Has The Augmented Reality Bubble Burst?
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.