Augmented Reality’s Dark Ages and The New Dawn

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One of the most awaited AR technologiesIn the last few days we’ve stumbled into a series of blog posts and articles questioning where the far awaited killer AR apps are and whether augmented reality has entered its own Dark Ages. The AR technology path to ‘enlightenment’ seems to have reached a standstill where people’s expectations can no longer be fulfilled. While many AR enthusiasts find this upsetting and extremely disappointing, it is a normal path in the life of any disrupting technology.

The Evolution of AR So Far

As shown by Gartner’s Hype Cycle, augmented reality was just passing over the peak of inflated expectations in 2011, so it was only a matter of time until the AR bubble would burst and start sliding down the through of disillusionment.

Gartner's Hype Cycle 2011Fuelled by its own novelty and by relentless marketers in need of grabbing attention, augmented reality has rapidly become a world-wide phenomenon. Advertising AR gimmicks proved to be a huge hit among companies desperate for coverage and concerned that by not dipping into this technology they will lose their ‘coolness’ in front of technology-savvy audiences. Coca-Cola, BMW and General Electric are only a few of the major corporations that have tried to provide an AR experience to their public without any true customer value.

Flying an Avatar helicopter on a computer screen with a bottle of Coke or driving a BMW Z4 on an AR marker is not what augmented reality is all about. None of these will attract somebody for more than a few minutes and after a couple of months they will not even be remembered. Experiences like these damage the consumer’s views of AR and negatively contribute to its current situation.

We shouldn’t, of course, forget the handful of great AR applications currently available, but with many of them only in beta stage, widespread usage cannot be yet considered.

While truly valuable AR research and development is carried out around the world, especially in Europe (where many key AR players have their headquarters), the public only sees the hype and becomes a ‘victim’ of their own expectations.

The New Dawn of Augmented Reality

As it happened with the dot-com bubble at the end of the 90’s, when the motto “get big fast” while paying no attention to basic economic truths led to many bankruptcies and to a reinvention of the Internet business, augmented reality seems to go through a similar evolution, at a much lower scale; in the case of augmented reality, “get big fast” was replaced by “get the attention fast” while not providing any real value.

For augmented reality to start going up the slope of enlightenment, it needs to pay more attention to what consumers actually need and how all these new AR developments can work together in providing a real augmented and valuable experience to the end user. Understanding that growth without value production was not going to last for long was one of the key factors that allowed Internet companies to recover from the dot-com bubble burst. Similarly, AR companies have to leave behind the gimmicky tactics and work harder with their developers and marketers to return to the roots of augmented reality as an immersive, personal and enhanced representation of reality.

Despite AR’s current problems and difficulties, it is just too useful to be left behind. And the good news is that other technologies such as computer-brain interface and human augmentation are slowly advancing on Gartner’s Technology Trigger curve and will surely show significant market presence in the next years. So it is likely that augmented reality’s younger ‘brothers’ will be perhaps the ones pushing AR further and fulfilling the augmented reality dream.

How do you think AR will manage to get back on the slope of enlightenment? Will it be through a killer app or AR glasses as some bloggers suggest or through something else? Please leave your comments and questions below.

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