Augmented Reality: High-Tech Toy or Game-Changer?

In App Development

As technology progresses, it can be difficult to keep up with all the new innovations and changes taking place. Some ideas don't even get past R&D, and the general public never hears of them. Others are thrown into the PR machine in their infancy, and consumers are almost tired of hearing about them by the time they're made available to most of us.

Even though the concept's been around for a while, most folks consider augmented reality (AR) technology to be relatively new. As it comes of age, industry insiders and the general public are going to watch closely to see if it pans out to be a fad, or if its technology can be applied in ways that lend it more staying power. AR has now progressed to the point where the tech accompanying it can do some pretty amazing things, and its proponents insist it will change the way people do computing on both personal and business levels.

As CNet defines it, AR “conjure(s) up a digital layer in real space to 'augment' reality.” Though there are as many different kinds of AR as there are computing devices, we're gonna stick to how it's being applied to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Here's a quick example: You point your smartphone's camera at an item—it could be a building, a magazine cover or article, or a product on a grocery store shelf, among countless other things—and the image recognition software in an AR-enriched application kicks in from there. The app “sees” the item you've selected, and your mobile device is automatically redirected to content designed to accompany the image you've chosen. This can be anything from an informational web page to a video or slideshow presentation. It's pretty impressive to watch a magazine cover or building come to life with this technology. Digital Trends has put together some examples of mobile AR tech for you to check out.

As is true with all emerging technology, you're gonna hear opinions regarding AR's future varying everywhere from enthusiastic optimism to folks dismissing it as a distraction and nothing more. Realistically, the verdict's still out, with most adopting a wait-and-see attitude—but in our research, we found this article from The Guardian to be representative of the middle road, that it's got a lot of potential just waiting to be tapped. For example, AR could be implemented in making games even more visually interesting and interactive, and it could also serve as a way to summon up training tutorials in everything from do-it-yourself mechanics to surgery. On the educational front, AR could be used for everything from teaching preschoolers their ABCs to training grad students in quantum physics. Finally, as notes, the use of AR in mobile marketing could make mobile devices even more indispensable than ever.

You'll notice there's a lot of “could's” in this article; that's only natural when you're talking about new technology. We're sure that back in the early 1980s, someone out there wrote an article that said in effect, “This 'compact disc' technology could take off, but let's wait and see if it catches on with the public.” It's our educated guess—and that of most industry professionals—that AR is more than likely here to stay, though what forms it will take still remain to be seen. As always, we'll keep you posted on this, and other new technologies that shape the mobile communications world, as they develop.


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