If you ask me the definition of magic in the times of technology, I would go with augmented reality or AR. For things which do not exist physically but can be seen and interacted with, it is nothing short of magic. Google Glass, Pok mon GO, and now the Asus Zenfone AR are just some of the early hardware that have begun the journey of creating an experience that fuses the real with the virtual without the user having to leave the current real zone. But is it too soon? Also Read - iPhone 12 mini discount: Here's how to grab the iPhone under Rs 30,000Also Read - Tim Cook's house is completely blurred out on Google Maps, Apple Maps: Here’s why
AR exploits camera technology to produce semi-real experiences. Potential areas of applications are in the field of architecture, home d cor, navigation, education, entertainment and gaming. One of the first noteworthy instances of a product that involved such a technology Google Glass an ordinary-looking pair of glasses offered a live feed projected in the air which only the user could see. Also Read - Messenger rolls out end-to-end encrypted chats, calls to everyone
Challenges and opportunities in AR
Today, Google Glass stands as an industry example for being a failure. The reason is that wearable technologies were considered way ahead in time. Besides, there were tons of security and privacy concerns involved. On the other hand, for something like Pok mon GO, the technology turned out to be a massive opportunity for Nintendo to bring in millions in revenue.
If you ignore distracted pedestrians (and being a cause for physical injuries), the simple smartphone game truly brought global attention to augmented reality. Now if you look at the two cases, while Google Glass was a dedicated hardware and offered an AR experience, the game was just an app leveraging the technology and so user-friendly that it became a viral phenomenon in no time.
Google Glass or Pok mon GO?
The failure of Google Glass, and the hysteria around the successful Pok mon GO poses a question is AR here to stay? The challenge here is not with being ahead of time but making a particular technology sustainable. Coming to the Asus Zenfone AR, it’s not the first smartphone to explore the possibilities of AR and VR. Lenovo has made attempts in the past with the Phab 2 Pro.
With a price tag of Rs 49,999, the Zenfone AR attempts to woo consumer interest towards a technology which is still at a very nascent stage in a country like India. 3D maps, smartphone games, websites like LensKart which offer you a preview of how a particular frame would look on your face, and such applications would find a wider user fancy instead of a dedicated hardware, which many might find too pricey to even buy as a collectible (The Google Glass was priced at a whopping $1,500). RELATED: Google Glass receives update after 3 years; will it make a comeback to beat Snapchat, Apple?
Amidst the rush to become the world s first, what manufacturers need to really understand is whether the market is currently thriving for a given product or service. Take for example something like a fingerprint sensing technology which is embedded into the display and works under water. For the longest time, Samsung Galaxy S8 lineup was supposed to come equipped with the new technology. However, because there are production issues involved, we are yet to see a fully-functional product leveraging the technology which Qualcomm introduced years ago.
Applications of AR
Despite the wide range of potential applications, what we lack at the moment is appropriate and engaging content read apps or services which explore the technology to the fullest. At the launch event, I got a chance to use the Asus Zenfone AR with the set of pre-set experiences it was demonstrated with. One of the applications is witnessing how a particular kind of sofa or lamp shade will look against a white wall.
Similarly, you could 3D map your surroundings, get transported to the wild with deer and waterfalls around. Despite being in reality, it was a demo zone filled with humans. All this, without the need for a specialized hardware. And that highlights the importance of content. ALSO READ: Asus ZenFone AR hands-on and first impressions
Asus is undoubtedly one of the first manufacturers to bring the technology into the hands of the customers, albeit on the pricier side; but to make the Tango and Daydream-enabled smartphone more palatable is something like the Apple ARKit. Tim Cook, CEO Apple, sees more potential in augmented reality than virtual reality even as the likes of Facebook and Google are investing in the latter. The reason is simple it is non-interfering and seamless. What Apple is doing right now is opening up its platform for developers to build content (including apps and experiences) for AR customers across its vast device pool.
While these apps made using ARKit will be available in a few months, the prime focus of the company is to first create an ecosystem for the said technology to thrive, before working on a standalone product. Now it isn’t the case that the Zenfone AR doesn’t have content an experiences. However, the reach and consumption is so niche that the very USP of the smartphone is unlikely to drive profits. RELATED: Apple iOS 11 with ARKit to turn iPhones, iPads into largest AR platform : Is it the future of Mixed Reality?
Google Glass which is one of the early examples of augmented reality was first detailed in 2013 and even after four years, we do not have the hardware that promises the level of potential and possible applications the wearable offered. Now imagine if Pok mon GO was released alongside the Google Glass, the success rate would have been far higher for both the dedicated hardware and the app. Similarly, for a smartphone like the Asus Zenfone AR, there is a long way to go ahead before AR-enabled technology, similar to how the dual camera lens system, grows to become an industry standard. Until then, the challenge is to create a platform for the said technology to flourish because unlike virtual reality, the usage of augmented reality is far more practical and beneficial.