“Augmented Reality”…Sounds like something from Star Wars or Star Trek doesn’t it? But in the world of mobility it is a technology that is catching on quickly. So what is it anyway?
Augmented Reality (or AR) is something that many of us are actually at least somewhat familiar with. When you watched the college football bowl games this year, did you notice some brands and logos placed at various points on the field that weren’t physically on the field? Those overlays you saw are a simple form of AR. In fact, the yellow first down line you see all the time on televised football is AR.
The concept of AR is to combine the real world with digital information. That’s exactly what is happening with that first down line. Producers move it as the first down marker moves, and it enhances your viewing of the game. It makes it easier to see where the team has to go to make the first down, and as a result you end up cheering just about as hard for the running back to reach that AR line as you do the real painted goal line.
I recently ran across an article by Inc. discussing how companies are starting to use AR more in marketing campaigns. It’s worth a read, especially if you are in sales or marketing. The article covers more medium that just mobile apps, but they give plenty of air to mobile apps.
So what’s the link to AR and mobility? Mobile apps have a unique ability to combine the digital world with the real world because of two key device technologies carried on board virtually every smartphone. Those technologies are the camera and GPS. Here’s one example of what it looks like in the mobile world.
I’ve got two hours before my next meeting. It’s not really enough time to go back to my hotel, but I’d really like to get some work done while I wait. I pull out my smartphone, open an app, and hold my phone up in front of me. Through the screen on my phone I see the streets and buildings around me, but there’s more. I also see little banners pop up with the names of coffee shops, along with an indication of how far away they are. As I spin 360 degrees, the banners appear and disappear depending on whether the camera is pointed toward the coffee shop or not.
Far fetched? Actually, you can get this same type of technology in a number of apps today. The marriage of location specific information with the ability to overlay this information over a view of the real world makes is valuable for a variety of applications. And you don’t have to own a coffee shop for it to be useful.
Let’s say you manufacture tools used on construction sites and want to let the users of your tools find the closest place to buy or repair a tool. AR can be used to help them find those locations while on the job site in the same way it helps you find a coffee shop in NYC. So it’s not just about marketing. In the example of the tool manufacturer it becomes a customer service and customer satisfaction tool.
Or what if you work in the oil field and have a problem with a piece of equipment? Just take out your phone and snap a picture of the machine’s serial number. The application can use character recognition to decipher the serial number and deliver an electronic copy of the operations manual to you right on your phone. Again, AR is for more than just marketing.
So, is Augmented Reality becoming a reality? I believe it is. And if we are willing to be creative about how we think about the technology, I believe it can be used in ways far beyond marketing…ways that will improve how we do business.
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