With the CES 2014 in full swing, we have decided to start this year with an infographic about one of the most used technologies in recent years: the smartphone. With almost 60% of the world population owning and using a smartphone there no doubt that this technology will only become bigger and better. Bendable screens, holographic video calls or antibacterial devices are only a few of the smartphone updates we might see in the near future. Until then here are some interesting stats about the devices we can never leave our home without:
Launched only 3 weeks ago with the promise of changing the way people interact with their computers, Leap Motion has already reached the 1 million app downloads milestone through the app store that accompanies the device. Will this be the new iPhone in the world of motion-tracking technology or another hi-tech gimmick that will soon ‘leap’ into the unknown?
More than a year ago we wrote a small article announcing a San Francisco start-up’s daring project of creating a small gadget that will be “more reliable than a mouse, as reliable as a keyboard and more sensitive than a touchscreen” and which will be available for as little as $70. Although at that time it seemed like something taken from a Sci-Fi film, the company managed to raise almost $45 million by now in three rounds of investment and built some strong partnerships along the way. The latest one is with the tech giant ASUS, who wants to incorporate it into their computers. With so much traction building around this piece of hardware what can it actually do and how can it be used?
How Leap Motion (Should) Work
The small rectangular device, no bigger than a computer mouse, can be easily plugged in the USB port of your device and after you download a small piece of software your Leap Motion device is fully functional. According to the company’s specifications it can detect the position of your hand and fingers with a precision of 0.01mm within an eight cubic foot volume of space. To translate this, it means every finger twitching can be detected above the device within a space the size of a 33 inch screen in a square box.
The Leap can track any movement, pinch, wave or any other motion you can make with your fingers, hands or any other small devices such as pens. These are then translated into actual computer commands through the device’s software and the apps that you can download from their Air Space app store. In this way you can control your computer, play games, draw, compose music, create 3D graphics, turn the pages of a digital newspaper or scroll through your digital photo albums.
Drawbacks of Leap Motion
Although the launch price is slightly higher than the promoted price of $70, a device capable of doing what ‘it says on the tin’ should still be a bargain at a price of $79.99. We don’t know if the production costs are to be blamed or just the thriftiness of the investors who wanted a better return for their buck.
The real problems arise when we look at the usability of the Leap Motion device. Many ‘proud’ owners of the new controller have intensively complained about the lack of accuracy of the device. Now we are not talking about 0.01mm or 0.02mm accuracy but about not being able to recognise hand movement in normal lighting conditions or loosing track of your fingers during an activity. Some people even say that they have tried to use a pencil (as it says on the Leap Motion website) but couldn’t even register it as being in the active area (the trackable space). All these problems got even worse in certain apps, a few users talking about not even being able to draw a line without continuous interruptions and a final drawing looking more like a dash or a bunch of random dots.
If the issues surrounding the hardware weren’t enough, many Leap Motion owners also complain about the Air Space app store and the apps they can find there or maybe it would be more truthful to say “the apps that they can’t find there”. With a little more than 85 apps available, despite a software developer programme launched in October 2012 that was supposed to get a good number of apps in return, Air Space is seriously struggling to keep up with the demand for more apps, and therefore annoying many users. They are also complaining about the high price they have to pay for the majority of the apps with only about 15-20% being free to download. With these costs taken into account, a new Leap Motion owner has to get out of their pocket at least another $20-$30 to get a good app starting set, pushing the total price closer to $110 for a full Leap experience.
With many people having all kinds of accuracy and tracking problems even with the paid apps and with some of them spending hours in order to learn how to use The Leap, there’s no surprise that many conclude that it might be just an expensive toy and, despite its potential, it is not yet ready for daily use. Not even trying to get some support from the company hasn’t proved successful as apparently there wasn’t any.
Note: User comments from BestBuy, Amazon US and Amazon UK have been used for some of the issues described above.
The Potential Applications of Leap Motion
With such a wide range of issues surrounding the device, it might be a surprise for many that Leap Motion has reached the 1 million mark in their Air Space app downloads. Although it benefited from a great hype raising the interest of thousands of early adopters, the potential of The Leap is more important than any other publicity and even then the initial drawbacks and it is certainly the one thing that will determine the long term success of this piece of hardware.
Imagine Leap Motion integrated into hi-tech medical computers through which doctors can perform highly complicated and very delicate operations across continents, with the device calibrated in such a way that it can actually remove the normal shake that even surgeons have to a certain degree and eliminate any possible errors related to this. Helped by augmented reality, doctors would be able to see and control everything without being in the same room as the patient. This can also be used to drive remote cameras through very sensitive areas of the body without touching or putting any mechanical pressure on the patient.
