hip new tablet device from Apple called the iPad. Most are in agreement that the new toy is pretty slick, but they also agree on where the iPad fails - there's no camera. iPod Touch fans were disappointed last year when Apple announced that the iPod Nano would be getting the much coveted camera, and now fans of a different sort are feeling the same dejected feelings.Been living under a rock these days? There's this
Augmented reality is a technology that allows 2D and 3D objects to be placed onto a live video feed, creating unique user experiences. AR applications entered the mainstream with a few advertisements and installations for automobiles in 2008. Since then the technology has found its way onto our home computers with things like the GE Smart Grid campaign, and onto our cell phones with mobile AR browsers like Layar and Wikitude.
Have you seen those videos of people holding their iPhones up in London or New York to find the nearest subway station? That's augmented reality, and developers and followers of the technology (myself included) were hoping a camera on the iPad would open the door to a larger and more immersive AR experience. No such luck.
Augmented reality has already gained traction on the iPhone and Android platforms with dozens of AR apps available for download today. Mark Billinghurst, one of AR's "founding fathers" and a leading AR researcher since 1994, reached out to me yesterday to express his feelings about the iPad - a device with which he says Apple has missed an opportunity.
"The form factor, CPU and graphics capability make it an ideal platform for a handheld AR experience," said Billinghurst. "A camera on the back of the iPad would have enabled the development of vision based AR applications and created a whole new class of AR
applications on the App store."
Billinghurst also points out that his company ARToolworks has already provided over 100 iPhone app developers with their ARToolKit SDK, a clear sign of the growing interest in mobile AR. However, one hurdle in the way of these developers is Apple's reluctance to open the video API on the iPhone to real-time image processing - an impedance which AR proponents have gone as far to petition Apple to overturn.
Right now, applications can grab a few frames every couple of seconds to process, but the kind of accuracy needed for AR applications requires real-time frame-by-frame processing of the video feed. This would allow applications to track objects and motion seen through the camera's lens, greatly increasing the chances for accurate placement of 2D and 3D objects as well as the interpretation of real-world items.
In the grand scheme of things, augmented reality represents a drop in the ocean of iPhone app development, and Apple would need more than some petitions and disappointed developers to add a camera or change their API. However, hope may be on the horizon, as MacRumors.com reported this morning on the discovery of the option to take photos in the iPad simulator.
While disappointed, AR fans are still optimistic about the iPad's future. Claire Boonstra and Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, co-founders of Layar, one of the most popular mobile AR applications to date, expressed their sentiments on Twitter Wednesday when they heard the news about the iPad. Boonstra noted that we may have to wait for version 2.0 to see Layar on the iPad, while Lens-FitzGerald added that they have plenty of mobile phones to work on for the time being.
Thomas Carpenter at Games Alfresco, the leading augmented reality news blog, may have said it best when he noted Wednesday that Steve Jobs didn't make the iPad for AR fans - he made it to give Amazon's Jeff Bezos nightmares.
Either way, for those of us eager to have our realities augmented, perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised next year when AR developers like Boonstra and Lens-FitzGerald are the ones on stage with Jobs showing off the next iteration of the iPad.
The best thing AR fans can do for now is create and promote amazing AR applications that will captivate the masses and launch AR further into the public eye. We can only hope that Steve Jobs is watching.
Be sure to keep your eye out in the next few weeks, as ReadWriteWeb will be presenting our next premium report focusing this time on the use of augmented reality in marketing.
Photo by Flickr user vlauria.
See also: ReadWriteWeb's complete coverage and analysis of the iPad on our iPad topic page.