21 November, 2011 - 14:35 By News Desk

Augmented Reality: a virtual world of opportunity

Some people in the media world are terrified their businesses will be wiped out by new technology such as pads, clouds and augmented reality, but they won’t, not if they take the opportunities it brings.

Like every new technology, it brings opportunities and threats. But this time the opportunities far outweigh the threats, so we should embrace it with open arms and look for the bits of the new markets that should naturally be ours. Sitting in the corner won’t work, but actively engaging it will bring rich rewards. Let’s look at a few examples.

Let’s start with the magazine industry. Magazines are not essentially paper. We even refer to some TV programmes as magazines. They are collections of articles around a particular theme or style. People that subscribe to them value the relationship with the various authors and editorial style, and would be very happy to extend this into an augmented reality world.

If you value someone’s opinion when you are reading a paper magazine, you would probably value it when you are in the real world doing related things, and might well want that person as a virtual guide or advisor. AR lets you. So AR allows magazines to extend their relationship with the customer, to become more important to them and suck them in even deeper. Sure, it might mean that now they can see articles in other kinds of displays that they may not want to buy actual paper so much, but only a true pessimist could see that as a problem. As an aside, even the paper ones could have e-ink panels in them to add full web functionality in direct competition with the offerings on pads.

Augmented reality converges the real world with the virtual world. The web came from converging just computing and telecoms. So imagine how much bigger a platform AR really is. Don’t be put off by today’s services that are supposedly augmented reality but require you to hold a smartphone up in front of you. In a few years they will be replaced by semi-transparent visors that truly overlay anything from the electronic world onto your field of view, all the time. True AR visually changes your entire world, and that brings us to a couple of other major opportunities that will emerge.

One is virtual architecture. Planning rules justifiably constrain builders in how they transform physical architectures and infrastructure. But in the AR overlay, anything goes. A building could remain stuffy in the physical world but in AR could be the most garish in town. In fact, invisible could be the new black. Architects that design real physical buildings will be in a good position to design virtual ones too, but will have to fight it out with computer game designers, who will also want some of this territory.

In the fashion world, many people could use their avatars that they carefully developed in computer games, social media or shared virtual environments. That presents opportunities for virtual fashion and design tools, physics engines, interface design and countless others.

Print media will even benefit. Large posters can offer dual functions. They can offer conventional or electronically adaptable print, so could change appearance depending on the social makeup of the crowd of passers by, but in augmented reality, people could choose to see personalised ads instead. Even today they are starting to add QR codes to extend into the web, but they could be recognised on the fly as you glance at the poster and the appropriate images automatically found for you. Let’s understand that we all want marketing information sometimes, we just resent it when it gets in the way or is inappropriate. Smart posters can offer targeted ads, or simply blend in to the background if we opt out.

AR lets us convert the whole world into a huge art gallery too. Walking to work needn’t be repetitive and dull, the path could look different every day. The walls could be art gallery space, or forest or a beach. Although AR clearly presents vast opportunity for its exploitation, it will also be an industry in itself. Like any IT industry segment, we see echoes of the same layers – physical, access, networking, session integrity, presentation, interface design and applications. All of these layers will present large markets for technology and design companies.

But in a fast developing world, the main enemy is complacency. I just finished playing Call of duty, MW3. It roped in 400M on its first day of sales. The companies that made it (and the credits list rolls for ages) are perfectly positioned to capitalise on augmented reality.

They live in the 3d virtual world, they know how people interact with it and the best tools to use. They can be friends or enemies. If you want to capture your piece of the AR opportunity before these guys snatch it, you’d better start moving.

• Ian Pearson helps organisations of all sizes to identify opportunities and threats they will face ahead and to develop appropriate strategies to deal with them. His new book ‘You tomorrow’ is available at the Amazon Kindle Store (£4.99)

http://www.futurizon.comtwiter: @timeguide

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