Having a few Leap Motion devices spread across your house could help you turn on and off lights, open and close the blinds, control your TV and all other electronic devices without actually touching anything. This can be particular useful for disabled people who cannot move very well, or in buildings where contamination is a real danger (e.g. a laboratory).
Although this is already the first application of the technology it is still only at the beginning in terms of its potential. Coupled with augmented reality, The Leap could help control your character in an AR game that happens around you. Controlling radio devices (e.g. cars, planes, boats) without the need of physical controls can give you more accuracy and freedom.
3D Modelling and Graphics
It is the only device that gives full control of a 3D object on all three axes. Architects and designers can really benefit from this by getting the freedom they have always wanted when it comes to 3D modelling and 3D graphics. They can turn, scale and fully transform objects without having to use a physical 2D controller (e.g. mouse, keyboard, trackpad), thus saving precious time and allowing more creativity.
Operating heavy machinery and industrial robots with the help of a Leap Motion controller can allow better control, improved accuracy and finer detail, particularly helpful in industries that cannot completely rely on automatized methods such as luxury goods. Creating a unique car, an extraordinary piece of jewellery or a marvellous boat can receive a new meaning when aided by motion-controller technology.
This short list of potential benefits is only a small percentage of what The Leap could become, certainly overcoming any initial hardware and software drawbacks. It all comes down to the company’s response to these weaknesses. Fixing them quickly with a firmware update or a new version of the controller and accelerating the development of new apps would most likely pave the way to success.
Would you buy a Leap Motion controller and what other applications of the device can you think of? Please leave your comments in the section below.
There has been much discussion recently about the launch of the UK’s first 4G network and how competing firms are lining up for a slice of the action. But how will the new mobile web technology affect us all on a day-to-day basis?
Better for business
Whether you own a company or just work for one, the roll out of improved 4G mobile broadband services is likely to look attractive. For employers, it’s a great way to give staff no excuse to ever be ‘away from the office’ even if they’re on the way to a client meeting. For employees, it could well save embarrassment if they are heading to that aforementioned meeting and need fast, reliable access to documents saved in the cloud.
Better for innovation
EE, which is the first 4G provider in Britain having launched its service in October, recently published research that looked at how businesses in the US had benefited from it. The study noted that 76 per cent of respondents agreed that innovation had been allowed to prosper, while many other firms said that productivity had seen increases and cost-efficiency drives had been more successful. The full report can be read here and makes for interesting reading for businesses as yet undecided about 4G.
Better for killing time
Its miserable being stuck somewhere with a smartphone that can’t connect or gets poor service when it does. However, with 4G comes faster streaming speeds for video content, music and gaming, which will be a major selling point for many consumers across Britain. With apps like Netflix, Spotify, iPlayer, Sky Go and Xbox LIVE now used by millions, this will be a big part of how 4G is ultimately used and with even more 4G smartphones to choose from the number of applications are only likely to grow.
Better for reliability
While speed is certainly one factor in why many people will want to upgrade, for others it might be the reliability of 4G that is most appealing. A reliable web connection outdoors is great, but what if you could combine it with your fixed line? EE is offering super-fast broadband and mobile packages in addition to what it can provide in terms of smartphone services, so this could be a great way for businesses and consumers to make sure they are more connected than ever before.
It has been a positive end to 2012 in terms of technology, with a host of new devices vying for our attention and better web options to serve them. What will be interesting to see now is how the digital market responds in 2013 with greater competition and more gadgets.
The ubiquitous use of a simple gesture such as finger pointing is taken a step forward by the latest technological development of an MIT research team. Learning more about the surrounding world by only lifting a finger can be the next breakthrough in the digital-human interaction field.
The technology in question uses a 3D printed ring that holds a micro camera capable of taking a photo or a video when it is pointed to an object. This is sent to a smartphone which analyses the digital information and provides an almost real-time audio feedback about the object in focus.
EyeRing “reading” paper money
The gadget called EyeRing was initially conceived as a potential aid for the visually impaired, however the number of applications far exceed its original purpose. EyeRing could potentially be used in navigation or as a translation aid, as it can also record sound or it can even help children to read. With a little bit more programming work it could analyse sound and transform it in digital visual representations on the smartphone’s screen for the hearing impaired, helping them “see” and recognise the surrounding sounds.
Although the app can interpret only currency, numbers, text and colours for now, the MIT team is working on depth and video with the aim of making EyeRing a commercial product. The technology is currently working only on Android and Mac devices but an iPhone version is also in development.
