Blog Post

You Look Ridiculous: The Other Augmented Reality Issue

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 (s aapl) 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):

Augmented Reality: Lots of Promise, Lots of Hurdles

11 Responses to “You Look Ridiculous: The Other Augmented Reality Issue”

  1. There are video glasses I can hook up to an iPod to watch movies while lounging or driving (LOL). If they worked for iPhone apps, that were ‘insanely great’. (You’d still have to hold the iPhone though, as that’s where the camera is.)

  2. giovanni1975

    Ok firstly – my issue with AR is that surely – SURELY! – it’s just easier to use the two eyes in your head to see what’s in front of you. No? Just look at the signs above the shops – that’s what they’re for.

    Secondly, hardly anyone would use apps like this on holiday because we all turn off data roaming because of the ridiculously exorbitant charges. So in an unknown location like that, you would be left to your own devices.

    Thirdly, which is off the record slightly, but still … why are so many apps trying to sell themselves on the fact that you can find your nearest pizza restaurant or coffee shop? Is that what drives most people to get these apps? Maybe I’m in the minority here but there’s more to life than damn pizza and coffee! (I can’t speak for within the US). And those pizza and coffee chains are so ubiquitous that you don’t need AR or anything to spot them.

  3. I find the concept of augmented reality apps fascinating, I also find them very difficult to trust given how endlessly an uphill battle it would be to stay current and accurate with the information.

    I have experienced first hand how inaccurate the searches for things around me can be. Last Month I was in Biloxi, MI with my wife and trying to find local restaurants that, according to Google, Where to?, Yelp, and Around me apps All said existed, in multiple locations and addresses, and discovered from a local resident that the two red lobsters, two olive gardens, and applebee’s we were searching for had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina over a year ago.

    I also agree full heartedly with Mr. Klein in the fact that they ruin your situational awareness, making you an easy target for pick-pocketing and mugging.

    The idea has a very cool and handy prospect, but until it is implemented into a pair of glasses, as Mr. Messer suggested, or has a a CGI based interface to make it usable with touch gestures instead of physical motion. I won’t buy into it.

  4. It’s not the concept it self that is so much the problem, it’s the implementation.

    I could easily imagine been in a foreign country or city looking for somewhere to eat or public transport or poi.

    Using the iphone, I’d be able to call up the “map” with info overlayed on it like where use and then go into AR mode to check out exactly where it is (as well as other useful info).

    The AR needs to maintain focus of the info, showing the nearest item to the center of the view in some sort of highlighted fashion and allowing the rest of the information to move into the background…

    That’s just an example…

  5. Thorin Messer

    This technology would, like so many others, be *so* much better if the display was a pair of sunglasses. That’s just until I can get it patched into my optic nerve so there is no “display”.

  6. Gone is the pleasure of being surprised by your environment, and the joy of an unexpected move to this bar across the street, coz’ it looks like a nice place to have a drink.
    I’m old fashioned.