Home State of the Augmented Reality Union from the RWW Mobile Summit

State of the Augmented Reality Union from the RWW Mobile Summit

Last Friday, ReadWriteWeb hosted our second unconference event in Mountain View, California as experts from around the world gathered to discuss the mobile Web and its future. One of the hot topics I was eager to discuss going into the event was augmented reality (AR) – a top trend that we are tracking here at ReadWriteWeb. In case you weren’t able to make it out to the summit, here is an overview of the discussions surrounding augmented reality from the event.

One of the key things I took away from our discussions of AR at the summit was that large group round-tables can quickly devolve into an argument over what is and what isn’t to be considered “augmented reality.” This has been a conversation I’ve experienced not only when trying to describe the technology to someone unfamiliar with it, but also when speaking with experts in and executives in the field.

One company specializing in a specific form of AR riffed that another company, focusing on other initiatives, was “not really doing AR” while the other would argue they were. It would seem that the definition of augmented reality is very broad and more inclusive to some, and narrow and exclusive to others. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, defining AR as something that can take many different forms but which should not be over used to define fringe examples or offshoot technologies.

As augmented reality evolves, I believe the accepted definition should also evolve to reflect the current state of the technology. The two words, “augmented” and “reality” should not be interpreted for their separate values. The ability to add data to a reality-based location, person, event, etc. does not automatically meet the prerequisites for what I would define as augmented reality. It is the implementation of this data into a visual display that makes it “augmented reality,” rather than “augmented” “reality.”

For the purpose of the mobile summit, we tried to focus on AR as it pertained to mobile devices. We discussed the issues surrounding standards and the impending compatibility issues between the various mobile AR browsers on the market. Personally I think the sooner augmented reality content can be standardized into a single markup language, the faster and more efficiently the technology can grow and become more widely accepted.

Another way that AR’s acceptance will be accelerated is through publicity and greater awareness. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, AR was named a top trend to follow in 2010 by Time Magazine, and is currently being featured in a campaign on the Discovery Channel for their hit show Deadliest Catch. These are big steps forward for AR in that they place the technology in the spotlight in front of millions of eyeballs, but not all of the publicity is positive.

Personally I find the proliferation of impractical examples of AR to be a long-term detriment to the growth and acceptance of the technology. Unfortunately, the most popular iterations of AR come in the form of gimmicky promotions for movies, TV shows, cars and other products. While it is good to place the technology in front of large audiences, we are teaching people that AR is nothing but a fun trick. I have no problem with AR being used in toys to enhance playing cards, drone helicopters and the overall toy-buying experience, but when AR does nothing more than provide a cheap thrill, it’s missing the point. AR for the sake of AR is, to me, pointless.

There are so many practical uses for AR being created that are largely overlooked because they aren’t tied to a large brand promoting a popular product. Virtual mirrors let shoppers try on sunglasses, shoes, clothes, hair styles, make up and other products before purchasing them online or in a store. Mobile browsers let people see virtual tours, valuable government data and, eventually I hope, relevant hyper-local news results and alerts. These are just a handful of the practical uses for AR that will hopefully inundate its future.

We also pondered the various things, both technologically and otherwise, standing in the way of AR and a prosperous future with the technology. Many noted the various hardware limitations presented by smartphones and other portable devices, including camera, accelerometer and GPS quality and accuracy.

One of the more overlooked hurdles AR needs to overcome is the awkwardness presented by holding one’s phone in front of their face when browsing AR content. The cure for this? Time. AR will likely need a few years to move into the public consciousness much in the same way that Bluetooth headsets did, eliminating the majority of the confusion that surrounded their use.

I think, however, that by the time the public becomes more accepting of seeing phones held up in the air, there will likely be a better technology suited for browsing AR content. Examples include fashionable head-mounted displays (HMDs) in the form of sunglasses or contact lenses, which would remove he need to hold a device in our field of vision.

What we all agreed on at the summit is that the future of AR looks promising, and the exponential growth of technology should help it expand rather quickly in the next several years. If you would like to learn more about augmented reality, be sure to read up on the top vendors in the space in our report, Augmented Reality for Marketers and Developers: Analysis of the Leaders, the Challenges and the Future.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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