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Mobile Augmented Reality – The Marmite Problem

Submitted by on Wednesday, 21 April 201012 Comments

marmiteFrom time to time I get into discussions about the value that mobile augmented reality browsers play and their usefulness. I’m always armed with a demo and pretty much every time I show a demo of Wikitude the audience love it. My bank manager for example thinks augmented reality is fantastic, and so he should after all the impromptu demos he has seen. However not everyone has the same reaction. Myself and Nitin were at a Mobile Brain Bank meeting last week and the audience were, lets say “not fans” of mobile augmented reality browsers.

A recent comment from Paul on a previous post raises a valid point about mobile AR in general:

I simply don’t see the advantage over using a map. Less battery consuming, no need to hold the phone weirdly, you can still visualize data to figure out the direction the POI is, etc.

I like to think of mobile augmented reality browsers as a bit like Marmite, you either love it, or hate it.

Love it
Take an example of finding your nearest tube/subway station. Looking at the AR view isn’t going to help you navigate your way to the station, but navigation isn’t the point. The AR view is useful in helping you get your bearing and to begin walking in the right direction, while the map view is useful for the finer points of navigating.

AR browsers are fantastic for getting data about your surroundings. Pointing the camera at a landmark and seeing the information bubble near the landmark helps visualize that the two are linked. In contrast looking at a map in an unfamiliar area that has several POIs takes some checking to get orientated.

Hate it
Accuracy fails in two ways, physical errors with the recorded locations of POIs (I have written on the subject many times), and general GPS accuracy. In the perfect world when I point my phone at a POI the information bubble should be on or around the object, in reality it never really matches up to the marketing screenshots and is often several degrees away from the target. Of course it should be said this is the nature of GPS and not the application.

The biggest hurdle to over come with mobile AR is as Paul mentions, holding the phone weirdly, I can understand that. Personally I don’t like waving around my iPhone and advertising it to potential opportunist thieves and I’m highly unlikely to take out my phone and wave it around while looking for somewhere to eat.

The camera view argument
A lot of people will argue that the camera view serves no purpose. If you put your finger over the lenses the application doesn’t notice and carries on plotting the POIs regardless.  Very true, but the usefulness depends on the data you are viewing and how you want to use it. Viewing a POI in the camera such as a tourist attraction or a house for sale and then being able to click on the information bubble for more information is a clear benefit. Waving my device around to view people who are tweeting around me is not so useful.

3D augmented reality also suffers from the Marmite problem. I like Junaio which has many rich 3D images and a social networking engine to share content, and I like the Layar, layer to take a virtual Beatles tour of London as its engaging, but I have evolved beyond the need to take a photo of a crudely drawn object outside my office window.

I see both sides of the Marmite argument and will probably never be able to convince someone to change their point of view. But what I like about mobile augmented reality is the variety of different POIs that are available. I’ll agree that not all of them are useful, and not all of them make sense in the camera window, but they are all fun to try.

What about you, love mobile AR or hate it?

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  • Johannes la Poutre said:

    This whole debate is moot as son as you realize that AR should be much more than presentation of raw facts. It’s all about experience, we are currently only sratching the surface here but we should expect the real growth of AR to be on this area.

    Last week I presented at the AR Devcamp Amsterdam, also about this theme. See my slides posted here:

  • Lhal said:

    Heh, in 1996, web wasn’t as cool as TV because you couldn’t stream audio and video! In 1990, somebody with a mobile phone (and carrying its hardware in a briefcase) did look stupid. The first shows on TV were boring recorded radio broadcasts.

    And today, GPS-based AR is not so cool because it’s sometimes a few meters off =)

  • uberVU - social comments said:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by AugmentedPlanet: Mobile Augmented Reality – The Marmite Problem – #AR #AUGMENTEDREALITY…

  • lester said:

    @Johannes nice slides – thanks for the pointer

    The Love it/Hate it comments above are not necessarily mine but reflect arguments I hear from time to time.

    @Lhal. When I send users out, eg brother-in-law to run tests with a mobile browser the number two comment I get back is the apps are not accurate. We know that GPS accuracy is not an issue with the applications, but try convincing a user who thinks that mobile applications didn’t exist before the iPhone was invented that. It’s a hard sell.

    The number one comment incidentally is waving the phone around and pointing it at objects to get info. To which I always reply, several years ago you’d have said ‘why would I write a message on my phone when I can make a call’.

    Mobile AR browsers are still in the first generation, one day we’ll wonder how we ever managed without them.

    It would be nice to hear from some of the ‘hate it’ side

  • Lhal said:

    Yep lester,

    I can try to wear the black hat this time. I’m quite optimistic that all these issues will be tackled sooner or later, though ;)

    - Compass accuracy sucks, if holding the phone to see through it looks retarded, shaking it beforehand to reset the magnetic sensor is even worse.
    I’m afraid that close to electric lines (eg. in a train, a place where AR could help killing time) the compass will never be really great.
    - GPS accuracy sucks, and Galileo will take years to happen commercially.
    - AR is laggy, handsets have to be more powerful.
    - UI is not intuitive enough. It’s not easy to click and interact on POIs because they’re moving as the phone is shaking.
    POIs are overlapping one another.
    - Content is still rough. I have Adblock on my Firefox, why would I have an app whose purpose is to show virtual billboards on my mobile?

  • Mobile Augmented Reality – The Marmite Problem | Augmented Reality said:

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    [...] Augmented Planet on why mobile augmented reality is much like Marmite. [...]

  • dave said:

    This got me thinking, and for me the key advantage of MAR is directness – you can point your phone directly at the element you want information about, and it directly renders the information right on the object, so there’s no ambiguity about what the data returned from the query refers to (in the ideal case, with perfect tracking etc).

    The user doesn’t have to do any world-to-query and data-to-world conversions.

  • Eric said:

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by AugmentedPlanet: Mobile Augmented Reality – The Marmite Problem – #AR #AUGMENTEDREALITY…

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