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Six Trends in Augmented Reality
By Aki Jarvinen, Phd., Academic, Futurist, AR and VR Developer and Designer Sheffield Hallam University and Game Futures Ltd., UK
Towards the end of 2017, both Apple and Google released their AR software development kits and added an AR section to their app stores. In the wake of this support, tens of sub-par, gimmicky AR apps were released in the app stores and quickly forgotten. The problem is that current AR apps tend to have one-off use cases instead of multi-use applicability. That can be seen as natural growing pains that smartphone apps themselves suffered a decade back with early app store days. Remember the pint app where the display of the iPhone was used to emulate a pint of beer which one could virtually down? It had some show-off value that eroded quickly; a definition of a fad. AR in Q4 2017 was that all over again.
A definition for ‘trend’ is that it is a current phenomenon which feels intuitively important, because it has potential for change. Typically, trends have a direction, and that trajectory goes through ups and downs, from potential game-changers to clichés and revivals. Yet, single events do not make up a trend. Therefore, I will tie together a number of related events that potentially signal something greater about where AR is going.
Trend #1: Marriage of location-based features with light-touch AR
The first trend is evident in more location-based mobile AR games entering the market, trying to replicate the success of Pokémon Go. An aspect of the trend is that the apps need a well-known brand to rise from the crowd. This is typically in the scale of, e.g., Jurassic World, The Walking Dead, or Harry Potter.
Trend #2: The search for real-time and persistent social AR
While the games rely on a proven Pokémon formula, app developers are developing multi-user platforms.
A wearable solution would be needed for unleashing full potential of AR
These target enabling real-time shared experiences, where multiple users see the same augmented objects through their smartphones. Start-ups like 6D.ai are working on cloud solutions to enable real-time shared AR applications. These efforts represent the more advanced efforts that are showing the way forward.
In a related development, technologies like 'scene understanding' are becoming more advanced in scanning real, physical spaces for the purposes of AR. From a trend perspective, these developments represent the third AR trend:
Trend #3: Advanced computer vision technologies moving towards consumer applications
Another trend has to do with efforts to solve the ergonomic problem that AR in 2018 has: It is tiring to point your smartphone camera at things for an extended period of time.
Trend #4: Smartphone ergonomics are not made for AR
A wearable solution would be needed for unleashing full potential of AR, because feasible business in the mobile space requires frequent, daily use of your app, and consumer won’t tire their hands in doing that.
Wearable devices, such as glasses and head-mounted displays, are being developed. Meanwhile, branded ‘first generation’ AR devices, such as Lenovo's "Star Wars: Jedi Challenge", are being launched to consumers to test the waters - again with the help of huge entertainment brands. This set of phenomena, a trend of early device fragmentation, is typical to new technologies.
Trend #5: Everyday AR is and will be social and used in augmenting our identities
Photo filters in messaging and social apps (Snapchat, Instagram, etc) represent the everyday, casual use of reality augmentation. The creation tools that application developers and social media platforms (Snap, Facebook, etc) are releasing will see most usage, short term. The dream for ‘true AR’ with persistence often comes from creatives, such as game designers or film-makers, but finds it common solution when Google Maps goes full AR.
The popularity of AR filters in messaging apps can be explained by fleeting stepping stones to the more persistent augmentation of identity, where you see me, through your AR sunglasses, wearing different kinds of cat ears each day you meet me instead of only in the message I sent.
Trend #6: A new product design paradigm is emerging
From a designer’s perspective, all these potential changes require thinking away from the existing paradigm of laying things out on a two-dimensional flat surface—a screen. Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed realities bring on a design paradigm titled spatial computing, where manipulating and visualising information, such as a chart representing data, can be re-thought to hover around us as a physical object.
I argue that any disruptive product in this space is dependent on smart design. Educating your product designers on the paradigm of spatial computing early on does make sense—innovation and quality comes from quantity and many misses before a hit. Therefore, AR represents a strategic move in terms of being part of taking part in creating the AR-filled future, rather than just reacting to it once it is owned by your competitors. Start failing fast with AR, today.