By 2021, almost all of us will use augmented reality every single day, and it won’t be from playing Pokémon Go. But Pikachu will certainly help get us there.
More than half a billion people downloaded the Nintendo app within the first year of its release. That’s 1 in 12 smartphone users. Those fans generated $2 billion in revenue for developer Niantic and The Pokémon Company, and when the weather gets warm, almost a third of those 500 million users will try to “catch ‘em all” at least once a month by sweeping their smartphones across the physical landscape looking for virtual monsters.
Most AR today is mobile. You can point your phone at your driveway and BMW will augment it with a virtual vehicle you can walk around. Google Lens has the power to translate that street sign from a foreign language into a tourist’s native tongue. And you can find out if that IKEA couch really is the right fit, right down to the inch.
Mobile AR is the thin edge to the wedge that will pry open the public’s mind to accepting — and using — the technology.
In Episode 1 of Futurithmic, augmented reality guru, tech futurist, and author Galit Ariel believes “we’re on the verge of a new era.” Ariel tells me, “We’re talking not just about a single technology that is maturing, but several technologies that are coming together.”
Those technologies? Artificial intelligence, speech recognition, AMOLED computer screens, GPS, and 5G connectivity. AR will sit on top of them all, acting as the next-generation user interface. Forget keyboards and mice. In the not too distant future, you’ll interact with all these technologies using AR, your voice, and a wave of your index finger.
As AR makes the leap from our smartphones into other IoT devices and wearables, we get closer to The Singularity — where man and machine merge. While AR replacement eyeballs are the stuff of science fiction, eyeglasses from Solos and Everysight are already here, and AR contact lenses are next.
Augmented reality, though, is more than just an interface, it’s going to change the way we see the world. We’re altering and adding to our reality, and for Ariel, that’s a huge risk. She points out we have to “make sure that we use this technology in order to enrich and better our connection with the physical reality to give a better human experience.”
What constitutes a better human experience remains to be seen
Would Coke pay a pretty penny to replace that Pepsi billboard you’re looking at with its own? You bet. Would you be willing to rent your eyeballs to a soda maker in exchange for never seeing their competitor’s products again? Perhaps not.
To Ariel, smart marketers will look past product placements. “We’re talking about the idea of integrated product placements in your reality, but not necessarily just as the product itself, but values related to a brand, or an experience, or certain triggers that are related to a specific brand or product.” She cites Lady Gaga as an example because Gaga refers to her fans as “little monsters.” How cool would it be to download an AR app that turns you into a monster walking down the street, to connect with other fans?
Augmenting ourselves will be big business, but Ariel questions what that means for our identity. If we treat Instagram as the best version of ourselves, AR will take that to a whole other level and she fears we risk losing our sense of self as we augment how others see us. It’s the high tech question of, “do the clothes make the man, or does the man make the clothes?” Augmenting out a mustard stain is one thing, but what if we changed everything about us? At least, from the perspective of others seeing us through an AR lens. Life could be a permanent sparkle filter, complete with big doll eyes and animal ears.
In the meantime, selling the public on the viability of AR will happen over the next two years through apps that add value to our day-to-day lives like real-time translation, navigation, and entertainment. Once we accept the value proposition, the technology will move from our pockets to our faces — and ultimately inside our heads.
So long as they follow Galit Ariel’s Three Laws of AR:
- Keep the user in control
- Don’t augment what we don’t want to be changed
- Respect the physical world