Augmented Reality: Gimmick or interface of the future?

Imagine a world where the plants around you can tell you what they need. A world that guides you to its most magical places. A world that provides you with the right information, at the right time and place. Welcome to the future world of Augmented Reality.

Imagine a world where the plants around you can tell you what they need. A world that guides you to its most magical places. A world that provides you with the right information, at the right time and place. Welcome to the future world of Augmented Reality (AR).

While the above might sound far-off, current AR implementations already supersede famous sci-fi movie-scenes like augmented desktops (Minority Report) or information overlay (Terminator). AR is much more than swiping around documents. AR brings digital information beyond the screen, allowing new ways to interact with the persons and objects in your surroundings.

The current post gives insights about the application areas that already benefit from this emerging technology, highlights the valuable impact it will have on our daily lives and discusses the challenges that still have to be mastered before mainstream adoption.

Augmented Reality: State of the Art

Mobile devices revolutionized the way we seek and consume information. They allowed new ways of communication with friends and family and delivered new experiences and services. What mobile did for data retrieval and presentation, AR will do for data visualization and interaction. Hence, by merging the physical and digital worlds, AR enriches a user’s view of the real world with superimposed, digital information (See Oxford Dictionaries).

Today’s widespread use of AR technology ranges from furniture selection and placement (IKEA), to direct text translation (Google Translate), wine identification (Vivino), enhanced printing (Layar), augmented lenses (Snapchat) or gamification of fitness through augmented gameplay (Pokemon GO!).

In contrast to consumer-facing products, enterprises are mainly leveraging AR to reduce operational costs through new field services (SAP), support employees during their daily work by providing remote and self-support and simplifying existing processes, e.g., hands-free working through vision picking (Picavi). More powerful applications combine AR with other new technologies like, e.g., Industrial Internet of Things and Big Data Analytics.

 

Judging from these examples, one can see that AR is clearly already around the corner. While platforms like Blippar or Swiss-Based Vidinoti allow self-service tools to create AR content without coding skills, frameworks like Wikitude or Vuforia enable complex and project-specific AR experiences.

Swisscoms Mobile Apps and Augmented Reality Team is currently focusing on AR solutions that enable enterprise customers to use AR technologies for “smart assistance” and “smart commerce”.

Despite the diversity of available AR applications, one crucial part is still lagging behind: AR glasses. Their main problems remain battery life, resolution and depth perception. In Q3 of this year, we can expect the release of a new generation of AR glasses. What kind of AR experience they however will deliver remains to be seen. At Swisscom, we’ll soon have the chance to experience the highly anticipated Microsoft Hololens.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aThCr0PsyuA

The Verdict

Gartner’s annual “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” (Source: Gartner) states that AR is slowly approaching the “slope of enlightenment”, reaching the “plateau of productivity” within the next 5-10 years. Digi-Capital’s forecasts that AR and virtual reality will hit a $120 billion revenue market by 2020 (Source: Digi-Capital). In accordance with these, AR definitely seems to be more than a “Gimmick”. The recent investments of Google in the secretive start-up Magic Leap, Metaio’s acquisition by Apple, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus and Microsoft’s introduction of the Hololens reinforce this notion.

While AR definitely is much more than a “Gimmick” and will trigger a new era of interface design and experience, its full potential has yet to be explored.