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4 Ways for Augmented Reality to Get Past the Hype

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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.

18 Responses to “4 Ways for Augmented Reality to Get Past the Hype”

  1. Zeke Shadfurman

    I wonder… could the accelerometer data be used with the GPS to augment location, say when it can’t get a GPS lock, could it use accelerometer data in combination with the last GPS location to approximate your location? Are the accelerometers accurate enough to do so over a few hundred feet of distance? I’m thinking for usage underground or in buildings that block signals.

    I think this could also be used to more accurately pinpoint location, by using the past accelerometer data with the past GPS data, I’m pretty sure you could overlay the maps (so to speak) and get a more accurate location with some fancy math.

    • Matthew Frederick

      You’d have to watch the compass, too, to see if the device was turned, make lots of vector calculations based on how the phone position was changing in the user’s hands, etc. Probably not impossible.

  2. Jack Henry

    Mr. Lee your focus on Android over iPhone makes your post suspicious and displays the exact problem presented in the headline of this article.. “get past the hype.” Apple will do it correctly, strategy will lead tactics, see GigaOM “Objectified” piece.

  3. Matthew Frederick

    On “The Apple Roadblock,” this is old news and is no longer true. Note that the letter you link to is from early July. Apps that access live video have been repeatedly approved for the last couple of months, including UStream and Qik, and several superior AR apps have been released as well. Apple’s already gotten out of the way, though it might not be official until later this month.

    • John Gauntt


      I wrote the report.

      In theory, Apple met the request to open the live video API when it released Version 3.1 beta 2 of the iPhone SDK in July 2009. And you are correct that there are iPhone apps like UStream/Qik (not AR) as well as some AR apps (acrossair) that access the API.

      The difference, however, is that the only thing enabled by the 3.1 API is that video is playing in the background. When you hold up your iPhone to use acrossair’s Nearest Subway App, the system first fixes the phone’s location, direction and orientation. It then displays the subway map it has stored in-app. Then the iPhone video capture plays in the background. There’s no real interactivity between the iPhone video feed and the application itself. It just plays.

      What AR developers want and they don’t have circa Dec. 09 is the ability to use the real-time iPhone video feed for image recognition, which is a different kettle of fish. That’s where things like Google Goggles start to get interesting. That’s still not opened up by Apple.

      However, I do agree with you that it will happen soon.

      • Matthew Frederick

        The summary here seemed much more broad with the statement, “Apple has a lock on the iPhone’s video feed API.” I’m not quite sure of what du Pre Gauntt (or you) is referring to, though, as real-time image recognition from the video feed is being performed by the likes of Sudoku Solver, any of the QR code recognizers, Gunman, Red Laser and its ilk (to a lesser extent), etc. I haven’t looked at the API, I freely admit, but they seem to be managing to recognize images. Certainly Sudoku Solver and the QR code apps.

        Any link reference to what’s missing in the API? I’ve done quite a bit of googling but can’t find the specific complaint. It’s more than casual interest, since my company has an AR app in the planning stages now.

  4. “Pinpointing Geo: Today’s AR apps depend mostly on location information, but location data is only accurate to 10-20 meters.”

    Actually, this only applies outdoors, where GPS is available. Indoors accuracy is virtually zero. Look for GPS location to be complemented by wireless location and sensing technologies like DASH7 ( which not only operate indoors, but also are capable of providing additional meta information/advertising/etc. to billboards, storefronts, mall displays, and other indoor and outdoor environments. Extremely low power and capability can be added to most smartphones for only pennies.

  5. “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.”

    On the iPhone, maybe…but as with barcodes, there’s another platform that’s had the hardware (only one iPhone’s got a magnetometer and all Android phones do) and software in place forever, and there aren’t any Apple-crazy roadblocks.

    So there are a whole ton of useful AR apps for Android phones you can’t get on Apple phones, and they work on all the phones. Sure, there are also silly or pointless ones, but…yeah, barcodes are a great analog. iPhones just got scanning barcodes for price-comparing, that was on Android phones before there even were Android phones (ShopSavvy came out of the first Devs Challenge), and Android owners use code scanning in all kinds of ways iPhone owners don’t.

    Same with AR. In fact, you know what made me really want an Android phone, the first time I played with a G1, like a year ago? Street View, the reality-mapping component of it on the phones, specifically.

    Just plain old Street View, plus AR, sold me.

    And then I saw Sky Maps.

    Anyway, dunno what you do on your locked-down phone, but I got AR apps on mine I use all the time and wouldn’t want to live without.