playground for the virtual world, we can make the real world much more interesting”.
Obviously one could argue that the virtual world is as much a “real” part of our daily experience as the virtual, but the focus here is our quality of life as human beings.
Social networking has already transformed our most intimate, emotionally-based relationships into their technological equivalents, enhancing a real life experience while also compromising direct experience. Augmented reality would expand that trade-off into the realms of shopping, traveling, going to a museum, eating out and who knows where very soon.
The most obvious forum for this technology is gaming. Here’s an image from Invizimals, and AR game that Sony is about to release on its PSP handheld devices for the holiday season.
Soon enough augmented reality, mobile technology and mobile ear and eyewear will converge allowing for real time language translation built into all our technology. Combine that with motion capture and 3-D optical recognition and, well, the future may look something like this:
How much will this change things? A lot when you consider that one out of every seven minutes of media consumption today now takes place on mobile devices (according to new research from IPG’s Universal McCann and AOL). What’s more, mobile usage expected to grow by 60 percent by 2011.
As for what the future of experience looks like, check out this video that gives us a plausible glimpse (the beginning and end are slow so skip to the middle):
We all have the capacity to control how much technology we allow into our lives, but business and peer pressure is very real. It’s almost as if your value as an employee is now a function of how much you are on top of the latest technology.
As for our children, they experience and absorb the latest technology as a given without the same perspective we have to make our own choice.
As the computer or phone screen continues to expand to fill our real world lives, crowding out direct experience more and more, the most valuable application of our time may well be to walk away from technology which, ironically, is where we started before the consumer technology revolution began.
So now I’m off to enjoy the last days before the Experience Revolution begins. I’m going to squeeze my kids, talk face to face with a friend and take a nice swim. ‘Technology-free’ living, there’s nothing like it.
Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.