Esquire’s December Issue Attempts “Augmented Reality Reading”

091029-esquire-01 Back in September, Pixels and Policy took a look at the multiple ways augmented reality was creeping into areas as diverse as consumer electronics and space travel.

Now Esquire wants in on the fun, and they've taken augmented reality in an interesting new direction: As a platform for jokes, movie clips, and high-end advertising.

We take a look at the December issue, and why augmented reality might not have a bright future in magazines just yet.

The Making of an Augmented Magazine

Esquire is no stranger to experimental magazine content – they featured an issue printed with flashy electronic ink a while back – so it's unfair to dock them points for trying and stumbling on augmented reality. It's still a fascinating novelty for those with the proper display technology. 

Esquire's augmented reality sections work like this: A black and white graphic similar to an EZcode is placed somewhere on the page. After installing some basic webcam software available from Esquire, the reader can point the webcam at the graphic and a three-dimensional video will display on the reader's computer. 

The videos available through the magazine's AR feature vary – one includes cover star Robert Downey Jr. explaining the possible uses of augmented reality before jumping into a clip of his upcoming film, Sherlock Holmes. Another graphic displays a passingly-important actress/model telling a nearly-funny joke.

There is one notable tumbling block to easy adaptation of augmented reality in magazines: Readers must first download software that places a custom overlay on top of their webcams, meaning they will have to navigate to external websites. This brings with it a few other problems that could slow the evolution of augmented literature.

The Problem of Augmented Reading

Downloading a small file may seem like a trivial complaint given the power of augmented reality, but true adaptability will likely come only after webcams can read augmented reality codes without further user intervention. Despite the irritation of downloading, extracting and installing a filter for the webcam, this alone is not what causes augmented reality to stumble. The problem is much simpler.

In order to enjoy the antics of Robert Downey Jr. or learn about the safety features of a new Lexus hybrid, the reader has to turn the magazine to face the camera.

This means anything you might've been reading is now on hold. A device that allowed the reader to continue with a story while enjoying augmented reality technology – think updated 3-D glasses – would be a market mover.

Enhancing the reading experience without disrupting the reading experience appears to be the Holy Grail of augmented reading technology. It's just a shame no one has put together a pair of cheap augmented reality specs to really make Moby Dick an immersive tale.