The Unlimited Possibilities — and Substantial Challenges — of Augmented Reality

presselite17Augmented reality has been around for years (remember that annoying blue flash that accompanied the puck on NHL broadcasts?), but the space has become white-hot in the last few months as developers begin to harness today’s technology to marry the real world with the virtual one. In particular, AR has recently been at the heart of some impressive new apps for smartphones, which — given their connectedness, GPS functionality, processing power and scale — are a natural fit for such applications.

The Dutch startup SPRXmobile, for instance, recently launched Layar, an AR browser running on the Android OS that delivers ATM locations, restaurant information and available jobs on the phone’s screen as users point the camera at their surroundings. (For an impressive demonstration of Layar, click here.) And Apple’s App Store has begun offering a handful of AR apps, including one that leverages the iPhone’s GPS and compass to deliver Yelp content about nearby businesses.

No wonder AR has been called “the opportunity that’s going to blow the lid off everything,” as Denise Gershbein of frog design put it at Mobilize 09, adding, “That’s the moment when you stop looking down at a device and hold the lens up to the world.”

Which isn’t to say that the space doesn’t face some serious challenges, of course, as a new report from GigaOM Pro points out (sub required). Location information is sometimes inaccurate to the point of making applications unusable, and the space suffers from a lack of widespread, credible content sources. These challenges will be overcome in time, and I believe AR will eventually become such a part of the everyday lives of consumers around the world. In the short term, though, it will be interesting to see if AR is simply an eye-catching novelty that makes for a good conversation piece or whether it can bring something truly valuable to mobile users.

Image courtesy of Presselite.