EyeRing will need to pass through several stages of development and maybe even a few user versions before becoming a commercial success as it has to deal with the inherited challenges of this wearable technology category: processing power, battery life, size and design that will make people want to wear it for an extended period of time.
With no information about the price EyeRing will be marketed to the general public, we can only assume that for this to be successful it will need to be under £100 mark.
Would you buy an EyeRing? How much money would you pay for a fully-working EyeRing capable of doing all the things presented above?
With IBM’s much promoted shopping app and the new augmented reality shopping trend becoming increasingly popular in the fashion world through various types of virtual dressing rooms, why not take this a step… sideways?
3D visualisation, augmented reality and a mobile device’s camera can create an enhanced augmented reality experience by making any virtual object look as real in your house as you would see it in a shop. Designing your home interior, from selecting the type of floor you like to choosing the furniture that fits your style, no longer requires endless shopping trips, annoying measurements or tens of inaccurate pictures taken.
AR developers such as the Dutch INDG, the French Augment and the US Your Reality (in partnership with Total Immersion) have managed to push AR’s role in (e)commerce into more practical uses, leaving the gimmicky phase behind. Companies have also started to understand that AR has to be smartly integrated into the customer journey and can’t provide any long-term benefits as a standalone tool. Philips’ TV Buying Guide for Mobile is a very good example of how augmented reality, 3D visualisation and high end flat screen TVs can improve the buying experience and potentially contribute to higher conversion rates. With an easy-to-use user interface and great graphics, the app allows users to discover how Philips products will look in their home before committing to buying them.
And Philips has not been the first to do this. Ikea is another example of good integration of augmented reality within the shopping journey with their 2010 IKEA app that allowed users to select a piece of furniture and place it anywhere inside their homes. Although the graphical and AR capabilities were not comparable with what is available today, the small app was one of the first to provide this functionality to customers.
With businesses understanding the importance of one of the Top 10 Disruptive Technologies of our time (as Gartner named augmented reality), we will surely be seeing more innovative integrations of AR in the online and offline shopping experiences.
IBM Shopping App Prototype Photo: Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM
With 92% of retail sales still taking place in the bricks and mortar shops (according to Forrester Research) and with over 1 billion smartphones predicted to be sold in 2014 (Gartner) there is no surprise that IBM decided to take advantage of this market opportunity. Researchers at IBM Labs have announced yesterday the launch of a new augmented reality app that will make it possible for consumers to receive personalised product information while browsing through store shelves.
Don’t mistake this app with the multitude of ‘product scanner’ apps that provide extra information to consumers based on a product’s bar code. The new IBM app uses a mobile device’s camera to recognise different packaging and to display via augmented reality technology various details about the product – reviews, ingredients, vouchers, discounts and much more. According to IBM, users can create their own profile within the app with the things that matter to them such as ingredients they are allergic to, favourite foods, or the maximum quantity of sugar they would like from a product. By pointing their smartphone camera to the merchandise, users will receive personalised product information plus the latest offers and promotions for the products viewed. These are designed to increase the buying intention and shop loyalty.
The In-Store Opportunity. Part of IBM Infographic.
And this app is also a useful non-intrusive market research tool for retailers. Capturing the likes and dislikes of customers will allow more targeted cross-selling and up-selling promotions, optimized floor plans, better product arrangements and even new point-of-purchase AR-friendly displays. “By closing the gap between the online and in-store shopping experience, marketers can appeal to the individual needs of consumers and keep them coming back.” said Sima Nadler, Retail Lead, IBM Research.
With no details regarding the actual launch date of the app we can only assume that this will be launched at some point this year in the US, with the rest of the world coming soon.
Half a billion smartphones shipped worldwide in 2011 and a growth of more than 50% year on year (Canalys) means not only a rapid adoption of the new technology but also a great opportunity for augmented reality apps to tap into the most important characteristic of modern people – mobility.
Carrying a mobile phone wherever you go is no longer a commodity but a necessity for communication purposes and especially for access to information and entertainment. And what if you could get all of these based on your location, your interests and your sensorial perceptions (a.k.a. your reality)? Then you get a mobile augmented browser.
What is a Mobile AR Browser?
Launched in 2009, the mobile augmented reality browser combines augmented reality technology with a mobile Internet browser and smartphone technologies (camera, GPS, compass) to display digital layers on top of what you are seeing.
The building blocks of all mobile AR browsers, these digital layers called “layars”, “channels” or “worlds” (depending on the browser used) can contain any type of information, from text and images to videos and interactive 3D animation.
Whether you want to find the best offer from the nearest restaurant, play the trailer of the movie you just saw on a billboard or check what you nearby Twitter friends are up to, the mobile AR browser can help you.
