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Summary:

Combining a smartphone with virtual information to see the world around you is certainly a value-add concept. But is the market too fragmented by different apps and platforms? Would it make sense to add these virtual layers to a more widespread, mainstream application?

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Although I find Augmented Reality (AR) interesting, it’s not something I use on a daily basis. The concept actually reminds me of Twitter in its early stages — an occasional fun distraction at first, but the practical uses of it as a tool took time to develop. Today, I use Twitter daily for many purposes, so if my thought trend applies to AR, it could be that I use it, too, on a future daily basis. For now, it’s simply not as ubiquitous a platform as Twitter is and it appears to me that different players in this space are trying to create their own leading AR platform.

Over at GigaOM, we’re sharing a visual representation of eight such platforms, which exemplifies this fragmentation, but also shows the promise of AR on a mobile device. Each of the four screens tackles a different potential usage area for AR: Navigation, Location Overlay, Geo-Informational Services and Gaming. And in each area, you’ll see that there are two providers — I’m sure additional services exist in each category, as well.

Many of the different mobile AR services add similar, or even the same, categories of information in the form of layers. And when I think of layers, my mind immediately turns to Google Maps. One basic but very solid application becomes infinitely more valuable with the addition of informational layers — traffic, location of friends, and different views. I wouldn’t suggest that Google Maps become the end-all, be-all platform for AR layers, but it’s an application that’s already on or readily available for the hundreds of millions of mobile devices out there. Until an augmented reality service can claim the same footprint, it’s likely that each AR app will become a niche add-on and face slow adoption rates.

Are you using any mobile AR apps on a regular basis? More importantly, how did you choose one over the other and would you prefer these AR layers bundled into a more widespread application?

Related Research: “Mobile Augmented Reality Today and Tomorrow

  1. Agree they are “cool” but not practical or useful on a daily basis for me – but I do not travel much. After I read the GIGAOM post earlier this morning, I went to iTunes to download one of those apps – then did not because the ratings were so poor. Apparently both GPS and the content itself still needs improvement. AR does you no good if your device thinks you are 8 miles away from your current location.

    However, I think we’re in the early stages of AR and it will get bigger/better – just like Twitter!

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    1. Yup, I think they need to mature, although some are farther along than others. You’re hitting my key point as well with your example of “AR does you no good if your device thinks you are 8 miles away from your current location.”

      Why are these platforms trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, when we already have excellent location solutions to leverage? Might they be better creating and selling informational layers to Google or other established navigation platforms? Tough call…

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  2. I look forward to the day I can put on my AR Glasses and go exploring while on vacation.

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  3. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out SixthSense. Pranav Mistry gave an excellent TED on it not long ago.

    While AR hasn’t arrived yet, it has a staggering potential for demonstrably improving everyday life. Personal devices that go beyond reacting to explicit search instructions or providing information solely on your location, but where the device also more broadly reacts to the context/environment by automatically providing you with pertinent information.

    AR is inevitable because there is crazy money -for lack of a better descriptor- to be made on it. Not only will it create substantial new markets (e.g., the selection and delivery of said “pertinent” information, etc.), but will even help supplement existing ones (e.g., floundering physical retailers, etc.).

    That said, I see some rather huge challenges in AR’s future, not in the creation of practical/useful tools -only a matter of time- but rather from the profound privacy concerns it will soon raise. If people are salty over the information Google keeps in their efforts to better customize your search experience, just think of the potential for concern over systems that support (and thus are aware of) your every interaction in the real world.

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    1. Completely agree. We shared that demo about a month ago: http://jkontherun.com/2010/01/04/sixthsense-computing-of-tomorrow-is-augmented-reality-i-want-today/

      I think you’ve pointed out some great reasons and use-cases for AR to see success in the future. It’s going to be interesting to watch it develop, both virtually and in the real world!

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  4. I agree they need to mature and that is partly why Apple is waiting to debut an iPad with 3G and a camera… AR apps are well suited to an iPad style device/screen size and when those emerge together onto the market they will give the oooh and aaah factor that Apple will want to sell the iPad past the first early adopters.

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