The world is not flat, the web is not flat.
The Earth is round, and we shouldn’t be worrying about falling off the edge.1 The web, however, has been flat since the beginning.
Not for lack of trying, though.
Some of us remember Second Life, the hyped 3D community that quickly morphed into a cesspool of pornographic avatars and shady 3D-casinos that has since been referred to as “the Vietnam of digital marketing”.
But finally, after a fair share of false starts, the digital world seems to be ripe for some non-flatness.
Let’s begin in Tony Stark’s garage:
In Marvel’s blockbuster movie Iron Man, lead character Tony Stark, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., interacts with his AI computer Jarvis, an immensely popular feature recurring in all Iron Man movies.
We have seen different types of holographic projections already, like this one of the late Michael Jackson:
Or this one, with the equally late Tupac Shakur:
And, of course, the Japanese anime character, Hatsune Miku:
The challenge with holographic projection is, of course, that the technology requires projectors from multiple locations and good lighting conditions. Could anyone create a consumer-viable product, using multiple projectors locations, without making it too complex and expensive to set up and use?
Well, as it turns out, that was the wrong question to ask. There is a way to interact with holograms without having to use projectors:
Augmentation technology (AR).
Augmentation isn’t a new idea. Many downloaded and played around with the app Layar, through which you could see a layer of digital content on top of the physical world. Augmentation was also something Google took a stab at with their Google Glass project, but only by using a small viewfinder in the upper corner of the user’s visual field.
The Silicon Valley startup Meta Vision seems to have found a solution:
By creating see-through goggles, the interactive 3D user interface (the “augmented reality”), only had to exist in front of the user’s eyes. You can still interact with other users within the same holographic universe, just as long as your goggles are running the same program in sync.
The “see-through” part is critical, of course, since virtual reality (VR) goggles, which by nature are not see-through, are already commercialised and used mainly for gaming purposes.
And full-view augmentation isn’t Meta’s only secret weapon:
Using 3D visual recognition software, the AR goggles can recognise your hands without any extra devices or sensors. It allows the user to interact with the augmented layer, much the same way Tony Stark, in his garage, can interact with his holographic interface.
Second Life, holographic projection, Layar, and Google Glass, hasn’t been commercially useful. Will full-view augmentation be useful enough? Applying Moore’s Law,2 we can expect AR goggles to shrink down to the size of a pair of Ray-Ban’s in only a few years time.
Use cases for augmented reality
The list of potential and practical uses of a pair of AR goggles are seemingly endless. A few examples:
It’s safe to say that we can only begin to imagine the various types of use cases we’ll see emerge from AR technology as a commercially available platform. And marketing will need to change, again.
AR + VR + 360 = Mixed reality
Even if technological advancements are moving forward at a faster and faster pace, it still takes trial and error for entrepreneurs, engineers and software developers to develop market-viable products. And then it still takes time for consumers to adapt and for manufacturers to figure out the ethical implications. At this point, there will be time for us to experiment as these technologies become more readily available.
As marketers, we’re still struggling with how to conquer the flat web. We often think of the online space as a large print magazine. We still talk about pages, even.
What we can do now, is to start figuring out mixed reality, meaning this: How can we start to create online experiences for all senses?