E3 Show Offers Evidence Augmented Reality Will Kill QR Codes

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) didn’t introduce much revolutionary new gaming technology, but it did demonstrate that Augmented Reality (AR) apps are about to go mainstream - and they may spell doom for QR codes.

For the unitiated, AR is the embellishment of reality through virtual additions, or as one E3 attendee described it, “the addition of fake things to the real world.” There are already a number of useful AR applications, such as acrossair’s New York Nearest Subway app, which overlays pop-up signs with directional information on your real-world view through your iPhone’s camera.

At E3, Sony made a push into AR, spending nearly 15 minutes of its press conference promoting the new Wonderbook Playstation peripheral, and a new Harry Potter-themed game to support it. The player controls the action and casts spells by waving a Playstation Move controller over the Wonderbook’s flat control surface. On-screen, the devices appear as a wand and a spell book, complete with various monsters and effects.

Regardless of whether Sony can push the Wonderbook beyond the obvious Harry Potter tie-in, AR is coming in a big way. Aurasma demonstrated some new Marvel-themed advertising content, and it was actually pretty cool for advertising. While Aurasma claims a unique technological sophistication for its image-recognition capabilities (and based on a cursory overview, they do seem quite good), the execution is straight-forward AR: overlay promotional video on posters, artwork and other still images. Check out the demo below.

Beyond the cool factor of Iron Man flying around in your living room, AR presents a couple of huge advantages over current print-to-Web promotional tools, like QR (Quick Response) codes. First, AR uses no print space, so you don’t have to clutter up an advertisement with an unsightly QR tag that will do nothing but baffle most users.

Second – and possibly more important - you can program AR to respond to existing assets already in circulation, like a year-old movie poster, a vending machine or the Empire State Building. Of course, that suggests there will definitely be some conflict-management challenges in networked social environments, where different AR systems try to interact with the same real-world images.

Still, in addition to the huge gaming opportunities (imagine a fantasy game in which real people appear as wizards, warriors and ogres), Augmented Reality opens up enormous real-world marketing opportunities. The first time a Coke machine seems to comes to life and offers you a deal, QR codes will seem positively quaint.