4 Ways for Augmented Reality to Get Past the Hype

With 197 million augmented reality-capable smartphones set to be in the global market by 2012, up from nearly 91 million in 2010, the building blocks are falling into place for people to merge digital information with their view of the physical world. But while we’re just getting to the point that normal users can see the promise of augmented reality for themselves, there’s still a long way to go.

Right now AR is a big load of hype (and why not? it’s super cool), but the market will supposedly be worth anywhere from $350 million to $732 million by 2014, according to projections by ABI Research and Juniper Research, respectively. How do we get there? GigaOM Pro (subscription required) this week has a great report by John du Pre Gauntt on the technical and business challenges and opportunities ahead for consumer AR apps. They include:

Pinpointing Geo: Today’s AR apps depend mostly on location information, but location data is only accurate to 10-20 meters. The most pressing priority, says du Pre Gauntt, is to make geolocation data more granular and optimized. And mobile social networking apps could actually help us get to a mapped globe quicker, writes du Pre Gauntt. “Foursquare and Gowalla have the potential to be foot soldiers for geotagging the world.”

Opening Eyes: The next area of development will be image recognition, something Google is working on with Google Goggles and Nokia with Point and Find. These early systems are often out of their element unless they can depend on scanning formal markers like barcodes. But a barcode experience tends to take the user out of the lens of AR to bring them to a web site or another resource.

The Apple Roadblock: Though AR developers have begged for access, Apple has a lock on the iPhone’s video feed API. As du Pre Gauntt puts it, “Without a public API to access live video in real time from the iPhone’s camera, it is impossible to do effective image analysis of the object in front.” This barrier could foretell an Apple push to innovate image recognition on its own, or it could mean that more open platforms (aka every other smartphone) are able to harness developer enthusiasm to get ahead.

Teaming Up: The hybrid nature of AR means it’s ripe for cooperation. Diving into today’s major AR app categories of navigation, location overlays, geo-information services, and gaming, du Pre Gauntt finds companies like Mobilizy and Lonely Planet, and Layar and Zehnder collaborating on some very cool travel and event apps. But cooperation seems to only make things more complicated; the implementations require both an AR browser and an app or a separately purchased guide.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr wilgengebroed.