The other day I overheard someone in the supermarket telling their friend that they had spent the weekend killing zombies all over their house. It turns out that these weren’t real zombies (quietly relieved) but characters in a smartphone game that uses augmented reality (AR) technology to make it look as if the un-dead are creeping up the stairs and clawing at your windows in droves. That reminded me of a new marketing campaign I had read about that could place brightly coloured dancing animals all over your box of breakfast cereal just by pointing your phone at it. As I walked down the aisle in the supermarket I was struck by just how awful a prospect that is.
Featured image: Ikea 2014 catalogue, augmented reality app. Image source: Youtube
For many years the focus of augmented reality has been on adding an extra wow factor to product marketing, but I believe it is finally coming of age and proving itself as more than a gimmick. The processing power within our current mobile devices makes it possible to use pure image recognition instead of having to rely on those strange little QR codes, and at the same time the ability to render realistic animations on-screen provides for an immersive experience.
However, more important than the technology is the fact that designers are working out what makes for a decent user experience when using AR on our mobile phones and tablets. For example, the latest IKEA catalogue enables customers to see what a particular piece of furniture might look like in their home. Simply scan the relevant page with your phone and then place the catalogue on the floor where you want to imagine the product. The app lets you move and rotate the automatically sized 3D rendering making it easier to choose between your Klobo and your Kivik.
Fraunhofer augmented reality iPad app. Image source: Fraunhofer MEVIS
And while you are buying furniture for your new home, surgeons are using AR in the more serious environment of the operating theatre. Fraunhofer MEVIS has created an iPad app that overlays blood vessels onto live video of a patient’s liver. This 3D map can help a surgeon to determine where it is safe to make an incision and if cutting through a vessel can’t be avoided, the app provides information on the predicted blood loss.
Aurasma marketing boss, Tamara Roukaerts fights Lion-O in AR app. Image Source: Cult of Mac
It seems inevitable that interaction with AR apps will become commonplace for anyone using a smartphone. However, the area I find most exciting is the appearance of a number of apps that enable you as the user to create the content for an AR experience. I recently tried out Aurasma with my children to create an AR enhanced greeting card. Within a few minutes they were able to make a video of themselves singing “Happy Birthday” to their Gran and link the video to the picture on the front of a card that they sent to her. When Gran received the card it came with instructions to open the Aurasma app (pre-loaded on her phone by yours truly!) and point it at the card. Serious points were scored that day…