Defining Reality – The Augmented Kind
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Last week, Santa Clara hosted the first global augmented reality event - gathering the developers, creative directors and engineers from around the world who are driving nascent “augmentation” technology into our immediate reality.
If you said “Say what?” to that sentence, you will appreciate the following:
In the first keynote of the conference, WIRED’s contributing editor Bruce Sterling defined a singular challenge for the assembled that had very little to do with technological wizardry and everything to do with communication: create and shape the language of this brave new world.
If you are among the many who didn’t know your immediate reality was about to be affected, you can probably immediately understand the magnitude of that challenge.
Sterling, who regularly follows developments in AR on the Wired blog Beyond the Beyond, argued that so-called “Augmented Reality” is not at the dawn of the industry, but approaching 9 a.m. So, if our daily reality is about to become augmented, we’d better be able to talk about it as easily as we can describe getting coffee or brushing our teeth.
As one panelist said over the course of the very interesting two days, this has to be technology your mum can understand – and then explain to your dad.
Right. Everyone agrees. The problem is it’s such a moving, flexible and rich target.
The event was a survey of the AR landscape – which has been around a while but has suddenly become an “industry.” Panelists featured multiple projects and case studies – including mobile zombie games, Lego box kiosks, computer-based tutorials, mobile urban planning applications, user manuals and health care innovations. They also underlined the importance of rethinking experience design and experiential venues – from hospitals to convention centers to museums to theme parks.
Given this versatility, how does a small but growing industry begin to describe its capabilities, the effect of those capabilities and how/when to best use them?
Will Wright argued that the whole term “Augmented Reality” is misleading – that it is best called “Blended Reality.” The issue is that blended reality is, by definition, blended and therefore hard to talk about in siloed, defined ways. Not that some market experimenters haven’t tried the one-dimensional approach for promotional effect.
Take the Adidas shoe that becomes a controller. Many contemporary expressions of AR feel stunty and gimmicky and leave you with one simple question: why would anyone want to do that? At the Lakers game following the conference I spoke with a digital marketer for the studios who quickly dismissed AR as a one trick pony. And certainly many agencies are treating AR applications that way - something magical with a lot of “wow” factor but not that much value or staying power.
But that typical agency approach shortchanges blended reality as well as the coming innovations in the technology, particularly as it applies to vision-based mobile applications. As Wright explained in a brilliant keynote, the goal has always been to bridge the gap between the person and the information and this technology has the capacity to do that in surprising, eye-opening ways that range from the fun to the incredibly useful.
So how do we think and talk about that?
Those in the content world who dismiss it miss an opportunity. As I pointed out to the studio marketer – why are they comfortable letting products like DOVE experiment with AR applications in movie theaters while movie trailers remain essentially unchanged since the 60’s? If the technology at this point surpasses our imagination, is that a failure of us or of the technology?
Throughout the conference the issue of language, of semantics, of definitions and of clear expression kept cropping up. Bruno Uzzan from Total Immersion challenged the conference participants – a friendly band of competitors – to communicate to consumers in a standardized way. How will the industry and marketers show (not tell) that a product is AR-ready? Can developers not only design applications, but also create clear user directions and calls to action that are easy to understand, pragmatic and practical?
Augmented reality is a reality. Now it’s time to augment the language of the industry.