Imagine reality has another layer. Imagine streets decorated with virtual local history or collectable vouchers for free coffee at a nearby cafe, invisible to the naked eye. Imagine the future, and imagine it now because it might not be too far away.
In a recent marketing stunt to promote Disney’s film Wreck-It Ralph, Brick Lane became ‘8-Bit Lane’ referring to the blocky graphics of old school video games. Near the Old Truman Brewery visitors found themselves immersed in a scene that gave reality an 80’s arcade style revamp, as sculptures of pixelated London relics transformed the area into an 8 Bit landscape.
But among the pigeons, red post box and even a black cab created by Disney’s film production sculptor Aden Hynes, was something that would be quite out of place in early gaming culture. The world’s first playable, or ‘blippable’ building, giving us a glimpse into a future where the line between the real and the virtual becomes blurred and reality becomes augmented.
Through an augmented reality app that visitors could download and play via their smartphone, one wall of the brewery became the canvas for a game where Fix-It Felix, a character featured in the film, scaled the building’s wall fixing broken windows whilst dodging falling debris.
A spokesperson from Blippar, the AR developers that created the app said: “Blippar opens in camera mode, becoming a ‘lens’ through which the real world is recognised and instantly ‘enhanced’. We provide an interactive, digital layer to the world around us.”
For example, print adverts in magazines, retail displays and logos are fixed with virtual, interactive content visible through a smartphone. Through the app, we can access this content which could be anything from a video to a sales promotion, in this case a game.
So whats turning this new technology from science fiction into an everyday actuality? Firstly theres the smartphone – it’s proliferation bringing an appropriate platform literally into the hands of users.
Lauren Offers, director of marketing at Aurasma, an augmented reality developer that affixes “auras” – complementary interactive content such as videos or animations – to items in the real world, said: “As smartphones become increasingly technologically advanced, the types of experience offered will advance in tandem.”
“We live in a world where people are dependent on their mobile devices. Indeed for many, mobiles and smartphones in particular have become the most indispensable tools in their daily lives. The latest Ofcom research shows that smartphone penetration in the UK has now hit 58%, a number that has been steadily increasing for consecutive years.”
Secondly, there are advertisers. Offers explains: “AR ties real world objects and images together with digital experiences, so both consumers and advertisers alike can get more out of traditional advertising. Consumers can enjoy the convenience of interacting with the world around them by making purchases directly from printed catalogues, unlocking offers from print adverts, or interacting with products on the shelves. As smartphones become an increasingly prevalent aspect of society its only natural that we should see an increase in these forms of advertising. Ultimately, the technology has the ability to revolutionise the way that both consumers and advertisers experience brands.”
A report by Juniper Research predicts augmented reality apps will generate approximately $300 million in marketing revenue in 2013. However Offers admits there remain a “few technical and educational challenges for AR”, and some are less enthusiastic.
Sloane Kelley, the Interactive Strategy Director at BFG Communications, a brand management and strategy agency said: “Too many brands have been embracing augmented reality because its a shiny object. Thats not to say it can’t work well but it shouldn’t be about technology for technology’s sake. When it meets brand objectives and is a good fit for the audience, augmented reality can be successful. For example, H&M’s work with the GoldRun augmented reality app in New York where users could try on virtual outfits, share them with friends and unlock special content was both fun and functional for users.”
David Birss, founder of Additive which offers marketing training programs and the Future of Advertising Podcast said: “AR is just a technology and will never get attention by itself. Initially it had a wow factor, but we’re beyond that now. There is still a level of inconvenience to using it and many examples haven’t been anything more than a gimmick.”
When not just a marketing stunt to attract publicity, Birss thinks AR campaigns stand out for being “useful or highly entertaining”. However, he asserts advertising should not be the primary purpose of the technology.
Birss continues: “We can probably expect to see more of AR advertising in the future, but if it’s to be successfully adopted by the public, it needs to be useful to them first and foremost. It should give them access to live bus information, local amenities, the closest toilet or location relevant news for example. Once people use it as part of their lives then theres more potential for it to be used to get more out of advertising.”
This is where a myriad AR apps such as Wikitude come in. Wikitude also opens in camera mode and layers the real world around you with “points of interest”, ranging from events happening nearby to the closest taxi rank.
Then, there is one of the first examples of wearable AR – Google Glass. A pair of glasses that display information on a small screen above the wearer’s eye and perform most of the functions of a smartphone. The glasses can write messages, search the web and take videos and pictures, responding to tilts of the head and voice commands.
Google has released two videos demonstrating how Google Glass, which could hit shelves as early as 2014, might work. The first, released last April generated mixed reviews. Some such as Georgia Tech’s Blair MacIntyre, director of the university’s Augmented Environments Lab told Wired Magazine the video creates “over-expectation that their hardware simply cannot possibly live up to.”
Then there are others such as John McIntosh. McIntosh thinks the video underplays one factor that is sure to feature in any project of Googles – advertisements. Watch his remix of Google’s video to see what McIntosh thinks of when he imagines an augmented future.
John McIntosh – Admented Reality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mRF0rBXIeg