Many great innovations never really take off or are just too fiddly to ever gain consumer acceptance. A great idea is not always the next big thing. However, some lead industries and products into new areas that completely redefine the way we view the world. I have been wondering of late which one Augmented Reality (AR) falls into.
For those that have not come across it yet (and there are plenty), AR is considered the next phase of Virtual Reality (VR). Where VR is a completely virtual space not bound by physical reality, AR combines the real world with the virtual world. It is a live, view of a real-world environment with elements that are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics etc.
Still confused? Well, that might be part of the problem.
Tesco in the UK recently launched an Augmented Reality (AR) program on their website that allows you to view items in their catalogue in your real world. So if you want to see how a TV would look in your living room before you buy it – this can be done. The practical application of this sort of technology is endless.
However, the technology being in its infancy, it is still rather clunky. For the Tesco AR to work, you first need to print out a “marker” so the AR program knows where to place the product. You need to place the marker on your TV cabinet. You then need to position your webcam so it sees the marker within the environment you want to view. Then, you can only rotate the marker – which is great if you want to see the back of the TV, but not much good if you want to look at the whole environment from a different angle.
So, we are back to the question – is it great technology that is just too complicated, or is it the beginning of something incredible?
To be fair, those of us who have been frustrated with the user experience to date, realise it is probably because we can see the real potential.
Imagine staring down 5th Avenue in NY or Covent Garden in London and wondering where to start. You grab your phone, aim your mobile camera at the street and as you walk down, signs on your mobile screen let you know what is on special at which store and what the items look like. Maybe it will even be able to show what the clothes look like on. Pretty amazing.
Some of my generation might say “won’t your arm get tired?” or “wouldn’t it be easier to walk down the street and see the sign in the shop window that says 40% off or just search online for the cheapest TV?” But remember what the chairman of IBM said in 1943: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Sometimes we cannot even imaging where advances in technology will take us, but surely any step that enhances the consumer experience and makes relevant information more accessible is a positive one.