We all know it’s true, so let’s put the rumors aside and settle this right now – Arnold Schwarzenegger invented augmented reality in 1984 and I’m pretty sure everyone thought it was pretty bad ass.
The point is, AR is not a new concept. It has been around for at least two decades now and has been implemented and widely used in a number of fields ranging from automotive repair and aerospace manufacturing.
Augmented Reality as a term, though, has quickly begun to usurp Twitter as the buzzword of the day solely because App Frenzy is the new hotness. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the conversation that erupted on Robert Scoble’s blog a few days ago because Ray Ozzie from Microsoft mentioned that “apps won’t be a differentiating factor on smart phones” – a little too defensive, don’t you think?
In case you missed it, news broke in late October that over 100,000 apps have been developed for the iPhone alone. I applaud Apple and fully recognize that this is a significant feat; at the same time, however, I am equally concerned about the App Frenzy’s effects with respect to AR and similar emerging technologies.
Why? Because the rapid expansion of app markets has created a need to categorize apps into buckets. For example: enterprise apps, game apps, social networking apps, location-aware apps, etc. You get my point.
I guess we can all thank Yelp for creating the first official AR bucket. After all, they did produce the first AR-ish app to hit the mainstream.
But as Austin’s own AR guru Whurley asks, “Is an application that lets you Twitter safely while you walk, by replacing the normal background screen with the camera’s view of what’s in front of you, really augmented reality? Or should the term “augmented reality” be reserved for applications that truly mix digital assets with the real world?”
The answer is undoubtedly the latter, yet it is unfortunately the former that has suddenly seeped in to begin defining the space of AR.
Most “augmented reality” apps available now should actually fall into a series of more refined buckets, possibly under the umbrella of AR, but decidedly tangential to its conceptualization: video integration apps, identity recognition apps, object recognition apps, etc.
Pranav Mistry and Sixth Sense technology is one of the only true AR players in the game that is peaking down the right rabbit hole – and he isn’t even using a smartphone. Take a look here if you have never seen this stuff in action.
While not all “augmented reality” apps in the app store are erroneously construed or mis-representative of AR, the current system is detrimentally set up to cause horizontal segmentation of apps, which shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t have to have an app to view restaurant reviews, AND an app to locate subway locations, AND an app to see who’s tweeting around us…we should have one AR utility that sucks all of these technologies into one “app.”
So what’s missing here? Enter the intelligent software agents. Augmented Reality doesn’t have to be confined to a phone. Augmented Reality doesn’t have to be confined to an app. Augmented Reality doesn’t even have to be geared for mainstream consumption. Some of the coolest AR advances, in fact, will come in the form of nanotechnologies and biomedical engineering.
The problem that keeps arising, however, is that with App Frenzy directing the discussion, Augmented Reality as a conceptual space is being overrun by products simply latching on to its ascendant buzz, but limiting the actual possibilities of what the technology can be. The danger here is that misconstruing the term to a consumer-oriented market will only dismantle future innovation, similar to the way “green” has quickly become an empty term that every product now claims, regardless of the “reality.”