Augmented Reality: Not exciting to "normal" users...

Chris Dannen, over at Fast Company just put out a post called Put Your Phone Down: Augmented Reality is Overblown where he dismisses augmented reality offhandedly and doesn’t appear to really understand what it is or could be. The opinion in his blog post is myopic at best and he makes a few subtle stabs, like the following:

…few of the “normal” smartphone users I talk to can get excited about augmented reality. Sure, they’re not thinking five years ahead, as we’re told tech visionaries do.”

Is he suggesting that those people getting excited about augmented reality aren’t normal, being nothing more than the techno-fringe? The next bit feels slightly sardonic as well…presenting tech visionaries as people who say they are thinking five years ahead, and being dubious about that.

In the next breath, he gets a little enthusiastic about AR being right around the corner and not five years in the future, and that it is in its “last trimester”, but then saying that few people seem to care. The recent issue of Esquire, featuring marker based AR, is highlighted as the example proving his point.

Then, shockingly, he quotes Jonathan Wegener, a developer of an AR app as saying that he thinks that consumers will get tired of AR and that it won’t catch on. Wegener’s app (NYC Exit Strategy Subway Map) sells for $4.99 in the Apple app store. Why bother if you don’t think consumers are interested in it?

Dannen ends his blog post by shifting positions again and saying that:

AR isn’t bound to fail—that’s not what I’m arguing. Iteration after iteration will be pushed on consumers until the technology finds its niche.

See what he did there? iterations pushed on consumers and niche. He seems almost annoyed and irritated that augmented reality apps are being shoved down his throat on a daily basis, each one slightly different than the one before it, and that maybe, after as much trial and error as Thomas Edison went through to perfect the light bulb, the industry will finally find a niche for the technology. Anyway, what exactly is he arguing? Nearly the entire post is a little sarcastic and almost mocking of both augmented reality, the people developing it, and the consumers that are interested in it.

The last line:

But if you’re expecting apps like Layar to drastically change the way you live your everyday life, well, that’s just not reality.

I’m not aware of anyone out there suggesting that apps like Layar, Wikitude, Robotvision, Yelp, Bionic Eye, Accelair, etc. are going to change the way everyday life is being led. I am aware of some people challenging whether or not these apps should even qualify as augmented reality, and a vast number of people realizing that these apps are barely the equivalent of outputting “hello world” in BASIC. So much more is to come, and is already in development. We haven’t even scratched the surface.

But Chris ignores almost everything else in the emerging industry and the phenemonal technologies beginning to creep out of the Universities, and focuses on very basic implementations of AR. His opinion is validated by his “industrial designer” friend who didn’t think the Esquire magazine implementation was all that. What kind of industrial designer is his friend? If the guy designs next-generation toilet seats and urinals, I doubt he can make any kind of authoritative judgment on user interface, multimedia, or a unique technology like augmented reality. The point isn’t that you need a PC and a webcam to experience the AR in Esquire, the point is that you can experience the magazine in an entirely different way.

I’ve spoken before about the dangers of industry hype, setting the right expectations, avoiding the wrong judgment of the technology before it matures, and of course, the need to strive for innovation. Chris’ post is short sighted, does not add anything of value to the discussion of augmented reality (negative or positive), and is unfairly dismissive in a condescending manner.

It is opinions like this one in forums like Fast Company that are making it harder for the guys on the ground to gain traction with their efforts and is demoralizing. Is it any wonder that the spirit of innovation and entrepreneuring in North America has been beaten down?

Take a look at “augmented reality” in google trends and judge for yourself.

Is augmented reality just a fad? Are only the out of touch tech-elite and basement nerds excited about it? Is it true that “normal” and intelligent people are merely tolerating augmented reality, giving each other knowing nods like wise adults humoring elementary students excited about Santa Claus?

I think not. If Chris had done his homework and spent any real time researching instead of making an off-the-cuff blog post characterizing an entire industry and technology on the opinions of a few friends, he might have come to a different conclusion.

A few more things for you to consider:

US Post Office, GE, Best Buy, Proctor & Gamble, Molson Beer, Lego, ING, Wimbledon, Mattel, Topps, Facebook, Adidas, Nickelodeon, Doritos, Eminem, John Mayer, Papa Johns, Canon, Philips, Ray Ban, Sony, HP, Disney, Esquire, Popular Science, Wired, Burger King Toyota, Volkswagen, Fiat, Ford, BMW, Citroen, Nissan and many others…

have ALL used augmented reality technology in some fashion or another in the last twelve months, mostly for marketing or advertising.

Companies like Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Cisco, Nokia, NVIDIA and others that include multiple branches of the US Military are using augmented reality applications in real and practical manners. If you take some time and do your own research, you will find that augmented reality has potential applications in nearly every industry and sector…manufacturing, education, entertainment, industry, military, libraries, simulations, chemistry, telepresence, business to business, visualization, biology, forestry, farming, design, etc.

Yes, augmented reality will change the way you live your every day life. Just not tomorrow or through the very early stage implementations we are seeing now. Normal people are indeed excited about it. The ones that aren’t excited, or that are quick to dismiss it, fundamentally don’t really understand it, or are incapable of making that intellectual leap to anticipate where things are going.

This particular blog post by Chris reminds me of some other famous quotes:


“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943


“I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processings is a fad that won’t last out the year.”

- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice-Hall, 1957


“But what…is it good for?”

- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip


“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

-Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of DEC