As Arthur C. Clarke famously said, ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. As a nostalgic Millennial and enthusiastic gamer, that’s kind of how I’ve felt about Pokémon Go. Released to tremendous media attention in July 2016, this mobile game is perhaps the most well-known example of augmented reality technology. What is augmented reality? Well, it’s a term used to describe systems or programs that offer users a live view of a physical, real-world environment, elements of which are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as visual elements, sound, or GPS data.
The premise of Pokémon Go is simple – the player navigates maps of real-world spaces, in the hope of encountering (and collecting) a variety of fantasy creatures. When the player attempts to capture a Pokémon, the game offers the opportunity to do so using augmented reality mode. This is pretty basic stuff – a computer-generated animated creature is superimposed over imagery of the player’s immediate surroundings, captured using the smartphone’s camera. The result is a blurring of fantasy and reality – the illusion that Pokémon really do inhabit the world around us.
Pokémon Go has certainly been a success story by any yardstick, winning awards and topping app download charts for months on end, while Snapchats AR filters are ubiquitous within social media. However, is this the extent of the usefulness of augmented reality, or does this technology have wider reaching applications? If the digital media website Mashable’s coverage is anything to go by, then it certainly does. Google Glass may be no more, but other developers are stepping in to fill the void – Chinese brand Lenovo is set to launch the remarkably similar ‘New Glass C200’ in mid-2017, positioning the product as an aid for businesses. According to Lenovo, the C200 combines augmented reality and AI in order to help users operate more efficiently by layering useful, real-time information on top of the real world, with applications in tech support, stock control and more.
But what about AR’s applications in the broader consumer space? French developers Augment offers brands the opportunity to allow consumers to engage with products in augmented reality. Fancy buying a new washing machine, but not sure how it’s going to fit into the kitchen? Like a cross between The Sims and the Ikea catalogue, Augment allows consumers to visualise products in three dimensions in their own homes. The technology has been applied across retail categories, from fashion to FMCG, and is sure to advance further in 2017.
In October 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a rare interview in which he suggested that Augmented Reality, rather than Virtual Reality, was going to gain real traction in the year ahead. “AR I think is going to become really big,” he said. “VR, I think, is not gonna be that big, compared to AR. How long will it take? AR is going to take a little while, because there’s some really hard technology challenges there. But it will happen. It will happen in a big way. And we will wonder, when it does, how we lived without it. Kind of how we wonder how we lived without our smartphones today”.
Thinking back a couple of years, ‘gamification’ was the word that everyone was throwing around – and now we are really starting to see what it could mean for the worlds of business and branding. Successful applications of AR won’t be ones that use the technology simply for the sake of it (like the faddish QR codes of 5 years ago), but those that engage the user in a collaborative, co-creative path – whether it’s catching all the Pokémon, or reimagining the home.
– Dr Emily Porter Salmon