Augmented Reality (AR) is a hot topic in the app stores these days. So, what’s AR? It’s multiple technologies being used simultaneously to provide you with data relevant to your location. This includes your phone’s compass to determine the direction you are facing, GPS to determine your exact location, an Internet connection to gather information about your surroundings, a camera to capture your reality and the screen to augment it with extremely specific data.
The app that gets the most free publicity is Layar for its on-again off-again relationship with Apple’s App Store. Whether or not this app should be allowed in the App Store is the issue people have been harping on for several months now. I think there is a much more urgent AR issue.
You look completely ridiculous when you use it.
Seriously. People take pictures all the time with their mobile phones. It’s a simple, quick task. But using an AR app is confusing and time-consuming. You have to maintain the phone’s direction and camera angle otherwise you lose the details on your screen. Your face is glued to your screen for a longer-than-appropriate time period. We have quickly grown accustomed to people looking down at their phones while walking around town (although some would argue that this is aggravating and dangerous). AR users have taken this awkward behavior to a new high since their phones are at eye level with people walking by.
Below is Layar showing the Drink layer. Note the confusing interface that requires thorough focus to decipher while you are standing on a sidewalk holding your phone in the air.
Here’s Yelp’s easier-to-comprehend (although it can quickly become cluttered) “Monacle” feature. Note: To activate this feature you must shake your phone when on the Nearby tab.
And finally, an innocent AR user begging to be mugged while trying to learn more about his location.
We can all agree that AR is extremely cool. Hopefully it will soon be a useful way to understand your surroundings. But for now these apps feel more like usability and HCI research experiments.
Related GigaOM Pro Research (sub req’d):