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Home » News, Opinion

Has The Augmented Reality Bubble Burst?

Submitted by on Wednesday, 15 February 201218 Comments

Yesterday I read an interesting article on Wired where they issued an open letter to augmented reality. In their article they question where all the killer apps are and highlight the fact that AR is well and truly in the trough of disillusionment. As someone who has been positive about AR for the last few years, I’m afraid I’ll have to agree and ask, has the AR bubble burst?.

Sometimes writing a blog requires a lot of motivation. I open my inbox each morning hoping to find an email from the developer of the long fabled killer AR app. Instead my inbox is filled with announcements about yet another AR Browser. Not that I have anything against AR Browsers but I wonder why developers keep reinventing the wheel. It’s not as if I walk down my local high street and have to avoid flailing arms from people frantically waving their phones around discovering content.

Natural feature tracking hasn’t set the world alight and there are so many disappointing applications where developers do the absolute minimum. An example of this is the Mercedes C Class Sports app. Coming from a top brand like Mercedes who want consumers to experience their cars, they had a fantastic opportunity to build a showcase application. What did they build? A marker based app that allowed the user to add a spoiler and window trim to a car. Honestly, the changes were so superficial and difficult to spot that they really shouldn’t have bothered. If you go the effort of creating the 3D models, surely the budget would stretch to some features that were actually useful. Nothing fancy, changing the cars colour, wheels or other things potential consumers might actually want to see.  While I pick on Mercedes, games developers are also at fault with their liberal use of the AR tag. Playing space invaders on my iPhone, if the app happens to turn on the camera so the aliens are on a backdrop of my living room rather than a fancy space background, that’s not AR folks.

Its experiences like this where AR doesn’t deliver any value to the user experience that constantly damage the consumer’s view of AR.

Last year I had the opportunity to work with major network operator who wanted to publish some AR games to their Android store. I demoed some of the best marker based games available and wowed them with the technology. They were hook, until they demanded the games without the markers. And you know what they are right.

Marker based gaming is not intuitive for the average consumer. If you are reading this you are a tech savvy but we are not the ones that need convincing.  The average consumer wants a trouble free, sit on the couch without moving around gaming experience. AR games make fantastic demos but not necessarily a fantastic gaming experience.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great applications available but these are exceptions rather than the norm. Next week I am speaking at a conference on how AR can be used. As I search for demos, bar a handful of new apps, I find myself returning to the same apps I have demoed for the last few years.

The savour of AR is long thought to be AR glasses. Almost on a weekly basis I see screenshots of futurist contact lenses and all encompassing portable glasses systems rumoured to be ready for release sometime soon. The technology isn’t even here yet and already its been hyped to a level where it will be impossible for it to live up to.  If next year you think you’ll be reaching for a pair of AR glasses for your journey to work, you’re in for disappointment.

AR glasses are not going to save AR, the killer app is going to save it.

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18 Comments »

  • Rob Diaz said:

    Totally agree with your opinion.

    The fact that most developers are adding AR features without any purpose. Why should I watch a movie trailer with AR if I can watch it on Youtube, for example? It makes no sense. You need to give people something fun or something useful, if not don’t do it.

    Thanks for the post

  • lester (author) said:

    Absolutely Rob.
    Developers approach the problem from a perspective of ‘we need to add AR’ rather than consider why AR should be added to begin with.
    AR should not be the entire purpose of the application, instead it should be used to make an application even better by providing useful functionality

  • Kudan.eu said:

    Very good article.
    I believe AR is like a condiment, not the core/centre. It’s a piece of technology but many are still treating it as app.
    ‘AR App’ won’t be a killer, but Good App with great use of AR with it will be.

  • Leigh Taylor said:

    Hi, have you seen the AR games that ship with the PS vita. They are quite good and the AR actually adds a nice dimension to the games. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUxSwsy3PZo

  • lester (author) said:

    Hi Lee

    The games on the PSP Vita have fantastic visuals. I haven’t yet managed to put my hands on any of the games to test for myself, but there are similar games available for iOS and Android.

    I wont knock the games because they look amazing and the ability to view the game environment in 3D is definitely an advantage. I wonder though how often these games will get played. After the initial wow factor that AR provides will players keep going back or will having to interact with the markers become a chore.

    I’m very much a casual gamer. I like picking up a device, killing a few things and then go back to what I was doing. AR gaming with markers is a fiddly activity, as such AR gaming has yet to grab me in any compelling way.

    But of course everyone is different.

  • Praetor said:

    I believe the “killer apps” will come from business first. And that will take a while because it will require extensive integration with back end systems.

    Example: a utility will want an app so that a field worker can point a device and “see” the power, water, and gas lines; with cutoff valves etc., under the ground. But. This requires integration with GPS and with back end GIS systems.

    Problem: corporations seldom today develop custom apps — their IT departments are heavily outsourced and depend upon packaged applications. And since each implementation of this will require separate back end integration with each and every utility — this won’t be something that someone can just pound out in code and dump as an Android app.

    So I believe it WILL happen but due to the the back end integration requirements (and the associated security concerns) it will actually take several years. Quite likely the initial deployments will be custom developments by the major consulting firms (leveraging subcontractors with the AR coding specialties along with the subcontractors familiar with integration). Only after that is successful and they start leveraging prior work for multiple companies will we see packaged applications develop for businesses.

    See — the app developers need to make money. And the current “toy” AR implementations don’t make money.

    There will be big money in AR for big systems: “Utility World”, “Cop World”, “Emergency Response World”, “Hospital World”, “Aviation Tech World”, etc. But those will be big budget software development programs with major associated consulting fees. Kind of how the ERP systems were developed and deployed 10 to 15 years ago.

