Augmented Reality (AR) applications (apps) have recently been enjoying a lot of attention in the mobile world. Companies are increasingly looking to AR apps to provide their customers with a differentiating experience. App developers consider AR apps to be at the cutting edge of the mobile industry.
The majority of AR apps either use the device’s geographical coordinates to automatically identify nearby Points of Interest (POIs), or identify the images in the visual feed. Subsequently, the apps show data relevant to the geo-location, or augment the visual feed by overlaying related images, videos or animations.
A common example of an AR app of the first kind is related to tourism. The device knows the user’s location, based on which it can retrieve (from a previously created database), a set of famous landmarks, then “identifies” them on screen by listing out the name, historical data and other details.
The second kind of AR app would find use in the service industry. A technician would train the camera on his mobile device onto a part requiring repair or servicing. The part would be recognized, using pattern detection techniques, and this would trigger either videos, or a set of instructions on how to proceed with the maintenance.
At its core, an Augmented Reality (AR) application seems to do three things:
a) Accepts input, usually in the form of context aware location data, or environmental data in the form of live camera pictures,
b) Processes the input data, typically to determine nearby POIs, or to recognize the images in the camera feed,
c) Displays some output, generally in the form of details of the POIs, or as animations of the recognized image, or related audio or video streams.
Now a typical computer, or mobile, application (app) also does the same three things. The first part accepts user input. The second part processes and transforms the input. In the third part, the processed data is output (displayed) to the user in some suitable format.
So, once we cut through the hype surrounding AR apps, an AR app seems to be the same as a regular app. What then makes an AR app different from a typical app? The differences are subtle and lie in the nuances of user interactions, device responses and the typical use cases.
An AR app accepts input usually in the form of location data (i.e. latitude, longitude, orientation, speed etc), or in the form of a visual feed from the camera. In the first case, no user involvement is needed. Devices embedded in the mobile, such as a GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer or other sensor units, automatically get this information and pass them on to the app. In the second case, the user must switch on the device’s camera and point it at the POIs. In both cases, the input is received in a non-traditional way. A traditional app would display a form, and users would key in data as input.
The output generated is also differentiated. An AR app would generally add on (or Augment) a virtual layer of information or animations to the “real” information, which is already available.
So, to summarize, an AR app is characterized by seamless user experience, ubiquitous availability and visual output.
From the analysis done above, it seems that AR apps would be most suited to a retail, or consumer facing, environment, in some kind of a personal use, informative or entertainment domain, with minimal user input and a good deal of visual data is output.
So, can AR apps make an impact in the enterprise? Here are some possible scenarios where this can happen-
These types of apps either already exist today, or are in the development pipeline. But it is just the beginning. AR as an enabling technology has the potential to take enterprise level mobile apps to the next level. The future is likely to bring to the fore AR apps of the kind which today looks beyond the realms of possibility. Innovations such as Google’s Project Glass and integration of brain-wave data with the AR environment are sure to give a new meaning to AR apps and make it compatible with much more complex processes, elevating AR’s adaptability level to a higher level in the enterprise.