What happened to augmented reality?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| July 14, 2011

Augmented reality was going to be one of the greatest new all-around features of our smartphones. If you are running Android or iOS, the ability to use your phone’s camera and see the world in a brand new way was going to change the way we use our phones, for better or worse. For the most part, augmented reality hasn’t actually gone anywhere. You can still find the necessary applications to fully augment your reality, but the hype around the technology has seemingly disappeared altogether. Fortunately, though, it just wasn’t overnight, which would suggest a death of the technology for the general consumer. No, the talk about AR has declined gradually, which means there’s still a chance that augmented reality could come screaming back into the limelight.

When AR was first hitting the stage, with apps like Layar (which is still, arguably, the most popular augmented reality application out there) taking it front-and-center, I wasn’t quick to brighten to the technology. Truth be told, I didn’t see much of a use for it, other than a gimmick to sell apps and use your phone’s battery life unnecessarily. But, as with many pieces of technology and innovation out there, the power of the technology (and the applications that utilize it) wasn’t about what was coming out then, but what the potential for the technology was. Augmented reality is a feature that many developers could utilize to promote some awesome stuff, and actually envelope users into a new world, all without having them to pay a ridiculous amount of money.

For me, AR was brought to my attention again through an application I had heard some grumblings about across the Internet. When I first heard about it, I didn’t think much of it, but the more I think about it, the more I can see where the potential is, and how awesome it is that this particular application incorporates two of the most popular applications for smartphones: Facebook and Foursquare. Having the ability to check into our favorite places (as we love to do oh so much), but do it with that augmented twist, is a pretty neat idea.

I really like the idea behind the app. And actually, I like the idea of incorporating existing applications into new ones, so the fundamental usage changes. Having more depth to an app is never a bad thing, but bringing the user into the app and altering the way they use it, as well as interact with the world around them is an added bonus. For an augmented reality application, utilizing such things as Foursquare and Facebook means that bringing the social check-in services into a new reality adds so much more interactivity, that it makes not only using the AR app new, but it also makes using FS and FB new and intriguing again. You’re no longer just “checking-in.” You’re checking in by looking at the world in a new way, and your “reality” is changing to literally show you other interesting places you might like to check into.

What if a generalized AR app was able to tap into some of our favorite games, like Angry Birds? How fantastic would it be to play Angry Birds in a whole new way? Or, what if multiplayer games were able to tap into the ability to find new players? Instead of just starting a generalized search, you could be in a crowded area, and use your phone as a viewfinder to find someone to play with. Or, you could look through your phone and see what games someone has, and make your decisions on what to play based on what you’ve seen through your phone.

The former idea, playing Angry Birds in a whole new way, isn’t all that out of the realm of possibility. There are applications out there that use augmented reality to make playing a game like dodge ball all the more interesting. However, that latter bit, about finding out what games someone has on their phone through your phone’s camera probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. That whole privacy issue may come into play. But, if someone gives an app permission to showcase what games they have on their phone to others using the same app, I think it could certainly be a fun and new way to find people to play games with on the fly.

So, what happened to augmented reality? I don’t think it’s really gone anywhere – I just think it’s fallen past the general consumer’s attention. But I don’t think it’s gone forever. With the apps being developed, and as people figure the technology out more, there’s a strong chance that AR comes back stronger than ever, sooner rather than later.

Do you use an AR app regularly, or have you never used one? Did you try it out, but then never used it again? And if you could use an augmented reality app, what would you like it to do? Let me know in the comments below what you think: is augmented reality something that should get the attention?