But which one should you choose? There are more than a few AR browsers out there, and the first impression is that all are the same; at a deeper glance though, they are actually quite different, with different strategies and different audiences. Let’s take a look at the first three.
Top 3 Mobile AR Browsers
Layar – the ‘cool’ browser (3.5 stars rating on Android Market and 2.5 stars on App Store) – one of the first mobile augmented reality browsers, Layar was launched in 2009 by SPRXmobile, a Dutch mobile company. Supporting only Android phones initially (contrary to the mass trend of apps being firstly launched on iPhone and then on all other devices), the AR browser soon became a popular app, being now available on all major mobile operating systems except Windows (currently being developed).
With over 10 million downloads worldwide and over 1 million active users, Layar has continuously grown and added not only thousands of layers but also new technologies and features such as Layar Vision. By using computer vision techniques, the app scans real objects and if they match the fingerprint included in the opened layer, Layar Vision can quickly return the associated AR experience.
Junaio – the ‘techie’ browser (3 stars on Android and 2.5 stars on App Store) – self-proclaimed “the most advanced augmented reality browser” and with more than 1.7 million downloads, Junaio, developed by the German AR company Metaio, is currently available only on iPhone and Android devices.
Junaio Mobile AR Browser
Very similar to Layar (from a features perspective), this AR browser seems to be going for the “Jack of all trades” strategy where all new AR developments are quickly integrated in the browser, aiming for the creation of an AR hub. This is how Junaio’s latest version got to include a traditional AR browser, object recognition technology (similar to Layar Vision), internal web browser and QR and bar code scanner.
Wikitude – the ‘social’ browser (4 stars on Android and 2.5 stars on App Store) – claimed to be the first mobile AR browser worldwide and winner of numerous industry awards in its 3 years of existence, Wikitude GmBH is the only AR browser available on the five major mobile operating systems (OS, Android, Symbian, Windows and Blackberry).
Wikitude with My World Beta
Without incorporating the latest AR developments, Wikitude is a strong competitor to Layar and Junaio through its functional and social focus. One of its key features is Wikitude My World (beta), which allows users to create their own world (layer) with locations, descriptions and pictures that can easily be shared with their friends through Facebook.
Potential Threats and Weaknesses
Despite their novelty and their high potential, the mobile AR browsers have managed to capture only around 1% of the smartphone market (in terms of active users). There is no doubt that they have strongly benefited from the AR hype (with millions of downloads in only a couple of years); however, when it comes to actively using these apps on a regular basis, the figures plummet.
Layar, which had more than 10 million downloads since their inception, has only around 1.5 million active users (according to their own figures). Some would say that this figure is not bad (15% active users) but when compared to the 50+% active users of a third party Internet browser of similar size (by number of downloads), Dolphin, we can start to notice the differences. So what stops people from using mobile AR browsers?
Technology – Like any new technology, AR browsers are not fully stable and still under intensive development. As a result, they will surely have technical glitches, errors and bugs which are not seen with good eyes by today’s technology-savvy users who are less forgiving then they used to be.
‘Smart’ mobile devices – The devices that make all of these possible are also a serious threat to AR companies through their continuous fragmentation. Many operating systems, each with multiple versions operating on hundreds of different smartphones increase the developers’ pressure with a direct impact on quality and stability of the newly released software.
Complacency – Any new technology goes through a ‘technology adoption lifecycle’ and mobile AR browsers are no exception. People’s resistance to change makes it harder for users of traditional mobile Internet browsers to suddenly start using their smartphone’s camera for search. Time and user education can have a positive effect on increasing the adoption speed.
Social – All media coverage of mobile AR browsers has given birth to a number of thoughts and worries which may affect its adoption. Starting from the awkward feeling of people watching you when moving your mobile camera around to more serious fears of being tracked down by criminals when posting on Twitter that you have just bought a new TV, these concerns can be easily tackled by developers and even users through their application’s settings. But the harm has already been done and changing a person’s negative perception is harder than creating it in the first place.
Competition – With more companies fighting for a piece of the $3 billion mobile AR market expected in 2016 (ABI Research), the increasing competition is not all good news for the consumer. In an attempt to be the first on the market, mobile AR browser developers are already pushing the latest technologies to the limit by launching new features before being fully tested and before providing the support users need, leading to complaints, bad reviews and poor user ratings.
Even if the mobile augmented reality browser is here to stay, widespread adoption may still be a few years away. Tackling the above issues and raising awareness about the benefits provided are key actions that will determine future success.
How do you see the future of mobile AR browsers?What other issues stop AR browsers from being widely adopted? Leave your comments and questions in the box below.