Augmented Reality Is Going To Be Big, But It’s Already Here

My friend Marshall Kirkpatrick has been writing some interesting posts on the topic of “augmented reality”. In his latest, “Is Augmented Reality Golden or Garbage” on ReadWriteWeb, he takes a look at the hype the term has been getting, and whether or not it will live up to the excitement (my short answer: “yes, but not in the way you might think”).

I wrote up a comment in reply to his post, and as often happens with me, it bloomed into a more-or-less fully formed post on my thoughts on the matter. So I’m reposting it here.

i think Augmented Reality is going to be *huge*, but a lot of people I see making arguments for or against aren’t using the definition I use when I think or talk about AR.

To me, augmented reality is the ability to overlay information, tied somehow to the physical world. It doesn’t necessarily require a live video view with stuff overlaid on it.

Some apps that are out now (some for a long time) that I consider augmented reality:

  • Google Maps (web and phone, esp. with GPS), Yelp, Where To, or any other app that lets me find out more about what’s around me in the real world.
  • Geocaching (esp. the iPhone app – I tell my kids it’s a magic treasure map, and when you think about it, it is)
  • Pocket Universe for iPhone, which lets me point my phone at a point in the sky, and identify the stars and planets there
  • Brightkite and Foursquare and their ilk – Beth Goza let me play with Brightkite in Layar on her Android phone at Gnomedex, but even without the live video view, these apps let me see what friends and strangers are doing and saying, tied to physical points in the real world
  • Waze for iPhone, which lets me see other people’s traffic experiences and reports, and shows me which roads people haven’t yet driven (encouraging me to do so, so I can be Pac Man and get points for eating the dots there! ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Browsing nearby photos on Flickr, or looking up nearby articles on Wikipedia
  • Update: Oh! I forgot to mention one of the coolest AR apps out right now. The Zillow iPhone app is really, really cool. If you’re shopping for a home, it could be really useful, but mostly, I just like to freak people out by pulling up their house, telling them how much they paid for it, how much they pay in taxes, how many square feet it is, and what Zillow thinks it’s worth compared to their neighbors. ๐Ÿ™‚

There are lots of other examples, but I think people who define AR as “pointing a camera at something, and getting information inserted into your live view” are thinking a little too narrowly.

I can’t fully articulate why, but AR feels to me like it’s going to the be the “big thing” in the coming months. It’s going to cause unforeseen evolutions in how we connect with each other and interact with our world, in the same way that Twitter and Facebook have (if not to the same degree).

So, you can definitely count me in the camp that says AR is Golden, not Garbage. ๐Ÿ™‚ What do *you* think about Augmented Reality? Hype bubble or next big thing?