Imagine a world where you can slip on a pair of glasses and jump into a new reality that uses real-world features and augments them into something other. You can interact with them by pressing virtual buttons on their surface, change to another reality, and see and interact with things that aren't present in the real, physical world. That is the promise of Augmented Reality, (AR), and we think that Apple's iPhone will be key in unlocking this potential for global users.
The Iphone is well-placed to dominate the future AR market. It's now established as an industry leader and its features allow interaction on a number of different levels. True, we are not yet at the 'slip on a pair of glasses' stage, but that will likely come in the not-to-distant future (although Google Glass is currently undergoing the next stage of development after public unease about its potential privacy violations). Facebook and Microsoft are also on the AR bandwagon, and an analysis carried out on staffing levels involved in these projects for these companies indicates that budgets and hires are all increasing dramatically. It does indeed look to be the next battle ground amongst these behemoths.
The success of Pokemon GO has only added more urgency to these companies research push. Tim Cook of Apple has gone on record saying that AR will be huge, and no doubt many more brands and entertainment franchises will be looking to see how they can create a revenue stream out of their intellectual property. Will we soon see our favourite superheroes leaping out at us in our local cities and parks to dispense some justice (without due process)? Or a Jurassic Park in every back garden? I don't think these ideas are far fetched at all.
But whilst the future always holds great promise (I'm an optimist), it also pays to look at what is already out there. One of the great AR games that is already in existence is the 'Zombies, Run!' App. It is a beautifully simple idea that combines real-world activity (running) with wonderful storytelling.
In the office, our Lady Penelope swears by it. She is an active runner and has used quite a few running Apps in her tarmac-stamping career. To use it you simply do your normal run, plug the headphones in, and activate the game. When you hear the shuffling of undead-zombie-feet gain on you, you are forced to outpace them to reach a certain waypoint, (a fictional safe house etc) after which a new part of the story will begin.
The story-teller in me applauds this clever use of first generation AR and its simplistic use of sound alone to create the augmented environment, and I would urge any pavement-bashers to check it out: https://zombiesrungame.com/
But could AR lead to developments in education, health, and interaction with the natural world? Could this new form be used beyond simple entertainment?
One could imagine an AR program which blends fantasy and reality by giving each tree in your locality a persona, to tell you what is happening to it in certain seasons (a rather tarty cherry tree could offer you her 'fruits' when they are in season!) or an ash tree could ask you to keep a look out for symptoms of Ash Die Back in a program designed to encourage citizen science on monitoring the spread of diseases. Or even, by taking photos of your local environment with your iPhone, and uploading them into the game, you could have these persona comment on real-world changes (provided the in game AI was sophisticated enough to map the photos and look out for changes). AR could help us perceive our own, real world far more accurately than we perceive it now, and provide us with a greater appreciation of our natural environment. It really is limited only by our imaginations.
So perhaps the 'future is here' theme is the wrong angle to take. Perhaps it should be 'the future is elsewhere.' In our pockets, and on a server farm not far away.