Part of the issue facing mass adoption of augmented reality (“AR”) is that to most people it feels like a technology solution searching for a problem. That’s not surprising really as much of the discourse from the industry itself has been about the technology rather than its role in people’s lives. The elephant in the AR room in a nutshell is, “Yeah it’s cool tech, but why would I use it in my everyday life?” It’s time to shift the debate and think bigger picture. We need to dig the true power of image recognition and computer vision out of the siloed thinking of AR.
We’re now in an age where our relationship with mobile devices has truly evolved due in large part to the global proliferation of ever more powerful and affordable smartphones and tablets. This has heralded new forms of communication, social sharing and self-expression (through Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for instance). This in turn opens up new ways to think about the possibilities for augmented reality through the lens of the consumer.
The camera metaphor is extremely prescient here. Look at how the field of photography has evolved with the smartphone revolution not only in terms of hardware and printing (from film, to SD card and now a fully digital experience on mobile) but also in terms of consumer behavior. We moved from capturing specific moments 20 years ago to snapping every moment today; from physical photo albums shared with close family and friends to digital albums shared online with the world. In this new always-on digital era the role of photos has changed again in the last few years with the move from desktop to smartphones and the shift from curated photos on Facebook to image streams through Instagram enhanced instantly with the increasing use of filters and text overlays. The move to mobile has also created new global trends in photography such as the recent phenomenon of selfies.
People now spend more time documenting their lives then they could ever possibly have time to revisit and enjoy. The mere act of taking pictures and sharing them has become as important as the moment being captured. As Evan Spiegel from Snapchat recently observed: we’re now defined by our last three pictures, vines, tweets or posts. We are the sum of our latest social shares: a frightening prospect for some.
So what’s this all got to do with augmented reality? We’ve established that increasingly we live life through a lens or at least a screen. That screen right now is on our smartphone or tablet.
AR, like the camera, has been around for a while. AR was cooked up some 40 years ago and has been used in the military and aviation. It’s lived through the desktop era and more recently moved onto mobile with ever faster processors, high resolution cameras, better networks and cloud storage solutions to help it on its way. Coupled with augmented reality these advances in hardware and software and the cultural shift in our relationship with devices give AR its moment for mass adoption.
The previously orbiting planets of image recognition and image capture are aligning.
Now augmented reality becomes a lens we can place on smartphones to deliver a different way of seeing and enjoying the world around us to then share with others. It’s part of the evolutionary cycle of hardware and consumer behavior. So we can both take a picture and zap it to bring other things into the field of view. The zap can deliver information in the form of how-to guides, hints, tips, promotions or purchase options for brands and licensors connecting physical things with digital devices; or unlocks, bonus material, mini-games and fun sharable interactions as bite-sized entertainment delivered on your phone through its camera for anyone to enjoy.
In this context AR becomes another camera function to help you view the world and take a different picture: when it’s dark you might use a flash; to create a stylised effect you might set filters; if you want to discover what might lie hidden within an image or object you chose Zappar. And once you’re done you can share it with the world.
The importance shifts from the technology of image recognition (which is a largely solved problem but of no real interest to people on its own) to the experience it delivers. What happens in the moment after the tech has recognized something and what it then leads onto is the important and valued bit. At Zappar we've always been focussed on the quality of the experiences delivered through our platform, ensuring they are more than just cool tech demos for our computer vision algorithms. That's why we work hard to make our custom experiences as rich and engaging as possible, and why we've built the Zapcode Creator to allow anyone to create their own absorbing content, packed with magical effects to truly capture the imagination.