ComputerWorld, Consumers, and the Uncertain Future of Augmented Reality

Ever since Augmented Reality hit the mainstream, it seems like every sector of the consumer market is rushing to develop the next major "Augmented Reality capable" technology. Eagle-eyed consumers have been bombarded with everything from pop-culture magazines rendered in augmented animation to the music industry developing interactive AR albums.

Pixels and Policy has always been wary about the proposed miracle of Augmented Reality, even as we cautiously hope for its continued development and fine-tuning. If some recent articles from across the media are any indication, our skepticism about Augmented Reality is becoming a new fad.

Augmented Reality: Hype Cycle or High Tide?

ComputerWorld recently published a great piece speculating on the future of Augmented Reality (and can we decide, really, whether it's Augmented or augmented?), and as usual the judgment of journalist Howard Wen is right on. Make no mistake, Augmented Reality has quite a bit going for it as a platform, but in its current prototype state it's hardly going to change the way we read magazines or interact with our televisions.

Wen draws a great parallel between companies hoping to get the early jump on virtual brand management by setting up expensive and ultimately unsuccessful storefronts in Second Life. In the case of Second Life, companies that waited until the best strategy for virtual brand marketing became clear ended up succeeding and thriving in the Metaverse.

From the article:

Remember a few years ago when corporations rushed to establish virtual offices and storefronts in Second Life
and other virtual worlds, only to see them wither on the vine?

While AR
appears to be more useful than virtual worlds (and therefore more
likely to succeed), it remains to be seen how the technology will be
developed and adopted in real-world use. In particular, those in the
business world would like to know if, and when, their operations could
somehow benefit from using AR.

The Second Life early adopter caveat holds true for Augmented Reality. Though everything augmented has gotten a huge boost from Avatar-mania, the hardware powering AR is still clunky at best and prone to bugginess – as Esquire's AR issue proves. But there is real potential behind Augmented Reality, especially if the effectiveness of webcam-based AR improves over the current generation.

But Wen isn't overwhelmed by the technical hurdles Augmented Reality has yet to overcome, and forward-thinking companies shouldn't be discouraged, either. Much as virtual worlds evolved from the realm of fantasy novelties into a $1.6 billion domestic industry, Augmented Reality will benefit from the rise of new technology in smartphones and maneuverable tablet computers like the new iPad.

Keeping Realistic Expectations

We've been skeptical of augmented reality's ability to create an entirely new information economy, a claim put forth by Andreas Constantinou of Vision Mobile. In the near and mid-term, it's much more likely that augmented reality will find a niche
in areas where precise instructions are required, which happens to be its current use in the European space program.

Far from just providing the
height of a building, augmented reality could soon piggyback on
increasing technology to make car windshields into accident-avoiding
machines or highlight areas of cities with higher-than-average crime
rates over a two-day span.

The
iPhone could provide the initial immersion that moves augmented reality
from curiosity to consumer essential. But that won't happen if
consumers are left expecting "Terminator Vision," as one news outlet
reported. The idea of augmented reality contact lenses is still in the
hypothetical future – it won't be a launch feature.

Consumers
would be wise to be wary of unnecessary media hype, and media outlets
would do well to restrain the irrational exuberance that more often
than not leads to a poor reception for an otherwise exceptional
technology. Let's hope this isn't a replay of the boom-and-bust hype
related to virtual worlds, or it may set augmented reality back years.