It’s hard to overstate the excitement surrounding augmented reality as 2019 dawns. Seasoned industry observers claim that AR is set to expand from games like Pokémon Go into every aspect of our lives. And with smartphone manufacturers specifically designing handsets with AR use in mind, it seems the next generation of mobile data provision is just around the corner – spearheaded by some high-profile games due for release this year…
The world at your fingertips
We’ve heard similar claims about virtual reality in the past, but VR headsets are only suitable for use in environments where users don’t need to see or hear anything around them, like FPS gaming at home. Conversely, augmented reality works everywhere. Someone walking through their local mall could scan a restaurant logo or QR code to call up recent TripAdvisor reviews, recipe allergy data and even live table availability. YouTube tutorials will probably give way to interactive how-to guides, overlaying schematics (and depictions of what to do next) across everything from engines to self-assembly furniture. It’s even being suggested that we could try on clothes virtually, either by superimposing our faces onto mannequins or projecting items onto our reflections in a mirror.
Apps or appliances?
While software companies are enthusiastically developing AR apps for imminent deployment, these services will only succeed once hardware manufacturers ensure their devices are up to the task. Consequently, tech firms are pouring billions of dollars into AR. Dedicated divisions including Facebook’s AR Studio are helping developers to build AR apps using 3D rendering, object recognition, and facial tracking. Google is harnessing similar technologies with its Tango platform, which can call upon the search engine giant’s world-leading mapping data. Google is also working on image-based search results, where pointing your camera at an object automatically summons further information.
AR tools like reverse image searches already exist, courtesy of apps including PictureThis, but Google’s involvement will bring augmented reality into the mainstream. Any new technology reaches a tipping point where public demand raises awareness, in turn increasing demand, but this virtuous circle relies on hardware being affordable and easy to use. Apple’s iOS 11 is already AR-ready, supported by a proprietary toolkit for developing AR apps. Consumers already know how apps work, so adding an AR angle represents a manageable leap for the general public.
In the frame
The logical endgame for augmented reality involves glasses, since looking down at smartphones is often impractical (or even dangerous) in public environments. Google Glass was clearly ahead of its time since the project has recently been revived; other companies are developing head up displays for car windscreens and motorcycle crash helmets. Rumors suggest Apple’s newfound enthusiasm for wireless peripherals like AirPods and the Apple
Watch might be a precursor to Apple Lenses, displaying data in front of a user’s eyes. AR-enabled prescription lenses would appeal to people who already have short- or long-sightedness while swapping out conventional lenses for photochromic ones could combine style, vision correction, and information in a single wearable device.
Outside of dedicated hardware, smartphone gaming continues to provide the most important consumer introductions to AR. This year’s VR&AR Fair in China is expected to attract 250 exhibitors, demonstrating the latest breakthroughs in environment modeling technology and interactive multimedia applications. These innovations will rapidly be adopted by software developers and used to create upcoming titles like Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Like Pokémon Go, this keenly anticipated game will introduce millions of people to the concept of AR – encouraging and empowering them to investigate other augmented reality apps or programs.