Augmented reality is stuff we have seen before, in science fiction, along with a select few in the military who were cleared for prototype devices that use it. If you have seen the film, The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984), about a robot from the future sent back in time (our present) to assassinate key fighters in the resistance of what will become a war between man and machine. You may recall the moment in the film when the point of view is from the robot’s perspective as it perceives its surroundings and the visuals are supplemented (or augmented) by readouts of data of the surroundings.
Thus augmented reality is the juxtaposition of virtual information, be it data or virtual objects, on our surroundings. This is not to be confused with virtual reality, which is the fabrication of reality, a ‘virtual world’ as experienced through something like Oculus Rift or any number of games like World of Warcarft. Rather, augmented reality is a combination of actual and virtual reality.
To do this, however, you need a device to act as a portal of this ugmented reality. Currently, we do not have the technology to project images onto our surroundings, so we need something else, such as Google glass or a mobile device to act as a ‘portal’ to this augmented reality.
Some famous examples of augmented reality are games such as Ingress, which gives the impression of an alien invasion projected onto your surroundings, through the portal of a mobile device and the attendant resistance of said invasion. Another famous example is Pokemon Go! In which players interact with characters and tasks through the portal of a mobile device.
Previously, skilled programmers with large development budgets were needed to make these kinds of augmented reality programs. Now companies like Google and Apple seek to democratise this by including augmented reality development kits in their software development kits such as Tango Unity for Google and ARkit Toolkit for iOS, respectively. However, Apple is poised to have the edge over Google for this development environment. As it stands, Google’s development kit is lagging, complicated, and unrefined, limited only to select developers in a narrow circle. Given how powerful Android devices are now, if all users had access to an Augmented Reality development kit, progress in this area would be a lot further along. Apple has exploited this very fact and as of iOS11, slated to be released this fall, all iOS users will not only have access to the AR apps to play with, but also a well designed, user-friendly toolkit to develop them. From what we know, the iOS version is better, more refined, and a smoother user experience which is key for the development of any software.
So what? What good does this do for a world already saturated in mobile apps? For one thing, perhaps this will lead to more interesting games, or practical applications. For instance, furniture business can project how a piece of furniture or accessory looks in your home. Car companies also provide virtual versions of their cars to diplay how it will look in your garage or driveway and you can peek inside to see some of the nifty new controls. Clothing stores also take advantage of this app to demonstrate how a piece of clothing or an accessory will look on you.
Of course, this brings on a list of privacy concerns as now companies and apps now have access to your personal space and all the data that comes with it. Users, affected by the novelty are only too happy to give this away, so let us hope the benefits outweight the detriments.