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Augmented Reality: Just take a look around you…

This is a guest post by Telco 2.0 associate, Christine Perey, Spime Wrangler, PEREY Research & Consulting. Christine will be presenting an introductory session to Augmented Reality (AR) at our Mobile Apps 2.0 session in Palo Alto on April 6th. She will also be facilitating a longer AR session at our London Mobile Apps 2.0 event on May 12th where AR business models and strategies will be explored in detail. See also Augmented Reality: is there a valuable role for telcos?

Tom is standing on the curb in front of the Neiman Marcus that’s located in Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto holding his iPhone4. He’s just bought a beautiful carafe as a wedding present for his cousin and he wants to ship it to her. He knows that there’s a post office nearby so he is searching for it using Google maps.

He finds that the nearest Post Office is well within walking distance so leaves his car in the parking lot. Tom begins walking toward his destination when he detects an alert from his device. There’s a Palo Alto History layer that is proposing to show him some historical landmarks he’ll pass on his way to the Post Office.

He holds up his device using the “reality” view as he follows the sidewalk. On the right he learns that the parking lot is on land that was once Leland Stanford’s vineyards. On the screen the parking lot is hidden from view with photos from the historical society, showing people working the vineyards. A small icon over the right hand corner of a photo shows that there is a coupon for 10% discount on locally produced wine in a nearby retail store. Maybe that would make a nice addition to the package he’s shipping to the newlyweds?

Turning his device 90 degrees to the left he learns that the Stanford shopping center was once the home to the very first Victoria’s Secret store, opened by Roy Raymond in 1977, and the first mini Apple Retail Store [1.]. Tom stops and repositions his phone to waist level to flip through some of the items in the Victoria Secret on-line catalog and, he accepts the invitation to download the new Victoria Secrets virtual mirror AR application to his iPhone. Maybe he will surprise his finance by asking her to virtually model some of the latest products tonight.

In the last 5 minutes Tom’s appreciation of his immediate surroundings has deepened and in the next 5 minutes his wallet will probably be lighter as a result of his having had Augmented Reality services on his iPhone. The seamlessness with which information about the present, the past and, possibly the future, are integrated with the real world reduced Tom’s distraction (if he had to change applications or search for unique items) and increased the opportunities available to retailers to offer Tom complementary purchases.

Augmented Reality technology in smartphones is emerging as a convenient way to blend existing digital information within the physical world surrounding us. The opportunities to genuinely improve quality of life for subscribers extend far beyond games and commercial information. AR will be used to help people combine their physical world with finding that for which they are searching, discovering what they didn’t know they were missing and performing routine or unusual tasks more efficiently than with digital or paper aids. While the opportunities are limitless, the barriers are not insignificant.

Is the technology ready for prime time? The correct answer is that it depends. There are hundreds of use cases for AR. Today’s devices and networks are perfect for some imprecise yet still helpful or imaginative uses such as learning what it was like to live or work in an area we are standing in front of or passing through. Ready for AR-assisted surgery? In some settings this is being done but it’s not using the same sensors we have in our pockets in our cell phones.

Even when sensors are good enough and data is available, one of the barriers we are facing to AR adoption is simply making users aware that there is an augmentation they might want to see or hear in their vicinity. Content is not evenly distributed over the world. Indoor vs. outdoor content remains a challenge. AR providers are exploring different symbols and strategies for helping users discover new experiences in their real world and we can learn some lessons from the successes and failures of QR codes.

For providers of popular digital data there are ample “anchors” or triggers in the real world with which to bring up new experiences. The question that has yet to be solved for content providers is how to publish with AR once and reach their greatest audiences? The answer to this challenge lies in having support for AR viewing in many applications, and making sure that these existing or new applications “talk” using a common and flexile language to the cloud-based data sets. Once again, one of the important keys to technological and commercial success lies in open APIs and I’m confident that these will emerge in the near future.

When AR is open and interoperable, this ecosystem will flourish and everyone will benefit. To help the attendees of the Mobile Apps 2.0 event witness some of the diversity possible with mobile AR, I’ve helped to organize a special mobile AR showcase featuring leading AR platforms. Hope to see you there!

[1] Information source: Wikipedia

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