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Defining Augmentedness – What is mobile AR Part I The Camera

Submitted by on Thursday, 20 May 201011 Comments

Grab yourself a cup of coffee and help me solve the riddle of how much augmentedness is required to make a mobile application an augmented reality application.

At ARE2010 in just a few weeks I am talking about trends in mobile augmented reality. As part of my research I have looked at every single augmented reality application in the appstore and Nitin has compiled a list of every Android application. That’s around 700 applications that claim to be augmented reality applications.

As part of the research we have compiled a list of all the applications and recorded what the application does, what category it fits into, normalized all the categories (Layar is listed as reference, Wikitude is travel), and attempted to list why it classes itself as an augmented reality application. Now I have my huge list of applications it’s led me to ask the question, just what is mobile augmented reality anyway.

If I said I saw a great augmented reality demo, chances are the first thing that comes to mind is someone waving a marker around in front of their webcam. If I said I saw a great mobile augmented reality demo you’d probably think of waving a phone around to see nearby points of interest. There are however applications with various levels of augmentedness, so as part of my analysis, I separated every application into categories on how they claimed to be AR,.

I categorised applications into 5 categories.

  • Camera display
  • Audio
  • Image recognition
  • Location aware
  • None

Over the next few posts, we’ll look at these categories of augmented reality and between us we’ll decide what level of augmentedness we expect before an application can call itself an augmented reality application. Today we’ll start with the camera display.

Camera display – The application turns on the camera to overlay content in the camera view.

Applications that fall into this category typically come from several groups of applications.

  • World browsers (Wikitude, Layar, Junaio, Tagwhat etc)
  • Games (Pandemica, Arcade Reality etc)
  • Image manipulation (Zombie Cam, Holiday Cam, iLiving etc)
  • On screen see through (Type’n walk, Tweet Through etc)

World browsers, personally I am happy to call these applications augmented reality applications, I realise that they have their detractors who claim that the camera serves no purpose, and if you place your finger in front of the camera lens the application still works as the application isn’t aware of its surroundings.

I think that’s precisely why world browsers such as Layar and Wikitude are augmented reality applications, if you place your finger in front of the lens they still work but they lose all context without the camera. No camera and the application becomes useless.

No camera context and the application is unusable

If then context is a requirement of augmentedness then how do we classify games such as Pandemica and Arcade Reality? Both are excellent examples of games that use the camera and accelerometer so the action takes place in the user’s surroundings, but here the camera serves no purpose. If I place my finger on the camera the game still plays and it still has its context as the background severed up via the camera serves no purpose.

Game content

Above the images are of Arcade Reality showing my messy office, the game is obviously more enjoyable to play than a blank background,  even if the camera view adds no context to the game.

Image manipulation appears to be a popular category and in my view the most contentious. Typical examples of these applications include, taking pictures of your friends and adding 3D graphics to the photo. In once sense you are augmenting reality by adding content to the photo and it’s no different to a desktop application that lets you try on sunglasses, clothes, or place a sofa in your living room. But some applications do little more than add a picture frame to the picture, is that really augmented reality?

Adding content to pictures

What is the difference between adding a pair of sunglasses to a face or adding a simple picture frame around a users photo?

On screen see through applications simply turn on the camera and enable you to write tweets, email or texts while walking with your input superimposed on the camera feed, or even divide up a pizza. These applications tick the box of visually showing the camera view and providing a level of interaction with the application, but do they tick your augmentedness box?.

See through applications

So the questions relating to applications that rely on the camera to display data to the user:

Are all the examples above valid examples of AR?
Is there a quantifiable augmentedness that can be applied?

I welcome your comments.

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  • dave said:

    If we apply Ronald Azuma’s definition of AR (combines real and virtual, is interactive in real time, is registered in 3D), then only the world browsers pass. The game and the see through-applications aren’t registered (position has zero effect), and there’s nothing “real time” about manipulated images.

  • jmblazquez said:

    I miss some applications based on QR codes or similar. For instance, there is a game, Invizimals, where the usage of the camera is mandatory.

  • Simon Taylor said:

    I agree with Dave – at least in the academic AR literature, Ron Azuma’s definition is the one commonly applied, and seems to work pretty well[1].

    Just because AR has suddenly become cool doesn’t mean it has just been invented. I recently saw a paper from the 60s that did AR using a magnetic 6-dof head tracking system and a pointer connected to 3 different spools of rope on the ceiling in order to allow its position to be calculated. Really cool stuff, can’t find a reference to it on the web right now though.

    In response to jmblazquez, I assume both marker-based and non-marker-based image tracking AR will be included in Lester’s “Image Recognition” category.

    1: Azuma, Ronald T. A Survey of Augmented Reality. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 6, 4 (August 1997), 355 – 385.

  • Simon Taylor said:

    Meant to add a link to a pdf of Azuma97:

  • Weekly Linkfest « Games Alfresco said:

    [...] Augmented Planet sets to define what exactly is mobile augmented reality. [...]

  • ThePredator said:

    Instead of looking into the app store you should look, read and understand research articles which give a clear definition of augmented reality and even what mobile augmented reality is. There are so many applications, which (miss-)use the term of augmented reality so why we should look at them. If you type “Mobile Augmented Reality” into Google Layar is the 5th hit but it seems you haven’t read the first 4 hits. Especially this document should be valuable for you: (2nd hit in Google).

  • lester said:

    Cheers for all your links and views on what mobile augmented reality really is. Everyone agrees that today the usage of the term ‘augmented reality’ is over used by app developers.

    I’m inclined to agree with Dave that World Browsers are most definitely AR, games the jury is still out on as it depends what the game does and what interactivity there is. Currently there is nothing that is true AR available for the iPhone.

    Photos manipulation I am not convinced are AR at all, leaving at least 48 iPhone developers disappointed that their application have just be relegated.

    To clarify why I looked at the appstore, the purpose was to understand what developers are calling augmented reality and spot trends in applications, not to base an opinion on what augmented reality is.

    For the purpose of recording the applications and how they use AR, I have added another category ‘picture’ which means the application does little more than allow a user to add images to a picture. (eg a pair of bunny ears)

  • said:

    Defining Augmentedness Part I The Camera – Augmented Planet…

    Grab yourself a cup of coffee and help me solve the riddle of how much augmentedness is required to make a mobile application an augmented reality application. At ARE2010 in just a few weeks I am talking about trends in mobile augmented reality. As par…

  • The Mobile Augmented Reality Competitive Landscape | Augmented Reality said:

    [...] Defining Augmentedness – What is mobile AR Part I The Camera [...]

  • Massimo said:

    What about the other categories? You describe only the “Camera display”. i tried to search them in this website but nothing. I think that the definition itself of augmented reality is not the same now, it’s larger. I also don’t think that what you had quoted as “On screen see through” can really been associated to this technology unless there isn’t a realtime computer manipulation (app that slices pizza maybe with image recognition).

    waiting to here back for the “rest” of the article.

  • Lester said:


    There is still a big debate on what is and what isn’t AR. If you look at the definition its simply defined as adding computer graphics to live video feed.

    Using that definition the Pizza slicer is AR as is a live football game on TV where the score is displayed. A digital camera that has LCD screen which shows the number of photos or the battery level is another example of AR.

    What an individual thinks of as AR will largely be down to what AR experience they have had in the past. If they have played around with markers and 3D then anything less will be inferior and probably not fall into their preconceived ideas on what is and isn’t AR.

    I will follow up the article with the other types of AR. Its on my list (a very long list)

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