Augmented reality: overlay your world

Is augmented reality the Next Big Thing, asks AdWeek.

[…] The biggest hope for the field moving into useful, mainstream applications is in the mobile arena. Acrossair created a mini sensation with the release of a video clip showing its mobile subway finder. It uses the new iPhone’s video camera and location technology to provide layer-on-top information about the nearest subway. Users can hold their phones up and get directions. This combination, according to Marc Lucas, executive creative director at Razorfish, holds the promise of being the "decoder ring" for any number of applications.

Other AR mobile apps are springing up. One iPhone app shows where nearby Twitterers are located. A Dutch software developer has a mobile browser that displays local business information while a user scans an environment.

Does that help you see what could be possible with augmented reality? Probably not.

This neat video by James Alliban might help.

Other examples abound, too, some already working – the Virtual Box Simulator from the United States Postal Service, for instance. And IBM’s Seer beta for G1 and G2 Android phones experiment.

Is this all just so much hype? As AdWeek says, is it something that’s getting hyped as much as Second Life did a few years ago?

Possibly. I think, though, that it’s something to keep a close eye on and learn from what people like the USPS and IBM are doing.

There are also people like Rob Lane and his team at I don’t know whether annotating video with Rob’s service really is augmented reality or not (and YouTube lets you do something similar): isn’t it the result that’s important?

And people like James Alliban – that AR business card could happen (and so would you need cards with mobile barcodes?).

Exciting times.

[Update] I was thinking about the hype potential surrounding augmented reality. I haven’t seen a great deal of what might be described as that. Others have, though, like Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald writing about the AR hype cycle in April:

This year Augmented Reality (AR) is out of the box. It has escaped from the universities and is spreading like wild fire. It’s being written about more and more, especially by marketing people, who go for hypes first. This last month I’ve personally heard about at least 4 advertising agencies working on it. On Twitter its mentioned at least 5 times an hour. What types of Augmented Reality are there and where do we stand?

With a nod to Gartner’s hype cycle, he answers his own question with a nice graphic that illustrates what he sees as the Augmented Reality Hype Cycle.


If you understand the Gartner hype cycle model, you’ll understand the fives stages in the hype cycle, where the ultimate stage 5 – the Plateau of Productivity – is the Holy Grail of just about every tech product.

Maarten’s post is detailed, discussing a pretty complex topic in an equally (to my eye) complex way. Worth reading, though.

So broadly speaking, I’d say AR as I’ve written about it in this post is well up the slope of the Technology Trigger not far from the Peak of Inflated Expectations.

Is that how you’d see it?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Hugh Barton-Smith

    As opposed to Second Life, Web 2.0 succeeds by letting people add layers of interaction to their first life without ever leaving it. AR would seem to be closer to this style than that of an immersive world.

  2. Tom Raftery

    When I saw that video at the Mobile 2.0 event Neville, I suddenly realised the enormous potential Augmented Reality has in all kinds of applications.

    Think walking down a manufacturing floor and being fed realtime AR data coming from the production systems, or surgeons working on patients using keyhole surgery and being fed realtime AR on the patient’s vital stats, or… the possibilities are endless!

    • neville

      Agree, Tom – Layar’s example really does show you the potential. And Layar must be the Dutch company AdWeek mentions which they don’t identify in their story.

      The one that capture my imagination, though, is James Alliban’s AR business card. Not entirely sure why. Maybe because I can imagine something like that so useful on an individual micro level, as it were, eg, a business card.

      But all the examples I’ve seen are great and imaginative.

  3. Hugh Barton-Smith

    Not in a very good position to judge whether Second Life is a practical way to augment reality – have to admit my avatar has been neglected in a corner bemoaning a moustache growing in the middle of his forehead for longer than is kind.

  4. mj

    I’ve been writing about AR here and there for about a year now and I’m glad to see that it’s finally picking up some momentum.

    I see it as being the exact opposite of Second Life, which requires a powerful machine to join and interaction is strictly through the screen. It seems to be about replicating renders of real world places and making them not exactly like the original. The fact there’s no real link to the real world makes it a silo of information which is, for the most part, closed off.

    Augmented Reality runs well on handheld devices and use of it is usually a prelude to interacting with the real world. It’s about revealing information in your location. Services will be developed which standardise ‘layers’ in your common or garden AR application (something LAYAR is trying to get a lead in the market on) so that it’s as simple as tapping an icon to see local underground stops, mixed in with local chemists, public telephones, – as well as their advertising sponsors.

    Now…if Linden Labs produced a Layer service….

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