We've been writing a lot here about Augmented Reality (AR), technology that displays layers of data on top of our view of physical reality through mobile phone cameras, projected images and webcams. It seems like a red-hot field and something we should cover all the more. Some people think that's not the case though; they say it's just hype, a technology looking for applications or a recipe for disappointment.
Below we offer you a chance to let us know what you think. Please take our poll and let us know if you think these services being heralded as Augmented Reality are the real deal or something not worth reading about. Just below the poll we offer some links to a few of our most important articles about AR and some opposing viewpoints from readers. Let us know what you think!
Key posts from our past coverage include:
Augmented Reality: A Human Interface for Ambient Intelligence (A good introduction)
Augmented Reality: Five Barriers to a Web That's Everywhere
Prepare Yourself: Augmented Reality Hype is on the Rise
First iPhone Augmented Reality App Appears Live in App Store
Hyperlinking the Real World
Two Opposing Views
Readers have been debating the value of AR in comments on our past coverage. Here are two good ways of articulating opposing views on the subject:
Former HP Labs team member turned tech consultant Gene Becker is optimistic.
"In the same way that the web browser on a computer screen is a window into cyberspace, an augmented reality viewer is a window that looks out on the blended physical/digital landscape, the geoweb, the city as platform.
We're just at the beginning of a fifty year adventure where we will infuse the physical world with connected digital experience. AR browsers like Layar and Wikitude are like Gopher was in 1991 -- early, geeky, not a lot of content, not a great experience...but watch what happens next."
An anonymous commenter left these critical thoughts:
"I must thank MK for the app list. It confirms to me there are no useful AR apps right now, and also that the feasible apps are very limited, because they all seem kind of similar to one another.
It's just so much easier for me to use an ordinary browser map application and see all the locations of interest for any conceivable query than to mess around with a phone's camera.
AR seems kind of like voice recognition to me, in a way.
Recall that some years ago there was a massive hype storm about how much better voice input would be than typing. But despite the general availability of a fairly decent program (Dragon), most people still use keyboards because keyboards just have more utility and usability combined. That's how I feel about these crappy AR apps until there are some serious breakthroughs in both hardware and software.
I mean, you really need a lightweight high-res infinite-battery HMD with meter-accuracy location for it to make much sense to me -- snapping photos through a cellphone and looking at crappy low-res decorations on the result seems very weak to me, especially given the error scale of GPS. But no such HMD exists. Alternatively (as in Vinge's novel) you need something like a long-range RFID on every object or location of interest, and that isn't going to happen any time soon either.
Like voice recognition, there may be some special purpose AR apps in the short term that are useful and effective for narrow uses. I'm sure Dragon is great for many disabled people, and for the few people who are really skilled at dictation, so perhaps the same kind of niches can be found for low-tech AR.
But I don't think it will be broadly useful in the near-term, so it seems to me to be an unworthy thing to spend so much time and effort hyping right now."
What do you think? Let us know by voting in the poll above and in the comments below.