  • Justin Langseth said:

    We just soft launched ARBall last week, a multiplayer low-latency AR soccer and treasure hunt iphone app. If you’re willing to get off the couch and go outdoors and try the Game mode, it’s pretty cool. The trick is convincing people to get off the couch and try it for real…

  • Rafael Roberto said:

    I agree with you, Lester.

    I strongly believe that the problem is because people became so enchanted by AR that started to develop applications thinking only on the technology. I also believe that the developers who remains creating AR application will have to think on the problems the users want to solve and analise how AR can be used as a tool to achieve this goal or even if the technology is able to do that. This is the mentality we are applying here on our laboratory and I believe we are doing a good job. We are finishing an educational application using “unconventional” ideas (like visualization by projection to remove the necessity of hold a cellphone). This application was test with teachers and they loved our solution. We have other projects using the same “user centered” methodology and the costumers are liking the results so far.

    I’m sceptic that will ever be a “killer app” for AR, but I belive that if you can find a way to use AR to solve the user problem, you are able to create killing apps for the user, in which uses AR as a tool. That is what we are doing here, so far with success, and would like share our experience with you.

  • Clark Dodsworth said:

    AR is one delivery method for the impending tsunami of hyperpersonalized context-aware information services.

    Realtime analytics on n-dimensions of Big Data+each stream’s history = adaptively prioritized and displayed data ranked by moment-to-moment salience. Hands-free.

    Praetor’s right about the early big-budget application spheres.

  • Tony Albanese said:

    I would have to disagree with you that a killer app is going to save AR, maybe in the short term but not for the long haul. I believe AR Goggles will be the revolutionary trend that will take AR off of the smart phone and allow us to interact with this technology as seamlessly as we interact with our clothing. I recently wrote a blog “Industries That Will Be Revolutionized By Augmented Reality” (http://wp.me/p2aOwI-cu) and while this technology is a far time off, we must be prepared for the tipping point.

    Personally I find AR inspired applications to be pointless and without cause. They feel like child’s play, don’t have true value. Smart phones have limitations, but the possibilities within AR don’t.

  • Rafael Roberto said:

    I agree with you.

    I believe that the problem is because people became so enchanted by AR that started to develop applications thinking only on the technology. I also believe that the developers who remains creating AR application will have to think on the problems the users want to solve and analise how AR can be used as a tool to achieve this goal or even if the technology is able to do that. This is the mentality we are applying here on our laboratory and I believe we are doing a good job. We are finishing an educational application using “unconventional” ideas (like visualization by projection to remove the necessity of hold a cellphone). This application was test with teachers and they loved our solution. We have other projects using the same “user centered” methodology and the costumers are liking the results so far.

    I’m a little sceptic that will ever be a “killer app” for AR, but I belive that if you can find a way to use AR to solve the user problem, you are able to create killing apps for the user, in which uses AR as a tool. That is what we are doing here, so far with success, and would like share our experience with you.

  • Has The AR Bubble Burst? « Things I grab, motley collection said:

    [...] in for disappointment. AR glasses are not going to save AR, the killer app is going to save it.Via http://www.augmentedplanet.com Share this:TwitterFacebookTumblrLinkedInDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

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  • Joey1058 said:

    Augmented reality for the sake of AR is DOA. I don’t care a rat’s butt for the “killer app”. I’m a hardware guy. And for AR to be effective for me, I need to have some kind of head mounted display. I know contact lenses are literally years away. But display glasses are close. Not as in this year. But damn close. And once they’re practical for the masses, then AR will be a natural background feature. Not some in your face app that I must use to make the hardware effective.

    I knew two years ago that AR apps were burning out. It’s time to put the emphasis on an HMD. Period.

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    [...] approaching the peak of inflated expectations in 2010, so it was only a matter of time until the AR bubble would burst and start sliding down the through of [...]

  • chris said:

    Maybe I am nieave but I am a current AR evangalist. I deliver workshops on e-learning technology. There is huge interest in the “mobile” space and I see AR as one of the key benifits to the devices available to the normal student budget these days.

    I see so many possible applications in education, but I also advocate cross platform compatibility and hence shy away from app development.

    Having a background in multimedia including 3d modelling and animation, I am taking myself with finding the easiest path to AR success for the zero budget college scenario.

    Any pointers re development tools would be appreciated in my quest.

    aR is not dead. Everything NEEDS to go through the trough of disalusionment so that it can come out of the other side as a mature technology, employed ONLY where it is of real benifit, not just employed because its new and fun.

  • lester (author) said:

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for your post. I keep a list of tools here but it is a little out of date: http://www.augmentedplanet.com/resources/developer-tools/

    There are lots of tools around but there are two things to consider. Cost and how much coding you want to do.
    Qualcomm is 100% free but the docs are pretty poor (what docs) so it has a steep learning curve. junaio/Layar are really easy with great docs but have licensing fees. Some technologies make the process easier by providing you with a Unity plugin but Unity comes at a cost.

    The answer will depend really on how much coding experience you have. You say you come from a graphics background so I am assuming you dont want to be writing lots of C code. I would suggest taking a look at Layar Vision, Junaio Glue, Aurasma (www.aurasma.com) and I haven’t looked in great detail yet but 13Lab have some great tools to (http://13thlab.com/). They would be good starting points, but feel free to drop be a line if you have a specific project or need and I will see if I can come up with a better alternative.

    It sounds like I should do a post on developer tools pro/cons at some point. Currently I am in the process of writing a book on AR tools for NFT so it would be a good complement article.

  • Augmented Reality’s Dark Ages and The New Dawn - Augmented Tomorrow said:

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