2010 Augmented Reality Predictions
For the 100th blog post I was hoping it would be a chance to reflect on 6 months of blogging on augmented reality. Rouli over at ARTimes has been running a series recently on predictions in the augmented reality industry for 2010 and was kind enough to ask me my thoughts. Since my predictions were published yesterday it seems like a good time talk about them in detail.
3D browsers will be a fad (Junaio/Layar 3D)
Before I made this prediction Junaio hadn’t announced they were launching an open API and there was no real info on Layar 3D. To some extent I still agree with my prediction. Junaio is engaging and the guys at Metaio are constantly adding new models to keep users coming back for more, but there will come a point where it’s no longer interesting adding 3D images to your pictures and won’t matter what new models are added. Layar 3D while new will have similar problem, adding 3D content to the real world is fun and interesting for a while but after you worked your way through the various models you’ll begin to look deeper.
My point with 3D browsers being a fad is these products will need to grow into something more than they are today. Offering developers an API to build content is definitely a step in the right direction as developers will dream up scenarios that you’d never have imagined. One of the 3D layers that I think is quietly pushing the envelope with what Layar 3D can do is the Beatles layer. Rather than just being a POI resource with 3D content the Beatles layer allows you to interact with the Beatles by taking you on a virtual Beatles tour of London and giving your photo opportunities. It’s much more compelling than just point the camera for location aware data.
The key here will be what developers are able to do with the API and what they build.
Augmented GPS will arrive (eg TomTom’s with cameras)
Mobilizy the guys behind Wikitude showed a preview of their augmented reality Wikitude Drive product earlier in the year. Rather than a 3D map you see the real world with onscreen with visual indications. Augmented reality is crying out for innovation like this and I can’t believe that device manufactures like TomTom or Garmin are not climbing over each other to be the first to market with a device. My prediction is sometime next year we’ll see a dedicated device that has a camera and an augmented reality view.
By the end of the year I think we’ll see some early form of face recognition on the iPhone/Android. It wont be perfect but it will arrive.
I don’t think that December next year we’ll have mobile applications that will be able to spot you in a crowd but I do think that we’ll start to see some early applications that use some form of crude recognition. It will probably be server based solution where you’ll need to take a picture and it is uploaded to a server for processing but I’m sure it will come.
I see either Layar buying Wikitude or Wikitude buying Layar
One of the predictions I saw from Rouli was a suggestion that Microsoft would purchase either Layar or Wikitude. Having spent 10 years at MS this doesn’t sound like a typical Microsoft buy. From speaking to a few ex-colleagues they are looking at augmented reality (Microsoft Tag for example) but also building their own browser application which I would imagine will be linked to Bing.
My comment about a Layar/Wikitude merge was purely speculative but having seen Google’s announcement about Goggles I do wonder if the market is big enough for 3 main browsers to continue to exist. In early 2009 just before either Layar or Wikitude were announced I went to see a VC in London to try and get some cash to build an augmented reality browser. Needless to say I wasn’t successful but afterwards myself and few friends decided that we would fund the project ourselves. Once Wikitude and Layar were released we realised that there was no way we were going to be able to compete with their resources. Gamaray was another browser project that decided that competing would be futile and closed shop to focus on something else. Personally I would not have wanted to have woken up to the news that Google with their R&D budget to rival a small country had released a beta augmented reality browser, not only that but a beta that appears to do so much. Google compete for fun, there are not many companies that pull off the feat of becoming a serious player in the mobile space almost overnight, If Google decide they want to own the augmented reality browser space how do you compete with that?
Layar is a bit like Skype, they have a great product but are not getting any decent content created with their API.
Layar have done a remarkable job of getting 3rd parties to build layers. My day job for the last 10 years has being working with companies in a similar position to Layar who have an open API and want to reach out to developers to build applications and content for the platform. At Skype I ran the project to release the extras manager and worked with various 3rd party developers to build content. The Skype API was fairly simple (I have no idea what it is like now), you could control the audio stream or chat messages, the problem is it takes a while before people start to push the boundaries. Initially at Skype we were knee deep in call recorder applications, applications that didn’t probe too much at what was possible or attempt to do something different. It took a lot of effort but working with the developer community we eventually started to get video applications, fax applications, translators, even lie detector applications that analysed voice stress during calls. Layar while they have lots of layers available are very much in this early Skype world where nothing is pushing the boundaries of what is possible and they need layers that do more than show you the nearest whatever, I want to do more than just have a list of POIs, I want to be able to interact.
Despite what Layar say, I don’t see them releasing a Symbian version of their app. Too much effort for no reward (no distribution channel)
I was surprised when Wikitude arrived on Symbian and re-evaluate what I said about Layar not being released. However I don’t see Symbian being a big focus for either companies with iPhone and Android continuing to get a lions share of the development. The main problem is distributing the application on Symbian, if I search the Ovi store for ‘augmented reality’ I only find Nokia Point & Find (Wikitude is in there under maps), it’s the same when I search other stores like Handmark, or Handango. I couldn’t even find ARound from Sequence Point Software which is part of the Symbian Foundation launch of the Horizons publishing project that promised to list your application in all the application stores. The problem is very much application visibility with consumers, my brother-in-law has been a Nokia user for as long as I can remember and has never once installed an application for his Nokia device. Since he brought an iPhone he spends £20 a week on downloads. I have stopped telling him that his latest application was available on Symbian for years as it not worth it anymore. While Wikitude I’m sure will get downloads the audience is going to be users who go looking for it rather than those who come across it and decide to install.
Symbian is without doubt the most advanced mobile platform, it’s a dream for developers giving you complete control over the camera and allowing developers to build augmented reality marker based applications, but where are they? I can only name a handful of applications. In contrast iPhone developers are screaming for the same level of camera access Symbian provides and you can bet as soon as Apple open up the API we’ll have applications available in a week.
I think consumers will get tried of the current ‘throw data in the camera view and call it augmented reality’ applications we have today. We’ll continue to to see hype and everyone who owns POIs will continue to produce so called AR apps but I think we are reaching the top of the curve and consumers will want more. Once Apple open up the api marker based games will be the next wonder
When I started Augmented Planet there was about 3 augmented reality application in the appstore, this morning there are 161, by the New Year I’m sure we will have busted the 200 mark. The problem is how useful are the applications, when I mentioned earlier about going to see a VC to invest in a browser idea the problem I had was trying to convince him that holding up a phones camera to see what is around you is what people want. His argument was he would never hold up his camera to see a restaurant review and didn’t see the value. At the time I thought he was wrong but by chance a little while later I found myself lost in London and looking for the tube station, no problem I thought I’ll use an augmented reality tube locater. It actually didn’t help me at all, holding up my camera to navigate was not useful, there are too many stations in central London all grouped together and the developer really hadn’t given a lot of thought to design, I found using the traditional map view worked out to be far easier.
I am still pretty passionate about augmented reality, anyone (including my bank manager) who happens to ask ends up getting 30 minutes of impromptu demos, but I am looking forward to when we move away from the POI finder applications. At the moment the industry is still very much in the ‘we need an augmented reality feature in our application regardless of whether its actually useful’ stage, or ‘lets cash in on the augmented reality craze and release an application’ (I have to admin that I fall into this bracket). Having worked in the mobile industry for so long I still do the odd bit of consulting helping developers bring a product to market, there are so many developers out there with POIs who see augmented reality as a way to a quick buck, sooner rather than later consumers will become bored of the latest Burger King finder and look for real content.
Cheers to Rouli for running the predictions which can be found on artimes.rouli.net . They are well worth taking a look and commenting on whether you agree or not.