What You Should Know About Augmented Reality

The past two years or so have made it abundantly clear that augmented reality is going to play a major role in the next decade of consumer technology. For those who aren’t particularly familiar with it just yet, augmented reality (or AR) is like a version of virtual reality that takes place in the real world. While VR takes users completely into simulated environments, AR merely makes interactive visuals appear in the world around us. It’s simpler, on the surface – but we may in fact be in the process of learning that it has more practical applications than VR.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a short list of things you ought to know about the tech moving forward.

Right Now, It Needs Phones

At the moment, AR relies almost entirely on smarphones, and specifically those running on Android and iOS systems. This is because Android and iOS support two AR development platforms – ARCore and ARKit, respectively – that have driven the first couple years’ worth of apps in this category. Accordingly, AR operates through the same phones, such that in order to see virtual material in the real world, you have to look through your phone screen. Your camera will show whatever is actually on the other side of the phone, and the app in question will essentially implant that image with virtual augmentations. Several impressive apps have emerged for mobile AR use, from those that translate signs, to simulated tattoo apps, to some fun games.

Glasses Are Coming

The main point of noting specifically that AR currently works through smartphones alone is to then clarify that smart glasses are coming. These may still be powered via connections to smartphones, but they will essentially take the somewhat convoluted process of using a screen and camera and streamline it, such that the glasses’ lenses show the world with AR features in it. This is expected to greatly improve the AR experience and add to the possibilities when it comes to app creation. Some lesser-known companies, like Vuzix, have already made AR glasses available (for a cool $1,000 in that case). But it’s expected that in the next year or two, companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung will also be releasing major devices in this emerging category.

Practical Applications Will Take Off

Games drive a lot of the attention that’s paid to AR, and understandably so. We already saw Pokémon GO become a worldwide hit in this medium, and more games like it are sure to come. However, we’re also going to see more practical applications taking off. We mentioned the idea already that some AR apps can translate signs, but that’s just one small example of how AR can make things easier for us (rather than just provide us with entertainment). AR glasses will be able to measure rooms we look at just by glancing at them, or show us virtual furniture so we can arrange it and see if it fits. Translation may apply to speech eventually, such that we can talk to people speaking other languages and see the words in our own. And even these are just the beginnings of what AR can do for us in a practical sense.

Viewing Experiences Will Change

This is more on the entertainment side of things, but viewing experiences will also change with AR. For instance, we might be able to watch TV or films through AR glasses and see the names of the actors on screen if we want to (which can save some people a lot of googling). In sports, fans could watch games through AR glasses and see stats they care about, or subtitle commentary from a TV announcer (while at a live game). It’s been suggested as well that AR will bring about new sports betting opportunities for live viewers. With new gambling sites expanding their reach online, a modern approach and a competitive edge are important, and “live betting” through AR could well be around the corner. All in all, suffice it to say the tech will change how we enjoy entertainment viewing experiences – or at least give us fun new options.

These Could Be The New Phones

It’s a bold suggestion, but the idea is out there that smart glasses could be the biggest personal tech devices since smartphones (which basically means they’ll surpass tablets, smart watches, and other wearables). Some have even gone as far as to say smart glasses could kill smartphones, becoming our new go-to devices. That seems a little bit extreme, but the idea generally is that these aren’t going to be toys, and they may not even be particularly optional a few years in. AR and other smart glasses functions are likely to become integral to our everyday lives, such that it will be hard to imagine living without them – much like smartphones today.