Augmented Reality: The Next Big Thing or a Springboard to Something Bigger?

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To stay on the cutting edge of social media, it is important for us to keep up with what new technologies are on the horizon and to keep an eye on the technologies which we believe might be the “next big thing” in social media. It was rumoured a few years ago that the next big thing for 2009-2010 would be Foursquare. While Foursquare has attracted a fair sized following, I would argue that Foursquare acted as a springboard to launch us into the new era of location-based marketing and applications. Similarly, there is a lot of buzz in the social media world that identifies Augmented Reality and Mobile Augmented Reality as the next big thing for social media for 2011-2012. But, I can’t help but ask myself if that will really be the case. Before determining my opinion, however, I felt that it was necessary to explore a bit more about Augmented Reality.

What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality is defined as “a  type of virtual reality that combines real and imagined images in a real-time session” (PC Mag). AR has also been defined as “a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery” (Coolhunting). In plain English, this means that you can now use your cell phone camera to see things that aren’t physically there, but are placed there by digital/virtual markers. This could have some very positive implications for marketers who want to reach potential customers in the areas near their stores. It could also provide a great deal of added value to people who are already using location-based applications or are looking for deals, reviews or specific venues in a city.

How does it work?
So, how does augmented reality work? Since I’m not a technically gifted person, I looked around for some dynamic, visual explenations of how Augmented Reality works from a technical perspective. The best videos I found were by Common Craft and Hitlab who explain in pretty understandable terms how the technology behind AR really works.

It seems that there are several technologies involved and that there are lots of ways augmented reality can work. For Mobile Augmented Reality, the application on your cell phone reads a digital marker and is able to provide you with a secondary visual layer of information super-imposed over the actual reality. When AR is used with books or other physical objects, the objects usually has a card that transmits the information to your web camera or phone camera.

Will it catch on?
As you will notice from the videos above, it has taken a bit longer than expected for augmented reality to catch on . . . But, catch on it has! We are beginning to see Augmented Reality in cereal box toys, children’s books, mobile apps, zombie infested streets and location-based marketing. One of the most intriguing usages of AR that I found while researching the topic was the Axe Fallen Angels campaign. You may remember this ad from the Super Bowl featuring beautiful angels who fell from heaven because of the irresistible scent of Axe’s new body spray. What does this have to do with AR? Well, Axe brought their “fallen angels” to a train station via Augmented Reality.

People in the station could stand on the card which was stationary on the station floor and trigger the Augmented Reality on a screen above. While unsuspecting travelers watched, an “angel” falls and is within reach of people, but not quite close enough to touch. While I don’t intend to go out and buy Axe, I do believe that this is a very interesting example of what is possible with Augmented Reality in the next few years.

What do you think? Is AR here to stay or is it just a springboard for bigger and better technology in the near future? Will we be using AR for everything in a few years? Please share your opinions in the comments box below!

Thanks for reading!
Rebekah Bowen

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