Imagine you’re staring at the Statue of Liberty. Then, while gazing up, contextually relevant information appears in your view—elaborating on the history of France’s gift, explaining how its greenish hue came to be, and offering a translation of the Latin inscription carved into Lady Liberty’s base.
While films like Minority Report and Stranger Than Fiction introduced audiences to the world of augmented (or mixed) reality, the rapid pace of innovation over the past 10 years has turned science fiction into present-day reality.
In the past something like this wouldn’t have been possible; there simply wasn’t enough data available in digital form. But breakthroughs in the digital and tech spheres have yielded an incredible amount of information—details, specifications, user reviews, ratings, and more—helping to break down the barrier between user and hardware. Better still, much of that information has been made portable via APIs and means of access and integration into new services.
But despite the advancements made in information and data gathering, augmented reality will still need to jump a few key hurdles before mainstream audiences are ready to embrace it.
The Price of Innovation
While the potential of industry and consumer applications feels limitless, the lack of an established hardware market for AR glasses still presents a roadblock.
Google’s initial “Glass” experiment from several years ago was just that—the tech goliath offered a hint at what’s possible without investing significantly in the future of mixed reality. As with smartphones, the widespread adoption of AR will require a company that is committed to fully developing a tested and vetted product—and it needs to be released at an accessible price point (“Glass” set users back a whopping $1,500).
The market dominance of iPhone-esque “slate” smartphones mostly maps back to Apple reinventing a product, putting the full weight of its marketing and engineering machine behind it, and sticking with it for almost a decade (so far). As of now, no company has made the plunge with similar efforts in the AR space.
Cracks in the Glass
Beyond creating scalable gear, Google Glass and other optics sets will need to get past the ethical and sociological issues that come with revolutionary advances—a dilemma that is sure to be a trickier hurdle to clear.
In the case of Google Glass, however, the issue is less with physical safety and more with protecting people’s privacy. In fact, it got to the point where users were expected (if not required) to remove their glasses in public places—in restrooms, theaters, schools, etc.—more than they were allowed to wear them.
It’s unclear whether the product simply hadn’t been marketed and engineered for society, or if society hadn’t yet been “engineered” to accept the glasses—though in all likelihood both contributed to Glass’s publicity failure.
While Glass didn’t turn AR into a ubiquitous gadget, Google’s efforts paved the way for the next wave of AR tech to meet a more willing, accepting, and understanding market.
Along the Edge of AR
We’re still as far away from widespread augmented reality changing our lives as we are from driverless cars getting us from Point A to Point B. This is likely why Google has reevaluated its Glass approach, moving away from a consumer-based model and instead exploring B2B applications, letting companies test Glass EE over the past couple years. While a less splashy approach, this new tactic allows the company to continue their AR experiment, ultimately finding new practical uses for AR displays while easing the mass market into the idea of enhancing reality.
Regardless of where AR stands today, it is clear that this dynamic new medium is worth experimenting with. Marketers and creatives who begin working with available AR tools on mobile (Apple’s AR Kit and Google’s Lense) now will be perfectly positioned to leverage fully formed AR platforms when they break into the public market in the months or years to come.