Updated: Jun 24
From Pokémon Go to Google Glass, it feels like the 2010s were filled with excitement for augmented reality, or AR. Since then, the new technology hype has calmed down a little bit, and AR has gone under the radar for most people. What is AR, and where did all the hype go? Here’s everything you need to know about augmented reality.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality is the process of enhancing our current reality by adding additional elements, whether visual, or auditory. In contrast to virtual reality, augmented reality does not use a pre-made digital environment, but instead adds elements to our existing experience of reality. Far and away the most popular example of AR is in Pokémon Go, which uses your phone camera and screen to place Pokémon, Poké Balls, and items into your current environment.
Google Glass is another popular example of AR. Instead of being a mobile game, however, Glass is a wearable device that looks like a pair of glasses. This device has a small, transparent screen over your right eye, and includes a camera, microphone, and a self-contained PC. The screen shows Google notifications, searches, Google Maps directions, and other Google-related information. All of this information is displayed through the transparent screen, making it easy to see without having to check your phone, or continuously putting on and taking off the glasses to see the world around you.
What happened to AR?
Google Glass launched in 2014, and although no official stats have been published on the sales figures of Glass, outside estimates suggest that it did not sell as well as Google likely intended. Sales figures weren’t paltry by any means, but the $1500 price tag, clunky design, and privacy concerns meant that Google Glass just couldn’t find a place in a widespread consumer market.
Instead of chalking up the project as a failure, Google pivoted their target demographic, and designed their next series of Glass smart glasses for an enterprise audience. Google aren’t the only company focusing their AR efforts on businesses either. Microsoft’s HoloLens is another popular AR headset entirely focused on enterprise use, and other companies like Epson, TCL, and Dynabook have smart glasses of their own. In fact, AR is likely more popular than it has ever been, just not on the consumer radar.
What is AR used for now?
These days, it seems like pretty much all AR efforts are focused on the business side of things. As it turns out, hands free smart devices are pretty good for multitasking and productivity. In an enterprise setting, AR smart glasses are often used for things like hands-free manual viewing, streaming one’s point of view over a video chat, or first-person training videos. These use cases have proven extremely valuable for a variety of different fields, like the medical, manufacturing, or warehousing industries.
As far as consumer applications go, AR smart glasses have all but disappeared. Consumer grade “smart glasses” are now mostly just glasses with cameras on them that capture first-person footage for social media use. This is likely due to the fact that true smart glasses are expensive, and too clunky and ugly for everyday use. However, the tech in the business side is rapidly evolving, to the point that true consumer-grade smart glasses might be able to make a comeback in the near future.